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Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia

The 2005 Institutional Award will be presented to the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia for its impressive contributions to the field of printing history. In the 55 years of its existence the Society has produced over 175 separate publications, in addition to the 54 volumes of its renowned Studies in Bibliography, which provide a wide range of scholarly articles on bibliographical and textual criticism. Indeed, the Society considers itself “a forum for the best textual and bibliographical work being done anywhere in the world.” G. Thomas Tanselle, the distinguished scholar and its former president, will accept the award on behalf of the Society.

Acceptance Remarks of G. Thomas Tanselle, 
President of the Bibliographical Society of 
the University of Virginia

Note: APHA presented its 2005 Institutional Award to the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia. These acceptance remarks were delivered at APHA’s annual meeting held at the New York Public Library on January 24, 2004, and have been slightly revised for presentation on the web.

I am delighted to accept APHA’s Institutional Award for 2005 on behalf of the council, staff, and membership of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia. The Society’s latest accomplishments are owing to the devoted work of an outstanding council and staff. Simply to list our councilors’ names indicates the quality of support that we enjoy: Terry Belanger, Ruthe Battestin, Kathryn Morgan, David Seaman, David Vander Meulen, and Karin Wittenborg. You will recognize from this roster that we are well connected to the worlds of librarianship, physical bibliography, literary scholarship, book collecting, and the electronic dissemination of texts. And I cannot imagine a staff more congenial, involved, and effective than ours, consisting of Elizabeth Lynch, assistant to the editor of Studies in Bibliography, and Anne Ribble, the secretary-treasurer. I bring you the gratitude of all these people for the honor you have given us.

This year the Society is fifty-eight years old, and it is fortunate to have had similar groups of complementary individuals looking after its welfare from the beginning. I will not attempt on this occasion to recount the history of the Society–which has in any case already been admirably told by David Vander Meulen, in a volume that should be read by all who are interested in the history of the book world in the twentieth century. But I would like to name a few of the persons to whom the Society has been most indebted over the years. The interconnections among all parts of the world of books are strikingly shown by the triumvirate that played the leading roles in the Society’s earliest days: Fredson Bowers, a literary scholar who became the dominant figure in bibliographical and textual scholarship for the next four decades (2005, by the way, is the centenary of his birth); Linton R. Massey, an important collector whose financial support for the Society was for many years crucial to its survival; and John Cook Wyllie, a rare-book librarian whose insight into bibliographical evidence inspired several generations of students and enriched the collections of the University of Virginia Library.

Their worthy successors have included Irby B. Cauthen, Jr., Ray Frantz, Julius Barclay, Anne Ehrenpreis, Walker Cowen, Mary Massey, and three others that I want to single out for comment. One is John T. Casteen, president of the University of Virginia, whose interest in the work of the Society has led to financial support from the Alumni Association. Another is Kendon Stubbs, a former president of the Society and a long-time deputy university librarian, whose concern for all aspects of our organization was indicative of the kind of intelligence, both visionary and practical, that he brought to many university endeavors–so many that in 1998 he was given the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor bestowed by the University of Virginia. The third person is David Vander Meulen, Fredson Bowers’s successor in the Virginia English department and as editor of Studies in Bibliography, the annual volume founded by Bowers as s Society publication in 1948. Vander Meulen, with tireless dedication, has maintained the great tradition of this journal, and he continues to duplicate this feat every year, along with overseeing the Society’s other publications and handling many additional details as the Society’s vice president.

From the beginning, the Society’s publication program has been its major activity, and the annual appearance of Studies in Bibliography quickly became, and has remained, a major event in the international bibliographical world. The mystique surrounding SB is suggested by Robin Myers’s comment, on the occasion of the Society’s fiftieth anniversary, that this “very special publication” causes “a yearly frisson of pleasure as it thuds down on bibliographical doormats everywhere.” Further recent indication of the prominence of SB was the fact that it was one of five scholarly journals selected for discussion in the latest “Learned Journals” issue of the London Times Literary Supplement (5 November 2004), where David McKitterick noted that the journal is both forward-looking and conscious of bibliographical history and biography. The journal has always been international in its roll of contributors, which has included many of the major scholars in the field, such as (to name only a dozen) Fleeman, Foxon, Gaskell, Greg, Hinman, Kyriss, McKenzie, Needham, Silver, Stevenson, Todd, and Alice Walker (plus Bowers and Vander Meulen themselves). And the subject matter treated has been similarly cosmopolitan, ranging from fifteenth-century European books to twentieth-century American ones, from medieval manuscripts to modern literary holographs, from the physical analysis of books (an area in which SB holds a particularly historic place) to the theory and practice of textual criticism and scholarly editing. The journal has also published, from the start, articles dealing with book publication and reception–the kind of work that now falls under the rubric “history of the book.” David Vander Meulen, besides continuing this tradition, has increased the journal’s attention to bibliographical history, having recently published biographical studies of Bowers, Stevenson, Fleeman, Foxon, and Ridolfi, as well as McKerrow’s unpublished 1928 Sandars Lectures, on the relation of Renaissance printed books to authors’ manuscripts, and Gordon N. Ray’s unpublished 1985 Lyell Lectures on the Art Deco book in France (which still make a significant contribution to their subject). (I might add, parenthetically, that the unparochial nature of SB reflects the diversity, both geographical and intellectual, of the Society’s membership, and indeed its leaders: my presidency, for instance, symbolizes–since I have no connection with the University of Virginia–the fact that the Society, despite its name, is more than a local organization.)

If SB–or “Studies,” as it is more often called within the Society–is the centerpiece of the Society’s publication program, it is not the only element in our commitment to the dissemination of scholarship. We take pride in the fact that the Society has published over 175 other works, and I can give a flavor of what this accomplishment amounts to by naming a few of the landmarks. Paul Morrison in 1950 and 1955 published indexes to the printers, publishers, and booksellers in the Pollard-Redgrave Short-Title Catalogue and in Wing; Charles C. Mish brought out in 1967 his final version of a listing of seventeenth-century English prose fiction; and Roger Bristol published in 1970-71 the final revision of his supplement to Evans’sAmerican Bibliography. Although Morrison’s work was superseded by the third volume of Pantzer’s STC revision, and although all three are now superseded by the electronic English Short-Title Catalogue, they served a crucial function for many years. D. F. McKenzie’s Stationers’ Company Apprentices, 1605-1640 (1961) was the first book of this major bibliographical scholar; and Rollo G. Silver’s Typefounding in America, 1787-1825 (1965) and The American Printer, 1787-1825 (1967) were the two main books of one of the premier historians of American printing (and the second recipient of an APHA Individual Award). B. C. Bloomfield’s 1964 descriptive bibliography of Auden, especially as revised with Edward Mendelson in 1972, is generally regarded as one of the models for twentieth-century author bibliography (a cause also promoted by a series of descriptive bibliographies named in honor of Linton Massey). A substantial collection of Bowers’s essays, published in 1975, has been one of the Society’s most often cited books. And two distinctive instances of the responsible publication of facsimiles, which demonstrate the scholarly contributions that can be made by such editions, are G. Blakemore Evans’s eight-volume series of Shakespearean Prompt-Books of the Seventeenth Century (1960-96) and David Vander Meulen’s exemplary historical study of Pope’s “Dunciad” of 1728 (1991).

In recent years the Society’s publication program has taken full advantage of the possibilities for electronic dissemination on the internet. One of Kendon Stubbs’s many services to the Society was to get us started on this venture, and since then we have been expertly assisted by David Seaman, Matthew Gibson, and the staff of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center. We were able to announce, at the Society’s fiftieth-anniversary gala, that the full run of Studies in Bibliography was accessible to all readers on the Society’s website. I believe we can correctly claim that SB is the first scholarly journal with a long run to be made available in its entirety and free of charge on the internet. And it can now be read in ebook form as well. Our program of electronic publications includes not only other previously published works but also new works, such as Emily Lorraine de Montluzin’s record of attributions of authorship in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and supplementary material to accompany contributions to SB, such as the illustrations for Gordon Ray’s study of the French Art Deco book.

If the Society’s influential presence in the bibliographical world comes largely through its printed and electronic publications, it does sponsor other activities for a local audience in Charlottesville. From the beginning the Society has held a student book-collecting contest, which now brings to the winners not only the monetary prizes provided by the Society but also a number of gift certificates from booksellers, an exhibition in the library, publicity in the newspapers, and a special session with the curator of rare books–plus, for the first-place winner, a tuition-free class in Terry Belanger’s Rare Book School. The Society’s meetings in recent years have also recognized the importance of encouraging bibliographical work among students. In alternating years graduate students are asked to read papers on bibliographical and textual subjects–and in the intervening years Virginia faculty members report on their work in these areas.

This APHA award brings welcome attention to all these activities of the Society. But there is one other aspect of the award that I want to mention: that it comes from an organization with the word “history” in its name. Some of the work supported by our Society would of course be considered “history” under anyone’s definition. That bibliographical scholarship is necessarily historical scholarship, however, is not always recognized. To me, this situation is epitomized by the fact that listings of scholarship in book history rarely include work in bibliographical analysis, even though such analysis has repeatedly uncovered facts of printing history–facts that are just as much a part of the full story of each book’s life as are publishers’ marketing decisions and readers’ responses. People sometimes have claimed that analytical bibliography–that is, the activity of examining the manufacturing clues present in printed artifacts like books and ephemera–involves too much interpretation to result in solid facts, such as those supposedly derived from archival records. The answer to this claim is that the products of the printing press are part of the archival record and that whatever difficulties they pose for interpretation are matched by those present in other archives, such as printers’ and publishers’ papers and ledgers.

Every category of surviving artifact requires informed judgment for its decipherment, and what we call historical facts are always the result of an interpretive process and thus subject to future refutation. Much of what we wish to extrapolate from tangible evidence–and therefore much of what we regularly call “history”–consists of past events: that is, the actions and thoughts of particular individuals at certain times. Reconstructing the activities of compositors and pressmen on specific occasions (or, indeed, the intentions of authors at specific times) is no different from the myriad other acts of hypothesizing that historical knowledge is made of. We in the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia are therefore particularly gratified that a printing history association has again chosen to recognize the activities of a bibliographical society, and we thank you very much.

G. Thomas Tanselle 
President of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 
29 January 2005

Posted with the author’s permission. Copyright remains with the author.