Centre for the History of the Book

Biologies and Ethnologies of the Book

Hosted by the Centre for the History of the Book, this one-day workshop brings together scholars from various disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, archaeology, and early American literature.

About the workshop

We know frustratingly little about early Native American histories of the book. After all, Native Americans have been dismissed as a people without letters or book culture since the colonial encounter when a literate civilization allegedly came face to face with illiterate savagery. In recent years, scholars have begun to challenge this pervasive Eurocentric paradigm and recover the ways in which indigenous readers and craftsmen participated in, appropriated, and actively changed early American print culture. Innovative non-invasive technologies, moreover, from x-rays to Raman spectroscopy and DNA analysis, have opened new and intriguing approaches to the “reading” of textual artifacts and their materialities.

This interdisciplinary workshop asks how can these innovative analytical methods help uncover hidden and unacknowledged indigenous heritage, such as material practices, erudition, and craftsmanship, in mutually informative ways? Bringing together scholars from various disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, archaeology, and early American literature, we examine what is probably the earliest surviving Native American bookbinding. Specifically, we look at the original leather covers of a 1669 Indian Primer as an alternative indigenous archive. The Wampanoag abecedary printed at the first colonial American press at Harvard College, preserves on its decorated binding natural pigments and leatherworking techniques. As an embodied archive, it also provides access to hybrid traditions of ornamentation and binding practices that index their making, cultural belonging, and signifying processes.


2:00pm Opening words: Tom Mole, Director of the Centre for the History of the Book

2:05pm Steffi Dippold, Department of English, Kansas State University - “A, B, Ch, D, E, F, G: Indigenous Literacy and the Worlds of the Indian Primer (1669)”

2:25pm Alison Hulme, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh -“Fashion, Conservation and Science” 

2:45pm Elizabeth Lawrence, Center for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh - “Americans Abroad: John Eliot’s Publications in Edinburgh University Library” 

3:05pm Break

3:20pm Sarah Fiddyment, Department of Archeology, University of York - “Biocodicology - Revealing the Hidden Biological Histories of Books”

3:40pm Lore Troalen, National Museums Scotland - “Investigation of Subarctic Athapaskan Quillwork and its Sensitivity to Photo-Degradation”

4:00pm Q&A followed by brainstorming next steps

No booking is required. The event is free and open to all.

Are you interested in studying Book History and Material Culture?

Accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, our one-year taught masters programme brings together theory and practice in new and innovative ways, integrating traditional bibliography, advanced theoretical approaches, training in special collections, and optional work placements.

Find out more about our MSc in Book History and Material Culture

Oct 02 2018 -

Biologies and Ethnologies of the Book

An one-day interdisciplinary workshop on Deciphering the Indigenous Artifact Language of the Edinburgh Indian Primer.

CRC Seminar Room
Sixth floor, Main University Library
30 George Square