Society for History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing Conference Recap
Studying the SHARP program diligently with its three days of 55 panel sessions and 173 presentations, various forums, plenary keynotes, receptions, tours of Philadelphia institutes and rare book and manuscript collections, was an exercise in "choice shock." I was not attending this event as an editor/publisher, my usual role, so I could follow my own interests but even trying to do that was daunting.
Since I wanted to get the 'big picture' I went to David McKnight, the convener of the conference and Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania and asked if I could interview him. In that conversation David proceeded to dazzle me, unbeknownst to him probably, with the history of SHARP, his own role in it, and the History of the Book projects in many countries. He noted how SHARP was a catalyst for this emerging scholarship back when it was founded in 1991. He referenced a book by D.F. McKenzie whose Bibliography and Sociology of Texts, published in 1999, began to transform his and many others' understanding of what it meant to study the history of the book. Those ideas helped shape a scholarly discussion which also began to transform the field from a descriptive bibliographic orientation to a much broader understanding of the material texts.
The field began to grow rapidly over the next two decades and it was David's overview and explanation of specialized language and streams of thought which guided me through my choices of sessions to attend. It can take years to understand the intellectual landscape of any academic discipline but I wanted to learn all of that in three days. That is not possible, of course, but with David's help and others that I talked to I did make some progress toward that goal, which might have eluded me completely if I had just wandered around listening to interesting sounding presentations.