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From the Prez

As many of you will know, Elizabeth Eisenstein — book historian, international tennis champion, and long-time member of SHARP — died in January, after a short illness, at the age of 92. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (1983), the abridged and illustrated version of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979), was one of the very first books I bought as a masters’ student and I remember vividly the intellectual excitement it stirred in me: here, I realised, was the field to which I wanted to devote my scholarly career. I met Professor Eisenstein first at a SHARP conference in Edinburgh in 1995, directing her to the correct lecture hall: although I was almost a third of her age and somewhat taller, I struggled to keep up as she dashed across the Edinburgh traffic — and then watched as she delivered her keynote lecture with characteristic brio. Her mental and physical energy was extraordinary and I think her lectures captured her at her best: lively, engaging, informed, ambitious, and provocative. Although many of us will have her two-volume magnus opus on our shelves, she was a brilliant essayist, in the full sense of that term, always keen to explore hypotheses and to move the debate forwards. She was also a model SHARP member: collegial, open, involved, and internationally minded.

Professor Eisenstein was a scholar of French history, and so it is fitting that we return to France for this year’s SHARP conference. SHARP 2016 in Paris promises to one of the most successful conferences we’ve ever had, with more speakers and sessions than ever before. It promises too to be one of the most internationally diverse, and I particularly look forward to welcoming many scholars from across the world for whom this will be their first SHARP conference.

Attending a SHARP conference, though, is often an expensive proposition, given the rising cost of travel and accommodation. Conference organisers endeavour to keep the registration costs as low as possible — their goal is to break even, not to generate profit — but here too costs are increasing. As an organisation, we do not subsidise our conferences but we do ensure that every delegate pays a small surcharge on top of their registration fee, to fund grants for individuals without which they could not attend the conference. In this way, SHARP 2015 in Montreal generated $7000 to support delegates this year, and by attending Paris you too will be helping to support delegates at SHARP 2017. In addition, we are very grateful to the Delmas Foundation for supporting the attendance of a select group of international early career scholars, who will also be participating in a pre-conference workshop at Paris entitled ‘Broadening the reach of book history around the globe’.

In my previous column, I mentioned that I had asked Past President Leslie Howsam to review SHARP’s constitution. The constitution had been last revised in 2009 and since then, SHARP has become more financially robust, more internationally diverse — and much more industrious. Alongside the foundational work of our conferences and publications, we now support dozens of small book historical events across the world, provide scholarships at various international institutions, run a translations committee, maintain our own archive, and so on. Our Board of Directors is more active than ever, and I must pay particular thanks to my colleagues on the Executive Council who collectively volunteer hundreds of hours to support SHARP. The constitution, then, needs to reflect the growing range and complexity of our activities and the increasing number of members holding some kind of official responsibility, and to ensure that we remain accountable to our membership at the same time as helping SHARP to become a more efficient and flexible organisation. The proposed changes include revisions to the number and terms of the Board of Directors, a slight increase to the size of the Executive Council, formal acknowledgement of the increasing number of SHARP ‘agents’ (that is, non-officers who have Society roles), and the formal creation of committees to oversee specific aspects of SHARP’s activities. In addition, we are following the practice of many other scholarly organisations by creating a ‘policy manual’ that will sit alongside the constitution and will detail our day-to-day working procedures.

As I write this, a draft of the revised constitution has been submitted to our Board for comment and approval; if they are happy with it, we will then make the draft text available to all members for further input before presenting a finalised version for formal ratification by the membership. I look forward to hearing your responses once we share the proposed revisions.

Over the past year we have also been experimenting with the new role of an Executive Council ‘Assistant’ partly to help me and my colleagues with some of the more time-consuming administrative tasks but also to support us in more complex projects. We appointed Dr Vincent Trott, a London-based book historian working on the First World War, and he has already helped us get a more better understanding of our membership’s demographics and has been researching ways that we could make membership more affordable to scholars working in developing economies. I will say more about these aspects in Paris, but in the meantime I wanted to thank Vincent for all his help to date.

Last year, we announced a competition inviting rare book schools and similar organisations that offered short courses of relevance to book history to apply for three years’ worth of scholarship funds. We received applications from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, the Book History Workshop at Texas A&M, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria in Canada, California Rare Book School, the London Rare Book School, the Institut d’Histoire du Livre in Lyon, and the Australasian Rare Book School. The quality of the applications was such that we decided to award every organisation a ‘SHARP New Scholar Bursary’ for 2016, 2017, and 2018, to cover course fees along with some contribution to living expenses. These scholarships will be open only to SHARP members who are graduate students, post-docs, junior faculty, adjunct professors, and those within 5 years of their last awarded degree in any discipline; preference will be given to applicants from countries outside that of the host institution. I will be announcing the recipients of the 2016 scholarships in the coming months.

Ian Gadd, March 2016