The History of the Stationers' Company 1557–1710 (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2011 semester seminar led by Ian Gadd.

Serious interest in early modern English printed books will, at some point, lead scholars to the Stationers’ Company. It might be tracking down the “entrance” of a particular book in Edward Arber’s Transcript or the discovery that a printer was “freed” on a particular date or finding the Company’s name in the 1637 Star Chamber decree or the 1662 Licensing Act. This ubiquity is not surprising. The Stationers’ Company was a dominant force in the English book trade throughout the early modern period. With few exceptions, one could not be a successful printer or bookseller in post-1557 England without having some kind of relationship with the Company. Yet, despite the Company’s importance, there is no ready account that students and scholars can turn to in order to learn more: the only monograph history is fifty years old, while the relevant entry in the Oxford Companion to Literature is unchanged since the 1930s. Little wonder, then, that the Company and its records are frequently misunderstood. This seminar sought, quite simply, to remedy these shortcomings. Focusing on a different aspect of the Company each week, it explained how the Company operated on a day-to-day basis; the nature and reach of its powers and jurisdiction; its complex social, economic, and cultural roles; and its context within London and beyond. Participants learned about the purpose of the Stationers’ Register, the significance of being a member of the Company, and the extent to which the Company acted as an agent of censorship. Along the way participants encountered the Company’s saints, whips, and guns; its attitude to authors; its own 1640s civil war; its true role in the Glorious Revolution; and its corporate identity and voice. It exposed many of the myths associated with the Company and how much the “modern” view of its activities can be traced back to a single historical account written in 1720. Finally, the seminar guided participants through the key records of the Company, in their manuscript and edited forms, from decoding Arber’s Transcript to reconstructing biographies through apprentice and freemen registers. There was ample opportunity to develop individual research interests. In short, by answering the question, “What was the Stationers’ Company?,” this seminar aimed to transform conceptions of the early modern English book trade, of the men and women who worked in that trade, and of the books they produced.

Director: Ian Gadd is a Senior Lecturer in English at Bath Spa University, UK. His D.Phil. (Oxon) focused on the Stationers’ Company in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He was Munby Fellow in Bibliography at the University of Cambridge, and a Research Editor for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He is a General Editor of the Cambridge Works of Jonathan Swift, and a member of the Advisory Board for the New Oxford Shakespeare. He co-edited an edition of Swift’s Political Writings 1711–14 with Bertrand A. Goldgar (2008), is volume editor of the History of the Book in the West 1455–1700 (Ashgate, in press), and is also editing Volume 1 (1478–1780) of the History of Oxford University Press (Oxford University Press, 2012). In addition, he has published articles on London history and the English book trade. In 2009 he was elected Vice-President of the Society of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP). Since 1996, he has edited HoBo (a website dedicated to the ‘history of the book’ as a field of study), hosted by the University of Oxford.