Monday, 6 July 2020

Westcountry Studies newsletter. Issue 16 July 2020

Westcountry Studies

bibliographical newsletter

on Devon and its region

Issue 16

June 2020


As we tentatively exit lock-down, the updated list of 2020 publications retains the section on coronavirus at the start. Unsurprisingly no hard copy publications on the local impact of the virus have been traced so far but it is gratifying to see that an increasing number of Devon websites have been archived by the Wayback Machine since February. Unfortunately the UK Web Archive falls down very badly in comparison with its American cousin. It is very difficult to search and there are few hits later than 2016. Many of the items can only be accessed in the British Library reading room. One source that provides a vivid picture of day to day development of the response is the range of bulletins that are emailed to subscribers. It is difficult to find an accessible archive of these. They are only intermittently picked up by the Wayback Machine and seem to languish in recipents' email files until they are deleted. I have managed to pull together one fairly complete set for Devon County Council which I give below:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) response update from Devon County Council
Friday 3 July 2020
Wednesday 1 July 2020
Friday 26 June 2020
Thursday 18 June 2020 (Scam awareness during Covid-19)
Wednesday 17 June 2020
Tuesday 9 June 2020
Friday 5 June 2020
Tuesday 2 June 2020
Thursday 28 May 2020
Friday 22 May 2020
Tuesday 19 May 2020
Friday 15 May 2020
Tuesday 12 May 2020
Wednesday 6 May 2020
Friday 1 May 2020
Tuesday 28 April
Friday 24 April 2020
Wednesday 22 April
Friday 17 April 2020
Tuesday 14 April 2020
Thursday 9 April 2020
Monday 6 April 2020
Friday 3 April 2020
Wednesday 1 April 2020
Monday 30 March 2020
Friday 27 March 2020
Wednesday 25 March 2020
Tuesday 17 March 2020 Coronavirus scams warning from Trading Standards

The last one, which pre-dates the earliest in my series, is the only one so far archived by the Wayback Machine. The GovDelivery service for these bulletins is provided by the American firm Granicus to many local authorities in the UK, and they may be able to advise on how to access the URLs for individual bulletins.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on publishing. With bookshops and libraries closed until recently and so many workers furloughed or working from home, things have been very quiet. Little of interest has appeared on BNB, much of it being publications by Devon publishers, usually not with any Devon content or some fiction set locally. Most of the records in BNB are pre-publication anyway. I have not been able to raid tourist information centres - the Exeter one remained closed when I passed by the other day - but on-line searches indicate that many local guides and other tourist publications have been held back until the situation has clarified. But libraries and museums have not been idle. In Exeter and Barnstaple there are projects under way to record people's experiences during lock-down and on 13 June I contributed to a series on the Devon and Cornwall Record Society's Facebook page recording the reactions of Devon's local historians, archaeologists, librarians, archivists and writers to the pandemic. Together with the Coronavirus Community Archive being compiled by the South West Heritage Trust there will be no end of material for future historians to work with.

Lock-down lucubrations
With things relatively quiet and with more time on my hands the Devon bibliography has taken a back seat and I have been ranging more widely, although most of my wanderings do have links with Devon and Exeter. Here are some of the places I have been visiting over the last 100 days:

Hawker from almanac printed in Caen, 1730
On the eve of lock-down an international project of some thirty years duration was finally completed with the publication of the Dictionnaire des imprimeurs, libraires et gens du livre en Basse-Normandie 1701-1789 by Droz in Geneva. The link here is that it originated with the twinning of libraries in Caen and Calvados in the 1970s and 1980s. The two library services had much to learn from each other. In the field of local studies it brought me into contact with my opposite number Alain Girard, like myself interested in book history and responsible for the Normandy local studies and rare book collections. We became close friends and had visions of co-operating on projects both before and after retirement and so it proved to be, though not quite as expected. Alain died unexpectedly while on holiday in 1996 at the age of fifty. His papers were discovered by his widow in 2007 and since then, in association with the Ecole pratique des hautes etudes in Paris I have been preparing them for publication, more recently with Jean-Dominique Mellot of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The work  includes an introductory survey of the world of the book in Lower Normandy in 116 pages which I am in the process of translating into English as the basis for a comparative study. It can be seen as work in progress on the Exeter working papers on book history website. The woodcut of a hawker is taken from the cover of a Caen almanac and reflects the network of itinerant booksellers uncovered during researches into the Normandy book trades.

Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica
Image of Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god, with Nahuatl verse
This project goes back even further and results from the rediscovery of a manuscript I produced back in the 1960s when I was fascinated by these diverse cultures where literacy had evolved completely independently from the Middle East, the Mediterranean and China. I even considered writing my MA thesis on the codices of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica rather the the London book trades of the later 18th century. During lock-down I placed the manuscript on the web and, more importantly have been working on up-dating the listing of Mesoamerican codices, both pre-Columbian and colonial that I compiled at the time with links to on-line images.

Extract from Plano en papel de maguey - INAH Mexico City
There are many interesting points of comparison with the "Old World". The image to the right is an extract from the Plano en papel de maguey, a map dating from around 1525, showing an area of chinampas (small, rectangular areas of fertile arable land to grow crops on the shallow bed of Lake Texcocoin the northern part of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) and is completely in the indigenous style. It is interesting to compare with 16th century mapping in Devon, the work of Hooker and Norden, for example.

Iwe irohin - the first newspaper in Nigeria
My investigations into the spread of printing into Africa were revived by involvement with the Global Lives project at the University of Exeter and an intense exchange of messages during lock-down on slavery and colonialism provoked by the Black Lives Matter movement and the toppling of statues. It transpired that printing arrived too late in most of Africa to be of great relevance to provide evidence of the slave trade and when it did it was mostly in the hands of missions, which were more concerned with conversion than enslavement. Incidentally Exeter played some role in the spread of printing to Africa. Henry Townsend (1815–1886) was born in Exeter into a printing family. He became a missionary to Nigeria linked to the Church Missionary Society. In Abeokuta, he started Iwe Irohin, the first newspaper in Nigeria in 1859 and also published Yoruba hymn books and grammars. Back in Exeter the Townsend family were still printing books in African languages in the 1920s. The arrival of government and official presses when Africa was being carved up is more relevant for the study of colonialism than for the slave trade.

Aimro - Wikimedia Commons.
My digging around also threw up an interesting press in the only African country not to suffer colonisation: Ethiopia, where slavery remained endemic despite a series of proclamations by successive emperors to prohibit the practice. In 1921 the Crown Prince set up his own printing press known as the Ras Tafari Makonnen Press. It largely printed religious works and also an account of his travels in Europe and the Middle East in 1924, so it was a mixture of a mission press, a private press and a government printing office. The press was renamed Haile Selassie Printing Press after he was crowned Emperor. There had been intermittent mission presses, chiefly in Eritrea since 1863, and some commercial and government printing, chiefly Italian, after that part of Ethiopia became an Italian colony in 1889. Ethiopia proper only received a printing press in Harar in 1905 to publish Le semeur d'Ethiopie, a newspaper campaigning against leprosy. In the same year printing finally reached Addis Ababa to produce the weekly newspaper Aimro (Intellect) in an edition of 200 copies. Prior to that it had been produced since 1901 in a manuscript edition of 24 copies. Although he was literate, the Emperor Menelik II liked to have the newspaper read to him and in this he was following the tradition of the manuscript exaltation sheets. Since at least 1896 Deita Mitike had been regularly producing such sheets in multiple manuscript copies under the title Ye beir dimts (The voice of the pen). Significantly when the government printing office was set up in 1916, it came under the direction of the Ministry of Pen. Historical research is made more complicated by the fact that the Ethiopian calendar was seven or eight years adrift of the Gregorian calendar and it is not always evident which one is being referred to.

The survival of the manuscript tradition has its parallels in Devon, albeit three centuries earlier. Richard Coffin (1622-1699), book collector and antiquary of Portledge in Alwington, North Devon used as his London agent the bookdealer Richard Lapthorne, some 400 of whose letters, written between 1683 and 1697, survive in the delightfully named Pine-Coffin manuscripts in the Devon Heritage Centre. Lapthorne regularly supplied Coffin with the printed Gazettes, but also added London gossip of his own as a sort of manuscript coranto that was quite common at that period. In the same period unpublished histories of Devon were also circulating in manuscript; in fact some of the standard histories of the county such as those by Risdon and Pole had to wait two centuries for a decent printed version. The same survival of the manuscript tradition long after the arrival of printing is also evident in my next bibliographical port of  call. 

The arrival during lock-down of three boxes of books relating to Sabine Baring-Gould, destined to join the rest of the Shacklock Collection in Lewtrenchard when the hotel reopens, included a copy of Iceland, its scenes and sagas, an account of the adventurous travels of the 28 year old teacher, then at Hurstpierpoint College, in 1862. I had long known that he had donated saga manuscripts that he had collected to the British Museum library but they had never been identified by SBG researchers. Armed with the descriptions in the book I was able to identify them as BL Additional Manuscripts 24,969 to 24,973 although their provenance was not noted in the on-line records, presumably taken from the printed catalogue. The contents are fully listed and I hope to add them as a supplement to the catalogue of the Sabine Baring-Gould library; at the very least it will be a test of the record format that I have adopted for the Devon bibliography. I also hope to extend it to include the contents of the printed versions of the sagas in his collections and pull together an overview of the world of the book in Iceland as he found it in 1862. SBG was fascinated by the sagas and was always ready to recount them to his pupils. He writes:
An Icelander reads his sagas aloud winter after winter, till the book is ready to fall to pieces, when he carefully transcribes it, and then casts the well-worn volume aside. I one day saw an old MS. of the Hrafnkels Saga in a byre, and offered to purchase it, but the farmer would not part with it at any price, because he had not yet copied it. In the 12mo. volume which I obtained at Grimstunga, is the last page of the Ajax Saga ; the rest had been gradually thumbed away, but the loose pages had not been lost till the farmer's daughter had carefully recopied them word for word. 
Those of us deprived of reading material in recent weeks will sympathise with the Icelandic farmer snowed in with his family beneath a turf roof during the long, cold, dark nights every winter.

My home city has not been neglected. For the Exeter Civic Society I have been preparing a self-guided walk round lock-down Exeter which they may use as their contribution to Heritage Open Days in September. In the meantime a working draft is available on the Exetereme Blogging website. The Society is also hoping to produce revised versions of their Discovering Exeter series of booklets. On the same website I am working on a revision of my local patch, St Leonard's. It sheds an interesting light on the way the internet has changed the production of such local publications. Will this one ever appear in print, or will it remain a permanently provisional document on the Society's website - backed up at intervals by the good old Wayback Machine?

Thank you for your indulgence, if you have got this far. At least you will understand, having joined me in my vicarious travels around the world of the book, why Devon will be taking a smaller share of my time post-lockdown. The Devon bibliography will still be there and maintained after a fashion. It is there for anyone to take off my hands but for me it has become a small part of the World book trade historical register.

It is with delight that I can record that, with the assistance of the Friends of Devon’s Archives, Mr Cliff Webb and the Trustees of Bampton Heritage and Visitor Centre the Devon Heritage Centre has been able to purchase at auction a beautifully preserved court roll for the manor of Bampton covering the period 1547 to 1548, the year of the Western Rebellion. More detail and an illustration and be found on the South West Heritage Trust website. At the recent zoom committee meeting of FODA it was also learned that work is also progressing on the HLF funded project Seventeenth-century communities in Devon: people and their landscapes in the Norden survey of 1613 with village groups working on transcription during lockdown. FODA is involved with this project as well as the ambitious digitisation project Our region revealed: unlocking the treasure of the Devon and Exeter Institution's illustrations collection. Both will provide material in plenty for exhibitions, activities, presentations and meetings, once we are again able to attend such events.