Book History and publishing

Antwerp is home to numerous actors from the so-called value network of the book: publishers and bookshops, libraries, initiatives to promote reading and support literature, advocacy and advisory bodies for the library sector... At the same time, the city also breathes the history of the book. Book historians find their source material in, among others, three recognised heritage libraries (including the University's own library and the Library of the Ruusbroec Society, as well as the Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience), in the Letterenhuis, the Museum Plantin-Moretus and the Stedelijk Prentenkabinet.

It's not surprising then that several researchers at the Faculty of Arts are focusing on the ancient and contemporary book in all its forms. And in doing so, involve as many players - including outside Antwerp, including outside Flanders - as possible. The chronological scope of this book-related research is deliberately very broad: it includes medieval manuscripts as well as printed books and periodicals from the artisanal and industrial periods and the most advanced forms of digital publishing. And it focuses on aspects of design and production as well as on commercial distribution and various forms of consumption: individual reading, collective reading, reading for and by children, collecting as a social task and as a cultural practice... Incidentally, the researchers also include printed prints in the material they study: many prints that are collected and preserved separately today once functioned as book illustrations, and in any case they were created by using the same basic materials and techniques as the printed book.

This research can look back on a long, recognised tradition within the University of Antwerp. High-profile examples were Geert Lernout's A short history of the book (2004) and Ludo Simons' The book in Flanders since 1800: a cultural history (2013). It was also within the University of Antwerp and the Anet team that the STCV (Short-Title Catalogue Vlaanderen, 2000-) was developed, after which this online bibliography of the hand-printed book was incorporated into the workings of the vzw Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheken. This tradition has continued unabated since 2014. Moreover, 2014 was a symbolic year, because in September our faculty then organised, together with several urban partners, the annual conference of the international Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) under the title 'Religions of the Book'. An overview of achievements over the past eight years, involving collaboration across the borders of programmes, departments and research groups, follows at the bottom of this text.

There is also close cooperation with the University Library and the Anet team, in particular also with the Special Collections Department. Beyond the boundaries of the University of Antwerp, there are structural forms of cooperation with the Heritage Library Hendrik Conscience (EHC), the Museum Plantin-Moretus (MPM), the Letterenhuis, the non-profit Flemish Heritage Libraries and the Plantin Institute of Typography.

Valorisation activities

  • Exhibition (with accompanying book) 'Holy Books: Judaism, Christianity, Islam' at EHC, 2014: Lernout and Delsaerdt were curators on behalf of UAntwerpen. Maartje De Wilde (then EHC) coordinated. The catalogue included collaboration with Herman Van Goethem.
  • Travelling exhibition "Conn3ct: 2 media, 1 story" at Staats- und Universitätsbibliotheek Göttingen, KB Den Haag, EHC, Openbare Bibliotheek Hasselt, 2017: Delsaerdt wrote texts, De Wilde coordinated; a collaboration with the vzw Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheken and its partners.
  • Exhibition (with accompanying book) 'Heroes in Armour' in EHC (2021-22), a collaboration between ISLN, UB and EHC. Also worth mentioning in this context: a study of the bibliophile collection of the Dukes of Arenberg, from which many of the knightly novels on display came: Elly Cockx-Indestege and Pierre Delsaerdt, Le goût de la bibliophilie nationale. La collection de livres rares et précieux des ducs d'Arenberg à Bruxelles, XIXe-XXe siècles (Brepols 2022).
  • Development of virtual exhibition on the retirement of a UAntwerp colleague (2022; under construction). Cooperation between ISLN, UB and RG.
  • Exhibition 'Baroque Influencers. Jesuits and the Art of Persuasion in the 17th century' (Antwerp 2023), a collaboration between CSG, RG and RG library, ISLN, UB, UCSIA, Jesuit Heritage Foundation, EHC, Snijders&Rockoxhuis, and KU Leuven Faculty of Letters.