Bibliographical Society

History

The Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia was founded in 1947 at the University in Charlottesville in order to promote interest in books and manuscripts, maps, printing, the graphic arts, and bibliography and textual criticism. Within a few years these interests had resulted in exhibitions, contests for student book collectors and Virginia printers, the establishment of a small press (the Cockescraw Press), an international speakers series, and an active publications program. The Society has produced about 178 separate publications–in addition to 54 issues of its Secretary’s News Sheet and 58 volumes of its journal Studies in Bibliography (and reprints of 20 of them).

It is the Society’s publications, particularly its journal Studies in Bibliography, that have most widely characterized the Society and led to its greatest influence. Studies was established under the editorship of Fredson Bowers in 1948 as Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia (but adopting the current title already for its second volume). Studies is currently edited by David Vander Meulen. On the twentieth anniversary of the journal, Sir Frank Francis observed that SB “sprang into being full-grown and fully armed, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, whose thunderbolts she wielded from time to time.” Already in 1951 John Carter had declared, in the Times Literary Supplement, that this journal “must take its place in the first rank of such publications anywhere in the world”; Studies was at the core of a constellation of Society activities that made the name “Virginia” a codeword for the analysis of books as physical objects, the study of the transmission of texts, and the preparation of scholarly editions.

In 1997 the Society celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Volume 50 (1997) of Studies in Bibliography contains various accounts of that first half century: a history of the Society and a record of its publications by David L. Vander Meulen, a history of the journal itself by G. Thomas Tanselle, and an author index to its first fifty volumes by David L. Gants and Elizabeth K. Lynch.

The Society now comprises about 400 members and other subscribers in 31 countries. When in 1993 G. Thomas Tanselle of New York became the first non-local resident to serve as president, his incumbency implicitly recognized the wide geographical range that has characterized Society membership from the start. Each spring the organization holds its annual meeting at the University where it was founded, with talks by local students and faculty engaged in bibliographical and textual work. Every even-numbered year it conducts its Student Book Collecting contest, with the winning entries displayed in the library lobby. In 2013, the Society established a program of summer fellowships at UVa named in honor of Martin Battestin, emeritus professor of English at UVa, and his wife Ruthe, a literary scholar and member of the Society’s Council. The Society also continues its long tradition of publication–in  printed form, and now on the Web as well. Prime among the digital publications is the first half-century of Studies in Bibliography—the first scholarly journal to have its entire—and sizeable—back file made available on the Internet without charge, and in ebook format, an indication of the Society’s commitment to serving the scholarly world.