Major Grant to Build Digital Reconstruction of Enlightenment Culture, Based on Library Book Borrowing

Reprinted from University of Liverpool News

University of Liverpool academics secured an £800K AHRC grant to create an open access, digital reconstruction of Enlightenment culture, by studying which books were most frequently borrowed from libraries during the period.

Until now, scholars researching the influence of ideas on significant historical events between 1731 and 1800 – such as the French or American Revolutions – would look to the major philosophical texts written at the time.

But this project, entitled Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth Century Atlantic, led by the University’s Professor Mark Towsey, will seek to construct a database allowing users to pinpoint which books were borrowed most frequently, who borrowed them and which tomes rarely left the library shelves; effectively revealing what was read, where, by whom and to what effect.

Professor Mark Towsey, from the Department of History, said: “We expect that this data will have a transformative effect on how scholars from a very wide range of disciplines study the circulation and reception of 18th-century texts.

“It will allow the project team – and subsequent users of the database – to map in unprecedented detail the dissemination of texts in literature, political science, economics, philosophy and history, including the impact of radical new ideas associated with the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions.”

The project – working with nine library partners in the UK, USA and Australia – will focus on the role played by voluntary subscription libraries, of which there were around 350 across Atlantic bordering countries by the turn of the 19th Century.

A precursor of the modern public library, unregulated subscription libraries grew as a means of providing access to expensive books that were beyond financial reach through individual purchase.

The very first formal subscription library was the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and a group of like-minded artisans.

Professor Towsey, also Director of Liverpool’s Eighteenth-Century Worlds Research Centre, said: “Subscription libraries’ collections – captured in the library catalogues that are the main focus of this project – constituted material instantiations of readers’ shifting interests, helping to reveal the role of newly enfranchised readers in reorganising and extending literary, intellectual and political culture.”

A team of eight investigators drawn from the UK, USA and Australia will work on the three year project, including world-leading experts at Western Sydney University’s Digital Humanities Research Group and two newly appointed, Liverpool based Postdoctoral Research Associates; Dr Sophie H Jones and Dr Max Skjönsberg.

The nine partner libraries include surviving libraries from the period in review; the Library Company of Philadelphia, the New York Society Library, , the Library Company of Burlington the Union Library of Hatborough and the Linen Hall Library in Belfast; as well as Liverpool Central Library, Bristol Central Library, the Birmingham and Midland Institute and the State Library of New South Wales.

Professor Towsey added: “Alongside the crucial enrichment work we will be doing with partner libraries, we also aim to make a critical intervention in current national and international debates about library provision, enabling contemporary discussion about the value of libraries through better understanding of their historical roles in the formation of reading communities.”

To find out more about the Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth Century Atlantic project, please visit:

3-Year Postdoc Positions on New AHRC Grant-Funded Project

The Department of History at the University of Liverpool invites applications for two full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate posts for 3 years to work with Professor Mark Towsey as part of the newly-funded AHRC project Libraries, Reading Communities and Cultural Formation in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic.

The project investigates the contribution made by books to social, cultural and political change in the eighteenth century. The primary aim is to collect and make available in a single open access database the largest collection of contextualised bibliometric data on eighteenth-century library holdings, membership and usage in the British Isles and North America ever assembled. The project will use this new data to conduct research on the acquisition, organisation, circulation and dissemination of books. You will join a team of eight researchers from the UK, the USA and Australia, working in close collaboration with ten partner institutions including the Bristol Central Library, the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the New York Society Library and the State Library of New South Wales.

You will have responsibility for the primary research content of the database, including data entry, bibliographical research on library holdings and prosopographical research on library members. You will collaborate with Partners on workshops and exhibitions, co-edit (with the PI) a volume of essays, and produce an article and a book chapter on topics arising from the database. As well as enhancing your own expertise in this field, you will have significant career development opportunities through advanced technical training onsite at Western Sydney University and involvement in impact partnerships, publication and editing.

You will benefit from membership of Liverpool’s Eighteenth-Century Worlds Research Centre, which offers a rich interdisciplinary research environment including a flourishing MA programme, a vibrant PGR community, regular research events and further opportunities for valuable professional experience.

You should have a PhD with a specialisation in a field relevant to eighteenth-century studies, such as History, Literature, or Information and Library Science. Prior experience of conducting archival research is essential, as is the ability to work in a team. A demonstrable interest in Digital Humanities is highly desirable, as is a commitment to the widespread dissemination of academic research.

The position is based in Liverpool, but will also require travel to Australia in Year 1 and occasional travel thereafter to various locations in the UK, Europe and the United States of America for research and dissemination/impact activities. Research expenses for these trips are included in the post.

The position will start on 1 October 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter. Owing to the constraints of AHRC funding, this project requires full-time working from the successful candidates.

Faculty: Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, Department of History

Location: University Campus
Grade: 7
Salary: £34,188 – £39,610 pa
Hours of Work: Full-Time
Tenure: The post are available until 30 September 2022

Shortlisting and interview arrangements are the responsibility of the recruiting Department. Please contact Professor Mark Towsey by email: for all enquiries.

More information here: PDF

London Colloquium Information

Mark, Kyle and I are looking forward to welcoming you to the third and final meeting of the AHRC-funded Community Libraries Network, taking place 22-24 January 2015 in London. Here is a long email containing crucial logistical information that should address most questions you may have concerning venues, accommodation, travel, and food. Please read the following notes carefully and let either Mark ( or Nick ( know if you have any further queries or problems.


There is no registration fee for this AHRC-funded network colloquium; however space is limited, so if you plan to attend any of the sessions and you have not already done so, it is vital that you register with Mark via email as soon as possible.


On Thursday and Friday we will be at Dr Williams’s Library in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury ( The final plenary session on Friday at 5.30pm will be held at Senate House as part of the regular Seminar on the History of Libraries hosted by the Institute of English Studies; Senate House is a short walk from Dr Williams’s Library, and we will talk over together following the conclusion of the penultimate session on that day.On Saturday we will be in the Lock-keeper’s Cottage on the Queen Mary (QMUL) Mile End Campus (


In London, there is very little parking, the city is very congested, and you have to pay to drive in the centre (where Dr Williams’s Library is located). Therefore traveling by London Underground and/or bus is strongly recommended.

To plan journeys within London, use the Transport For London (TLF) service:

And for travel to London (eg from Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports):

Those arriving to Heathrow can travel by Underground (the Tube) on the Piccadilly line or by regular train to Paddington Station (£35 return). It is possible to hire a cab (c.£30 one way) or pick up a London taxi (more expensive). See the Heathrow Airport website for details:

Gordon Square is located in Bloomsbury, less than ten minutes’ walk from Euston, Euston Square, Kings Cross St Pancras and Tottenham Court Road. It is also possible to walk from Holborn and Russell Square without difficulty.

Queen Mary is in Mile End. To get there, take the Hammersmith and City Line to Mile End (station is served by the Central Line, District Line, and Hammersmith and City Line). To reach the college, exit tube station, turn left down Mile End Road, cross Burdett Road, go under the Mile End Green Bridge (a large yellow bridge), over the canal, and the college is on the left. Enter East Gate, and the Lock-Keeper’s Cottage is the brightly-coloured second building on the right. France House (for residences) is beyond the Lock-Keeper’s Cottage, also overlooking the Regent’s Canal.

It is easy to travel between Dr Williams’s Library and the Queen Mary campus via the Central Line or the Hammersmith and City Line, and between Dr Williams’s Library and the Travelodge accommodation in Bethnal Green on the Central Line. It takes around 15-20 minutes to walk from the Travelodge to Queen Mary, or it is one stop on the Central Line.


A buffet sandwich lunch will be provided on Friday and Saturday. Dinner on Thursdayevening is on your own, but for those who would like to experience a typical and famous East End curryhouse, we will go to Zaza’s on Whitechapel Road on a self-pay basis, meeting at 8pm. It is within walking distance of both Queen Mary and the Travelodge. We will finalize the booking on Thursday afternoon, so please let Tessa know if you’d like to join us by 2pm on Thursday. There will be conference dinner for all speakers on the Friday night paid for by the project grant. Further details will follow, but the dinner will take place in the vicinity of Senate House. If you do not plan to join us for dinner on Friday, please do let us know.

If you have any dietary requirements, please let Nick know as soon as possible, and at the latest by Friday 9th January, on


Those who have requested accommodation from the grant have been sent booking details by email from one of the accommodation venues, with information on check in times etc. The project will have paid for your accommodation on Thursday and Friday night; if you require additional nights, these will need to be booked on a self-funded basis with the accommodations directly. On the Saturday morning, Tessa will meet those staying in the Travelodge at 9am to walk from Bethnal Green to the Queen Mary Campus. If you have agreed accommodation with Mark but have not received confirmation of the booking by email – or if you have any other questions about accommodation – please let Mark know.

For those not funded by the grant, the Travelodge at Bethnal Green ( and St Catharine’s at Limehouse ( are both well located close to Queen Mary.


This AHRC-funded research network is intended primarily to facilitate discussion and interdisciplinary exchange. To further these aims, we ask that speakers prepare papers of around 15-20 minutes in length that aim to stimulate discussion by scoping out research problems or presenting preliminary findings; those speaking on Roundtable sessions will be given advice about paper lengths etc. separately. AV facilities will be available, and Powerpoint slides can be sent to Nick ahead of the conference by email

If you have not yet provided a biographical note, or would like to correct or update your information on the website (, please send this to Nick


As you may already know, one important and collaborative aspect of the Network is our group Zotero account, which we aim to use to compile a comprehensive and eventually open access list of scholarship on library history and print culture in the Atlantic world. For further details, including information on how to take part, please see the relevant part of our website or contact Kyle on


If we have agreed to provide funds to support your travel expenses, you will need to fill out and sign the attached form, returning it with receipts/evidence of expenditure to Mark or at the address below. It is very important that you remember to sign by hand the form in the box marked claimant signature. Our finance department will not accept digital signatures, although it is perfectly fine to email us a scanned copy of the hand-signed form.

UK bank details should be entered directly onto the form. If payment is being made to an overseas bank account, please attach a separate sheet to the Payment Request with full bank account details. Full details should include the IBAN, SWIFT/BIC (or ABA/Routing number for USA), bank name, bank address, and name of account holder. If you have any questions about the procedure, Nick will be delighted to help (


As you may know, the project is planning to put together an edited collection arising from the network colloquia in the new year. The CFP is attached to this email; we will talk further about future plans for the network when we meet in London, but we would in the meantime be very grateful to hear of any ideas you have for keeping up the momentum once the grant comes to an end in 2015.

Do let one of us know if you have any further questions or queries. We’re very much looking forward to hearing about your work!

Chicago Colloquium Information

We are now a little more than a month away from our second AHRC-funded Community Libraries network colloquium! It will take place in Chicago on May 30 – June 1, 2014 and will center on the theme “Digital Approaches to Library History.” Also,be sure to check out the newly updated conference program. We are delighted that you have agreed to take part in what is shaping up to be a great conference, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming you to our bustling city at a gorgeous time of year!

Before you arrive, please be sure to familiarize yourselves with the information below:

Paper Formats

  • This AHRC-funded research network is intended primarily to facilitate discussion and interdisciplinary exchange. To further these aims, we ask that you prepare less formal contributions of working presentations and papers (rather than fully polished conference-style papers) around which wider discussion can evolve.
  • The program is divided between presentations of well-developed best practice DH sites and new works-in-progress.
  • For presentations of best practice sites, we ask that presenters plan a 45 minute presentation with a 30 minute discussion to follow. We encourage presenters to think about the types of questions/ideas they might like the group to discuss.
  • For presentations of works-in-progress, typical contributions should be around 15-20 minutes in length and aim to stimulate discussion by scoping out research problems or presenting preliminary findings.
  • We would be very happy to pre-circulate a longer or more formal version of your paper to the rest of the participants to facilitate further discussion; please let me know if you wish to take up this option.
  • AV facilities will be available, and Powerpoint slides can be sent to our Social Media Assistant Aaron Brunmeier ahead of the conference by email at


  • As you may already know, one important and collaborative aspect of the Network is our group Zotero account, which we aim to use to compile a comprehensive and eventually open access list of scholarship on library history and print culture in the Atlantic world.
  • For further details, including information on how to take part, please see this blog post. If you have any further queries, Aaron can be reached by email at


  • For those who have requested overnight accommodation, rooms have been booked at Loyola University Chicago’s Baumhart Hall on the Water Tower Campus in the city’s Gold Coast neighborhood for the nights of Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31. (Click on the link for more information about the Water Tower campus). If you have any special accommodations needs, please let us know as soon as possible.
  • These two nights will already have been paid for by the project team, but if you’d like to stay for additional nights on a self-funding basis, please contact Judy Sunvold in Loyola Conference Services at Similarly, if the project is not providing accommodation for you, participants will be able to reserve rooms on a first-come-first-serve, self-funding basis from the same email address.
  • The Friday part of the colloquium will be held at the Newberry Library, which is located on 60 W. Walton Street, a 5-10 minute walk around the corner from the accommodations. For maps and further information, see the Newberry’s website.
  • The Saturday part of the colloquium will be held in the Klarchek Information Commons on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. To get from Baumhart Hall to the Loyola Campus, you will need to take the CTA Red Line from the Chicago and State stop to the Loyola stop. Or, you can take the 147 bus to the Kenmore and Sheridan Stop. There will be folks from the Conference leading people back and forth on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Useful pdf maps of Loyola’s Water Tower and Lake Shore campuses can be found here.
  • Conference participants and attendees are free to explore the city for dinner on their own on Friday evening. On Saturday evening, we will be having dinner together up on the Lake Shore campus at the Waterfront Café.
  • If you have any dietary requirements, please let our assistant Aaron Brunmeier know as soon as possible, and at the latest by Friday, May 16th. He can be reached by email at

Do let one of us know if you have any further questions or queries. We’re very much looking forward to welcoming you to Chicago and hearing about your work!

Next Stop, Chicago

The Chicago conference is only a few months away, but there’s still so much to say about our first conference that took place in Liverpool back in January. We had PhD students, historians, and librarians from Brazil and Mexico to the US and the UK who presented their new ideas and shared in the process of developing a vibrant community of library history scholars. Paper topics ranged from transatlantic book trading networks and the community of readers sustained by these commercial webs to investigations of seditious books and libraries during the Age of Revolutions. For a summary of the Liverpool conference, see Aaron Brunnmeier’s review for the Junto. For a digital walk down memory lane, check out our Storify narrative, which threads together all the great live tweeting done at the conference. Stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to the Chicago colloquium, “Digital Approaches to Library History.”

Liverpool Conference Information

We are very much looking forward to welcoming the network to Liverpool, which hosts our first event on 24-25th January 2014 on the theme ‘Libraries in the Atlantic World’.  The main part of the colloquium will be held at the University of Liverpool’s Foresight Centre, which is located on 1 Brownlow Street, a 5-10 minute walk from Liverpool Lime Street Station. For maps and further information, see; for directions on how to get to Liverpool, there is plenty of information on our university webpages – see On the Friday afternoon, we will be visiting the Liverpool Athenaeum for afternoon tea. Founded in 1797, the Athenaeum is one of the last Georgian subscription libraries still to survive. We will walk down to the Athenaeum together, but for further information see their website The event is free and open to all, so please do come along and join the discussion. For administrative and catering purposes, however, it is essential that you reserve a place – to do so, please email

Newly Added Provisional Programs and Other News

We are pleased to announce that the provisional conference programs for Liverpool and Chicago are now available on the website. Please note that these programs are subject to change in the upcoming weeks, and once we complete the London program, we will be sure to put it up on the website as well.

Bib Soc support logo

Furthermore, we are delighted to announce that Rebecca Bowd (University of Leeds) and Christy Ford (University of Oxford) have been awarded Bibliographical Society Studentships to support their participation in our first network event, ‘Libraries in the Atlantic World’. The Bibliographical Society offers a number of subventions to organizers of conferences so that they can help defray the cost of conference attendance for postgraduate students (

Ready, Set, Zotero!

That’s right, folks, we are launching a group Zotero account, and we want all Network members to join in on the collaborative fun. For those who are not familiar with Zotero, it is a free, open-source note taking software developed by George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media. It allows you to organize, cite, and share your research. Basically, a shared group Zotero account will enable members of the Network to share sources and citations with one another with the goal of compiling a comprehensive list of scholarship on library history and print culture in the Atlantic world. Not only will it be useful to gather information on scholarship on libraries, but also primary sources for library history – something especially useful for future collaborative grant applications.

Much like the task of a library or archive is to categorize what it has in stock, we have already begun the process of creating a taxonomy of different types of sources germane to the historiography (or rather, historiographies) of library history. This helps us make sense of all the various sorts of scholarship available on library history and print culture. We would encourage you to aid us in this taxonomy project by delegating your references to whatever category is most apt.

Another neat feature that Zotero has to offer is its timeline tool. This requires downloading the desktop version of Zotero, which automatically syncs up with your online account (something we highly recommend doing). In the desktop version, you can highlight a folder you want to look at, and then Zotero will visualize the contents of the folder according to the date of publication. This application is very useful for understanding the development of the field over time. You’ll find this feature by going to Tools → Create Timeline, and then let Zotero take care of the rest!

Registration is actually quite quick and easy. Simply go to, click on “Register” in the top left corner, and create your username and password. From there you can search for our group (The Community Libraries Network), or simply follow this link, which will take you to our group page. From there, all you need to do is hit “Join Group,” and you will be shortly confirmed thereafter. Once a group member, we ask you to take a look at what is already in the account and share with the group a minimum of three references. If you are not on Zotero and instead want to email me your citations, I can add them to the account on your behalf. You would still be able to view the group library, but you would not be able to make any contributions or edits to it.

If you are having any issues or would like us to add citations for you, please contact our Social Media Assistant Aaron Brunmeier at

Call for Papers

Deadline for CFP: 1 September 2013

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new AHRC-funded international research network on Community Libraries, which aims to establish a dynamic, interdisciplinary research forum to investigate the role of libraries in shaping communities in the long eighteenth century. Developed by Dr Mark Towsey (University of Liverpool) together with partners at Loyola University Chicago, the Newberry Library, and Dr Williams’s Library (London), the Network will explain the emergence of libraries in the ‘public sphere’ between 1650 and 1850. We will assess the contribution made by libraries to the circulation and reception of print of all kinds, and to the forging of collective identities amongst local, national, and international communities of readers. In addition, the network aims to explore the emergence of libraries in comparative perspective, asking how far models of library provision and administration were disseminated, discussed, imitated, and challenged as they travelled between different social environments and political regimes.


a)     To explain the emergence of libraries in the ‘public sphere’ between 1650 and 1850;

b)     To examine the emergence of libraries in comparative perspective, testing the explanatory power of the Atlantic paradigm for Library History;

c)     To pool expertise on the use of database software for interrogating library records, discussing the full range of approaches, potential pitfalls, and successful solutions;

d)     To investigate the feasibility of developing a universal ‘virtual library system’, connecting up records relating to different types of library, in different places, and at different times with other large scale digital analyses of historic book production, distribution and reception;

e)     To assess the contribution made by libraries to historical processes of community formation, including questions relating to collective identity, gender, civility, sociability, literary censorship, social exclusion/social mobility, mental health and well being, and the impact of print;

f)      To contribute to current debates about the future of public libraries in the UK and the US, highlighting ways in which historical models of library provision might be adapted to contemporary needs.


The Network will organise three two-day colloquia in the UK and the US. Each colloquium will focus on a specific theme, and will feature methodological workshops, work-in-progress presentations, pre-circulated papers, and roundtables.

Colloquium 1: Libraries in the Atlantic World, to be held in Liverpool on 24-25 January, 2014

Colloquium 2: Digital Approaches to Library History, to be held in Chicago on 30 May-1 June, 2014

Colloquium 3: Libraries in the Community, to be held in London on 23-24 January 2015


The project team invites initial expressions of interest from scholars interested in any element of the Community Libraries research programme. If you feel you can make a significant contribution to any or all of our colloquia, please send abstracts of 500 words, together with a brief summary of your research interests and career to date, to the Principal Investigator Dr Mark Towsey ( by 1 September 2013.