As regular readers of this blog will know, the WSG is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 (the date is a little bit hazy – it was so long ago! – but it is generally agreed that our panel at BSECS 1987 was our first meaningful action). As part of the celebrations, WSG has not only instituted a bursary, but is in the process of compiling and editing a volume intended to be a reflection of its members’ 30 years of research and activism. Edited by Carolyn Williams, Sara Read and Louise Duckling and with a working title of the Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 Commonplace Book, it will comprise a mixture of short research articles, reminiscences, interviews and poems by members past and present. Those interested in the upcoming book can get a taste of it by listening to Elaine Hobby, Professor of Seventeenth-Century Studies at Loughborough University and a long-time associate of WSG, in conversation with Sara Read in a separate blog post later this month.
Commonplacing was a common knowledge-making practice during the early modern period whereby people would write short extracts or digests from their reading into books under topical headings. These could be poetry, prose, quotations, proverbs, letters and prayers, which the compiler could then reference and recombine. Books could be kept for pragmatic as well as recreational reasons. Men such as Francis Bacon and John Locke famously wrote about and kept commonplace books, but women kept them too, and in recent years much work has been done on a closely related genre, the recipe book, to which the whole household might contribute. Some thought the practice of commonplacing a cause for concern, because it would encourage superficial reading.
The commonplace book as a discursive practice arguably reached its peak during the early modern period but commonplacing is by its very nature also highly personal and has continued in various forms into the Romantic period and the present day. WSG’s Commonplace Book will be a printed rather than manuscript form, but it will reflect the collaborative, interdisciplinary, unruly, highly mobile forms of interaction and support WSG has encouraged over the years. We hope to see it published in 2018.