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CALL FOR PAPERS: Organising Libraries from Antiquity to the Renaissance

CFP deadline extended to: Monday 25 April 2022

Workshop dates: Thurs-Fri, 30 June & 1 July 2022: 2.00-7.00pm

A Warburg Institute online workshop organised by Rheagan Martin (CASVA Center for the Advanced Study in Visual Arts Predoctoral Fellow), Ottavia Mazzon (Frances Yates Long-term Fellow), and Raphaële Mouren (Reader in History of the Book and History of Libraries, and Librarian of the Warburg Institute).

In his Avis pour dresser une bibliothèque (Paris, 1627), Gabriel Naudé famously said that, without order, a "collection of books, were it of fifty thousand Volumes, would not more merit the name of a Library, than an assembly of thirty thousand men the name of an Army unless they be martialled in their several quarters under the conduct of their Chiefs and Captains". Classification and organisation systems are vital to the functioning of any library, as they grant readers the ability to access the collection(s) to find exactly the books—and, as a consequence, the information—they are looking for. 

Throughout history, book collectors and librarians have established a variety of classification systems that would allow them to store books in an orderly fashion and, more importantly, make them retrievable when the need arose. These systems could be reflected in catalogues, in the furniture used to store the volumes, or in the volumes themselves, which sometimes bear traces of the shelfmarks they were assigned, or other paratextual annotations that speak of their position within a collection or in the room(s) of a library. Classification systems were not fixed once and for all, but changed alongside cultural and historical circumstances, the growth of collections or their dispersal, or simply on the whim of the book owners. 

Nonetheless, each system records a particular way of viewing the world and its knowledge, establishing—explicitly or implicitly—a hierarchy of subjects and topics: therefore, researching these systems is a way to explore historical structures of knowledge and study developments in intellectual life. 

The workshop aims to bring together scholars from the fields of Classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, and of Mediaeval, Byzantine and Renaissance studies to share their research on the history of book collections and libraries and engage in a dialogue on cultural patterns, shifts, and revivals at the intersection of different traditions. We invite papers on any of the following topics: 
  • material evidence of classification systems employed within ancient, Mediaeval, or Renaissance libraries;
  • sources on the organisation of ancient, mediaeval, or Renaissance libraries;
  • evolution in the disposition, organisation, classification of a library or book collection; 
  • theoretical sources on classification systems.

Participants in the workshop will be asked to share a 20/25-minute presentation of their work and take part in a general discussion at the end; work in progress research is very welcome. 

Abstracts of no more than 200 words should be submitted to either Ottavia Mazzon ( or Rheagan Martin ( by Monday 25 April 2022. Please include your full name, email, and a short biographical note (about 100 words). NB: Submissions will start to be considered from middle March onwards. 

A definitive programme will be published in the first half of April. Booking will open shortly after. 

image: St Jerome in his study, by Antonello da Messina, c. 1474 (National Gallery London)