Tag Archives: dennis duncan

The Book Index – 22 & 23 June, Oxford

A two-day conference at the Weston Library, organised by Dennis Duncan and the Centre for the Study of the Book, Oxford University. 22nd-23rd June 2017. An opportunity for academics and professionals to meet and and talk about indexes.

I must admit to having been slightly sceptical about booking for this event. It was timed to follow on from the Society of Indexers’ annual conference, could I bear to be sitting around for another two days? Who were the speakers, would they all be dry-as-dust old duffers? (With apologies to Oxford dons, I’ve been there and got the t-shirt, I know what they can be like.) Would it all be too esoteric for a jobbing indexer to understand?

I needn’t have worried on any count. The lecture theatre in the Weston Library is a great place. The seats are comfy, the tables are welcome, the sound is mostly good and the screen clear. I sat in a chair named after the Duke of Wellington.

The speakers were all young academics in the early stages of their careers and they were full of interesting material, delivered in a clear and enthusiastic voices. Young in this context means younger than me. The full programme is available here. You can see the programme covered topics including: indexing in 19th century China, Heidegger and Cassirer, indexes to the Polychronicon of Ranulph Higden, satiric indexes, Richard Hakluyt and the Indexes of Francis Daniel Pastorius. See Paula’s excellent blog for reviews and summaries of the talks here. There really isn’t any point in me covering the same ground.

The availability of wi-fi to check out some things as some of the speakers spoke – who were Hakluyt and Pastorius? Why might they be of interest to indexers? – was very useful. The speakers didn’t always have time to give the background that might be obvious to students of old books and manuscripts, but wasn’t for some of us. While some of it may have gone over our heads, I think when we read the articles when they are printed, we will understand more.

Two days flew by. The lunches were yummy. Attendees were also invited to the opening of the Jane Austen exhibition at the Weston Library, which was lovely too. A good time was had. Academics became aware of indexers, and indexers were made aware of the range of scholarship which is taking in aspects of indexing. Ruth made a Storify of the event using Twitter tweets, which is here. When can we do it again?

 

 

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Society of Indexers conference 2016

For the first time in many years the SI conference was a one-day event. The venue, The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham, was a smart refurbishment of a 19th century building.

Ann Kingdom opened the conference and introduced the first session on ‘Ethics in Indexing’, based on Heather Ebbs’ presentation at the 2015 conference (Ebbs 2016). The discussions that followed were an ice-breaker for the many new and student indexers who attended the conference. Split into groups led by experienced indexers we discussed six ethical dilemmas: censorship of the index by the author, indexer beliefs clashing with an author’s, the quality of another indexer’s work, a lack of skill or subject expertise, making a table of contents into an index, and a client putting down the work of another indexer. The groups then reported their comments. This session was food for thought for everyone present.

The second session was a lecture by Alastair Horne, which looked back on, and predicted the future of, digital publishing. The previous five years had not turned out at all as Alastair had expected and the lack of e-book innovation was disappointing. It all comes down to costs and consumers are not keen on paying for additional content, because their expectations have been trained to expect e-books to be much cheaper than printed versions. He predicted that the future may hold fragmentation of the digital market with more formats sharing the publishing space. This could include an increasing diversity of routes to market. Crowdfunding sites, like Unbound, can introduce new authors to new reading markets. Subscription models need work on how to charge for a service that most subscribers actually use, unlike gyms, which make money from a service that most subscribers do not use. Serialisation takes us back to the days of Charles Dickens, where readers pay for parts of a book at a time. Scholarly publishing is also undergoing a period of change and development. New university presses, such as White Rose University Press, are publishing monographs and journals with a view to providing free access to digital content, without impacting on quality of content and standards of production. Knowledge Unlatched is also intent on providing free content through subscribing academic libraries.

After lunch we settled down for Dennis Duncan’s talk entitled ‘Filthy Talk, p. 2: scenes from the history of indexing’. The title was taken from a hand-written index he found in an early printed book. He covered early Bible concordances and how they contributed to the development of indexing and then offered cases of how 17th and early 18th century indexers used their political position or academic knowledge to create indexes that enraged the authors. This took us neatly back to the start of the conference and our discussion of ethics in indexing. The first example covered Boyle against Bentley, a collective effort to discredit Richard Bentley. Bentley had had the audacity to criticize Charles Boyle’s edition of the ancient Greek ‘Epistles of Phalaris’, stating that Boyle did not realise that the epistles were fake. The book includes a four page index of Bentley’s characteristics, for example, ‘His Egregious Dulness, p. 74…’ and ‘His Collection of Asinine Proverbs, p. 220’. Bentley may have been dull, but recent scholarship has shown he was correct and the Epistles were fake. In The Transactioneer, published in 1700, William King drew attention to the silliness he felt was contained in letters published by the Royal Society in their Philosophical Transactions. He used ironic and witty entries in a table of contents to highlight their lack of scientific thinking. In 1718, when clergyman Laurence Echard published his three volume History of England, he had not counted on his indexer taking issue with its politics and undermining the work with a series of subversive, occasionally sarcastic, index entries. Echard’s is a Tory version of English history and John Oldmixon – the indexer hired by Echard’s publisher, was a radical Whig. Much more of this sort of thing will be at the symposium on the history of the book index that Dennis is organising next year.

A choice of workshops completed the afternoon sessions. Janice Rayment presented two sessions on ‘Indexing with InDesign’. Panel-led discussions on ‘Indexing dilemmas’ and ‘Getting started’ were alternative choices for experienced and new indexers. The new indexers and trainees asked sensible and searching questions. After another round of coffee, those who did not attend the second part of Janice’s workshop could choose between ‘Working more efficiently: editing the index’ with Ann Hudson or ‘From plot to plate: indexing gardening and cookery books’ by Michèle Clarke-Moody. Michèle gave a rapid and thorough coverage of issues related to indexing gardening and cookery books, some of which I have had to use since the conference, how timely was that.

The conference closed and a thunderstorm of biblical proportions broke over Birmingham.

Conference season – that back to school feeling

Next week the Society of Indexers is holding its annual conference in Birmingham. It has the title Back to the Future.  But I don’t think it involves fast cars and time travel (more’s the pity, but I will be taking the train). This will be the third time I have attended the Society’s conference. Why should a trained, professional indexer want or need to do this? What might I get out of it to help me in future? I think there are three main reasons:

  1. There’s always something new to learn: on a one day event there’s only so much that can be done. I’m looking forward to hearing from Dennis Duncan on the history of indexing, and learning from Michele Clark-Moody more on cookery and gardening book indexing. Reflecting on how things were done in the past is always a way of informing present practice, and hearing from an expert is a good way to refine one’s own approach. I like working on cookery books, and maybe I can expand into gardening titles too.
  2. Networking: Meeting people who otherwise only appear to live on email message groups is always fun. I’ve met many before but new friends can be made in the spaces between sessions.
  3. Giving a bit back: As a relative newcomer to indexing I’m taking part in the session for new indexers and how to get started. A small panel of similar folk will hopefully be giving useful tips to even newer indexers and those still on the training course.

The one-day format packs a lot in. We’re also discussing ethics in indexing (censorship by authors, clashing with authors’ beliefs, quality of other indexer’s work, lack of skill or subject expertise, table of contents indexes). We have a Code of Professional Conduct which we all abide by, but perhaps sometimes situations force us to consider it very carefully. And we are also taking a look at digital publishing, backwards and forwards to the future.