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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Zoom [Registration link available soon]
Event date: 
Monday, 22 November, 2021 - 17:30 to 19:00


The aesthetic and functions of paratext: scripts, mise-en-page, and book design

A thriving and highly competitive publishing market developed in Japan from the early 17th century onwards, and this expanded exponentially in the 18th and 19th centuries. Throughout the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), commercial publishers sponsored the production of a great variety of titles. Manuals, calligraphy copybooks, scholarly treatises, old and new works of literature, painting studies and art books, erotica, textbooks, poetic anthologies and various other books were printed and reprinted in many different formats.  

Woodblock printing soon became the industry standard, for it afforded publishers unmatched flexibility during the manufacturing process. This technology allowed them to create any desired layout at no additional cost, and with an unparalleled level of quality that would have been impossible to attain using any form of typographic reproduction. Undeniably, the versatility offered by this printing technology also played an important role in fostering the production of new editorial products, which were embellished with innovative designs, elegant calligraphy, and compelling graphics. 

This talk explores under-researched aspects of Tokugawa-period publishing and book history by examining the paratext of woodblock-printed books: scripts, mise-en-page, and book design. Throughout my talk, I will show how publishers, authors and illustrators responded to the stylistic freedom offered by woodblock-printing technology, arguing that the manufacturing process and the materiality of the book played a central role in fostering the development of certain kinds of literary and artistic works in early-modern Japan. 

Alessandro Bianchi is the manager of the Bodleian Japanese Library and curator of the collection of Japanese rare books and manuscripts. After receiving his PhD from the University of Cambridge, he worked at the British Library, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, and Haverford College before joining the Bodleian in 2019.