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A Symposium at State Library Victoria 10-11 August 2023


Please enter our digital exhibition and browse this page to enjoy and learn from leading digital designers, specialist librarians, and early modern scholars exploring how traditional archival scholarship and emerging digital technologies combine to bring materials from the past to new audiences.


This will be of interest to early modernists, literary scholars, designers, digital humanists, collectors, librarians, those with a passion for the past, and other GLAM professionals. The original symposium was attended by postgraduate students, researchers, teachers, and interested book enthusiasts both in person and online. It has been recorded and shared so that the amazing work and beautiful exhibition can continued to be used and studied by anyone, anywhere.

Visit the digital exhibition


 The symposium was hosted in person on the August 10-11, 2023 at State Library Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

The livestream recordings for major events are accessible below.

Thursday, 10th Aug 2023

13:30 – 15:00

Introduction to the Emmerson Collection at SLV

Get up close and personal with the treasures of the John Emmerson Collection: an incredible collection of over 5,000 rare works from the English Renaissance, donated to State Library Victoria in 2015.

In these sessions led by Dr Anna Welch, Principal Librarian of History of the Book and Arts, you are invited to view a selection of the most beautiful and remarkable books from the collection and learn more about the fascinating stories they tell.

15:30 – 17:00

Dive Deeper

Learn about the remarkable technologies used to create our new digital exhibition, Beyond the Book: A journey through the treasures of the Emmerson Collection, from state-of-the-art photogrammetry to using linked data for digital curation.

This is a hands-on workshop with Professor Mitchell Whitelaw, Head of School of Art and Design, Australian National University, Julia Rodwell, PhD candidate with the Emmerson Project, Bart Geraedts, Senior Digital Production Technician, and Katrina Ben, Senior Conservator, Books. You will learn about:

  • Making explicit and reusable connections through linked data
  • Modelling cultural heritage and collections data to an ontology
  • Creating 3D models using photogrammetry
  • What goes into designing a digital exhibition – data, graphics, interaction and exploration.

Please bring your own digital device to use during this workshop. Please note that while you can use your phone, a laptop or a device with a larger screen will provide the best experience.

18:30 – 20:00

Beyond the Book Public Lecture
Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford

‘Portable Magic: Why books matter’

How and why did books get such a hold on us? How has this technology shaped us over the last two millennia? My talk discusses continuities and change across the long history of books and their readers, emphasising that it is books’ physical form – their ‘bookhood’ – that lends them their distinctive and sometimes dangerous magic. From ancient bibles to a new look at Gutenberg, from the radical history of paperbacking to Marilyn Monroe’s reading habits, from the first printed book in Australia to a book made of wrapped slices of cheese: if you like books, I hope you’ll find something of interest.

Hear from Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Oxford University and author of Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers (Penguin, 2022) on how books and readers have evolved over time.


Friday, 11th Aug 2023 – All Day Symposium at State Library Victoria

09:00 – 09:30


Hear from the Library’s CEO, Paul Duldig, who will welcome everyone to the symposium, and officially launch our first ever digital exhibition, Beyond the Book: A journey through the Emmerson Collection.

09:30 – 10:30

Plenary Talk: with Seb Chan, Director and CEO of ACMI

Expanding Horizons in GLAM Engagement: Investigate how we should engage with collections, and why it’s more important than ever that we expand the horizons of it in this talk from Director and CEO of ACMI, Seb Chan.

10:30 – 11:00

Morning tea

11:00 – 12:30

Emmerson Collection Research Roundtable

Explore some of the stories that have been unearthed since research began on the texts in the Emmerson Collection 4 years ago. Moderated by Patricia Pender, Associate Professor, English and Writing, University of Newcastle with panellists including:

  • Sarah Ross, Professor of English, Victoria University of Wellington: “Monumentum Regale: A Tomb for the Monarch”
  • Dr Nat Cutter, Teaching Associate and ARC Research Coordinator, University of Melbourne: “Morocco Leather Bindings and British-North African Trade”
  • Dr Anna Welch, Principal Librarian, History of the Book and Arts: “Book bling for kings and queens: Studying embroidered bindings in the John Emmerson Collection”
  • Rosalind Smith, Professor of English, ANU: “Marginalia in the Emmerson collection: tracing reading, writing and book use in the early modern period”
  • Paul Salzman, Emeritus Professor, La Trobe and Newcastle Universities: “Private Collections in Public Spaces”

12:30 – 13:30


13:30 – 15:00

Designing the Digital Exhibition

Learn about some of the innovative approaches developed for the Beyond the Book digital exhibition from its creators Mitchell Whitelaw and Julia Rodwell.

15:00 – 15:30

Afternoon tea

15:30 – 17:00

The Emmerson Collection in the Rare Books Landscape

Join us as we explore the rare books landscape and discover why the Emmerson Collection is so important for State Library Victoria. This conversation will be moderated by Dr Anna Welch, Principal Librarian of History of the Book and Arts, State Library Victoria, and include:

  • Des Cowley, former Rare Printed Collections Manager, State Library Victoria
  • Christian Algar, Curator of Printed Heritage Collections, British Library, and
  • Professor Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Oxford University.

18:00 – 19:30

FOXCROFT LECTURE with Christian Algar

“Books in hand; but whose hands? 17th-century rare books from the Emmerson and Thomason Collections”

Historical printed books pass through many and myriad hands. But to whose hands and how?

For our 2023 Foxcroft Lecture Christian Algar, Curator of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, will explore how to demystify rare books, facilitate meaningful access and investigate a library’s role in rare book collecting.

Against this setting, Christian will consider two major rare books collections: The Thomason Tracts, held at the British Library, and our very own John Emmerson Collection. How can we popularise using rare books? And in what ways can we help convey the messages of past lives to people in the present day?