skip to content

Research & Collections Programme

Growing research through the convening power of Cambridge’s collections

Thinking Paper--Materiality Research Growth Network

If we were to ask literary scholars, historians of the book, economists, archivists, conservators, curators, artists, material scientists, surface chemists, bioarchaeologists, machine learning experts what ‘thinking paper’ means to them, what productive discussions would ensue? What research themes and questions about paper might emerge and what means of engaging the public with this fascinating multivalent material?)

This workshop took place virtually on Zoom on 8 and 9 February 2021. It brought together specialists from different disciplines to share their research about technical, computational and scientific aspects of the study of paper as well as its cultural, socio-economic and historical meaning in a global context. By programming sets of informal 15-minute talks to form different clusters of expertise, with plenty of time for discussion, we aimed to create a stimulating environment to reflect on available and innovative methodologies to understand the use of handmade paper in the medieval and early modern periods, which will inform a future grant application with the projected topic ‘Paper Knowledge’.


Monday 8th February 2021 

Session 1

Peter Stokes (École Pratique des Hautes Études, Université PSL, Paris) – ‘Imagining paper in digital and computational futures’. 

Alan Blackwell (University of Cambridge) – ‘A computational semiotics of visual language’. 

Graham Davis (Queen Mary, University of London) – ‘Watermarks: reading between the lines’. 

Session 2

Huw Jones (Cambridge University Library) and Scott Mandelbrote (Peterhouse) – ‘Digital approaches to watermarks in the manuscripts of Isaac Newton’. 

Lucia Pereira Pardo (The National Archives) and Holly Smith (The National Archives) – ‘Making watermarks digital and discoverable. Experiences at The National Archives’. 

Maria Stieglecker (Austrian Academy of Sciences) – ‘Beyond reproducing and digitizing: what we collect watermarks for in databases’. 

Session 3

Ermenegilda Müller (University of Iceland, Reykjavík) – ‘Representing historical paper in the digital world’. 

Pádraig Ó Macháin (University College Cork) – ‘Harvesting and displaying watermarks in Ireland’. 

Andrew Honey (Bodleian Library) – ‘“Torn, wrinckled, stained”: how do we characterise the qualities of paper?’ 

Session 4

Pip Willcox (The National Archives) – ‘Paper: digital social lives’. 

Elaine Treharne (Stanford) – ‘Interpreting “big” data: manuscripts reenvisaged’. 

Tuesday 9th February 2021 

Session 5

Chris Woolgar (University of Southampton) – ‘Accounting, paper and archives in late medieval England’. 

Ben Outhwaite (Cambridge University Library) – ‘The rise of paper: a view from the Cairo Genizah’. 

Kristine Rose-Beers (Chester Beatty Library, Dublin) – ‘Considering Islamic paper: threads between continents’. 

Silvia Hufnagel (University of Iceland, Reykjavík) – ‘Paper, parchment and wax tablets in late medieval Iceland’. 

Session 6

Alberto Campagnolo (Università degli Studi di Udine) – ‘Multispectral imaging for paper and watermark studies’. 

Eyal Poleg (Queen Mary, University of London) – ‘Cut and paste: new eechnologies and the study of ancient Bibles’. 

Matthew Collins (University of Cambridge) – ‘From parchment to paper, what drove decision making on the selection of the writing medium?’. 

Session 7

Nicola McDonald (University of York) – ‘Middle English romance and the paper fallacy’. 

Ed Potten (University of York) and Stephen Mossman (University of Manchester) – ‘“Werck der bücher”: transitions, experimentation, and collaboration in reprographic technologies, 1440-1470’. 

José María Perez Fernandez (University of Granada) – ‘How to do things with paper: iconicity and performance in early modern literature and the visual arts’. 

Joshua Calhoun (University of Wisconsin, Madison) – ‘Makenning paper’. 






Monday, 8 February, 2021 - 10:00 to Tuesday, 9 February, 2021 - 10:30
Event location: