Barbara Williams Ellertson's picture

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Launched the BASIRA Project in August 2013. This second career of independent research follows 40 years in scholarly publishing, the last 25 of which were spent doing freelance book design and production with BW&A Books (  My formal academic work (so far) was in history and religion at Duke University. As of Fall 2016, I'm teaching a course in European book culture for the continuing education program (OLLI) at Duke.
     A note about my name: Barbara Williams was my working name. In retirement, I now use the last name Ellertson, one shared with my spouse, who is as passionate about typography as I remain about books.
Our BASIRA website is located at

Current research areas: 

History of the book; European art history during the Renaissance; history of Western printing; history of reading.
Database of tagged images of European Renaissance art.

Recent scholarly activity: 

Developed and taught a course in European book culture & the changing forms of the book in the OLLI program (continuing education) at Duke University.
Poster presentation at the 2017 Digital Initiatives Symposium at the University of San Diego.
Made a poster presentation, titled "Illuminating Manuscript Culture" at the November 2015 conference of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association in Durham, NC.
"Basira Project" : Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art. This project is a collaboration with art historian Janet Seiz; together we are constructing a database of Renaissance images which include books. Even though books are featured prominently in a large percentage of European paintings and sculptures of the period, their presence has been largely overlooked by both cultural and art historians. 
We're designing the Basira database and its supporting taxonomy to foster analysis of trends in artists’ portrayals of books: ways that books were held, displayed, and read. We'll be examining such variables as region, patrons, faith communities, aesthetic traditions, and/or access to technology. 
In examining and analyzing artists’ portrayal of books across time, we may discern patterns not yet explored. After the spread of printing technology, as literacy increased and books became more widely available, how did artists’ artists’ changing portrayals of books reflect the changing cultural norms and expectations about power, literacy, class? And how did trends in the visual arts of the time echo our 21st century experiences with rapid change in reading technology.
Our "crowd-sourcing" space is a Pinterest board named "Books'n Art" where we invite public submissions.

Recent publications: 

"The Painted Page: Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art" published in The Independent Scholar, December 2015. Co-authored with Janet K. Seiz. Awarded the 2016 Elizabeth Eisenstein Essay Prize for best article or book chapter published by a member of NCIS.

Other activities: 

Renaissance Society of America
Society for the History of Authorship, Publishing, and Reading (SHARP)
South Atlantic Modern Language Association
Liturgical art
Local history

Candidate Bio: 

Affiliate Liaison, NCIS

Primary Discipline: 

Secondary Discipline: 

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National Coalition of Independent Scholars