Conference Debrief

by Erin and Clementine

We have just come back from the wonderful conference organized by Bettina Kummerling-Meibauer at Tubingen (Germany) on the History and Theory of the Picturebook.

PhD Workshop

The intense three-day conference was preceded by a day-long PhD workshop during which students from all around the world got the chance to get excerpts from their work assessed and discussed by everyone else, including Bettina, Maria Nikolajeva, Nina Christensen, Carole Scott and Janet Evans. Talks took place in what was essentially the highest tower of an ancient castle in a perfectly lovely Germany city. It was very Olympian.

Early in July each PhD student submitted a paper on their current research. We then had to read them all and review one paper each. With such varied topics as the picturebook market in Poland, and surrealism in Anthony Browne, the discussion took us outside of our comfort zones, and revealed the multifaceted nature of the medium. The style of the workshop was especially useful, as it provided the opportunity to give and receive criticism in a friendly environment. We made lots of friends in the process!


More deities of the discipline drifted in the next day and shared cheese sandwiches and conversations with the rest of us mortals. The absence of parallel sessions meant that we could attend each and every one of the presentations, which spared us the frustration of having to choose between equally interesting-sounding titles.

Once again, the multiplicity of angles surprised even the most established scholars. Beginning with Maria Nikolajeva’s cognitive poetics approach to picturebooks, and ending with Fanuel Hanan Diaz’s semiotic analysis, we heard about artist’s books, paratext, wordless picturebooks, symbolism, Soviet children’s literature, intertextuality, and reader responses among others.


Before and after the very intense days, we found some time to visit Tubingen. In many ways Tubingen reminded us of Cambridge, with its river winding through the city, but without the obnoxious punters offering extortionate tours. The biergarten on the side of the river became our general quarters, and Clementine ate at least seven kilos of Spatzle in three days.

We also ‘enjoyed’ the local tradition of drinking take-away coffee out of straws!

It was an awesome conference, and we can’t wait for the 2013 installment.

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