Germaine Warkentin relates: I studied Honours Philosophy at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1955. I began my apprenticeship as a teacher and critic by reviewing and writing on films in the Toronto of the late 1950s and early 1960s, experience that was useful when I returned to school to take first an MA (Manitoba) and then a PhD (Toronto) in English , specializing in the Early Modern period. My apprenticeship as a book historian took place concurrently: I sold books in a department store, worked in the art department of a national magazine, wrote promotional copy at a university press, and when I moved to Winnipeg as a bride “traveled” the press’s publications to local bookstores. I also worked in the “morgue” (photo collection) of the Winnipeg Free Press. Among my favourite memories are the women who sat chatting in a circle around a revolving table, assembling day after day the gatherings that made up the Press’s books, the sound of the linotype and monotype machines thundering outside my office door, and the way the whole building shook when at the newspaper the great presses began to roll to produce the 11.00 am edition. Though no expert, I was an early adapter of digital resources, and had my first e-mail account by 1989.
Other memories: working on the part-autograph manuscript of Petrarch’s Canzoniere in the Vatican Library, and in Florence handling a fine Renaissance book rescued from the flood of 1966; the sturdy old volume was as beautiful as the day it had been printed. Then there were the years of research at Penshurst and in the Kent Archives in Maidstone, working on the Sidney family library catalogue of 1665. I visited Tulsa to see Louis Nicolas’s superb Codex Canadensis at the Gilcrease Institute, and studied the two Native ledger books in the same collection. And finally, when I was deep in the editing of Pierre-Esprit Radisson’s Voyages, there was the experience of discovering two unknown writings in the explorer’s hand among the manuscripts of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
I’ve been fortunate in my wonderful graduate students, who produced theses on a range of fascinating topics and instructed me in everything a thesis advisor ought to know – and more. I’ve been fortunate in my clever daughter Juliet, who made her reputation as a brilliant magazine editor, and in my husband, historical geographer John Warkentin, who commented informatively on how Petrarch must have managed his ascent of Mont Ventoux as we drove up it in our little car,* who altered his planned itinerary one day long ago so I could visit Petrarch’s house at Arquá, and who made sure I noticed that Radisson probably did reach the edge of the prairie.
* Actually, what he said was “So Petrarch lived around here when he was a boy?” “Yes, he did.” "Well, you can’t tell me he hadn’t been up here on a horse a dozen times before he made the famous climb!”
If you'd like to read Germaine's CV, it's here.