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The Book: Historiography

woman reader from NYPLBook history explores the life cycle of a book including creation, publication, its spread through society, and connection with culture, economics, politics, and religion.

Rather than focusing on the entire process, most book historians examine a particular aspect. While some scholars focus on the literary elite and the private libraries of the wealthy, other historians place emphasis on the literary experiences of ordinary people and the role of books at all levels of society.

The photo on the left shows a woman reading in 1913. (Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Gallery).

An interdisciplinary field, book history can easily be overwhelming in breadth and depth. The scholarly identity of the book history field can be traced to a number of related disciplines including bibliography, textual scholarship, librarianship, humanities, history, comparative literature, philology, sociology, and psychology. The advantage of this overlap in disciplines is the synergy that is created when people from different disciplines work together.

Because each discipline related to book history has its own culture, methodology, and priorities, it can be difficult to bring these researchers together. As Topham (2000) noted in her article Book History and the Sciences, within the history of science area,

"there remains not a little skepticism concerning the practical value of such an approach. (Book history) is often dismissed as an intellectual fad or as an enterprise which is illuminating but ultimately peripheral, rather than being valued as an approach which can offer major new insights within the field. This is no doubt in part because much of the most innovative work in history of science over recent years has been carried out by historians anxious to get away from an earlier overemphasis on printed sources" (Topham, 2000, 155).

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Blake, Erin (August 21, 2012). The material history of ...? The Collation: A Gathering of Scholarship from the Folger Shakespeare Library. What do you think about the terminology "book history" or "history of the book"?

Book History Historiography

Historiography involves the study of history and the methodology of history as a discipline. In this case, the history of book history.

The field known as "the history of the book" or "book history" traces changes, challenges, and innovation in book technology including social, economic, and political considerations. It focuses on the book as a physical object with explorations of printing technology, cost of production, materials quality, preservation, and portability. In addition, it explores the social, economic, and political impact on the ideas, culture, religion, and society.

This relatively new area of study emerged from disciplines such as bibliography, textual studies, and social history. According to Finkelstein and McCleery (2006, 1), "it achieves its relative distinctiveness... through its emphasis upon print culture and the role of the book as material object within that culture."

Let's explore the evolution of the area of study known as Book History.

Book History: The Beginnings

The study of book history is as old as the books themselves. As soon as the incunabula was introduced, people began private collections. These individuals began creating lists of their works and sought out new items for their collection.

Bibliology or bibliography is the description and study of books as physical objects including the processes of creating books.

In the early 18th century, Michael Maittaire (1667-1747) (below center) along with Georg Wolfgang Panzer published works on the history of printing such as Annales Typographici (1803) (below left) which including a chronology of printed materials.

Annales TypographiciMaittaireRepertorium Bibliographicum

In 1822, Ludwig Hain (1781-1836) published Repertorium Bibliographicum (above right) that contained a short title catalogue of incunabula arranged alphabetically by author. Hain numbers are still used in bibliographical references.

NicholasJohn Nichols (1745-1826) (shown left) was an English author and printer. As an antiquarian he enjoyed compiling primary source materials about the many printers and authors he knew. In 1812, he began publishing Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7, Volume 7:Pt2, Volume 8, Volume 9) that includes biographical memoirs of printers, publishers, and authors.

Nichols quotes another literary publication titled The Extracts, "The most useful and valuable lessons are often contained in those private papers which eminent men leave behind them, and wherein their minds have thrown off all reserve."

Nichols began work on Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7, Volume 8, in 1817 and it was completed by his son after Nichols' death. This fascinating book is easy to read and features excerpts from letters and other primary source documents of authors, printers, and publishers. For those interested in gaining insights into the time period, it contains a wealth of insights.

Leonce Janmart de BrouilantDuring the 19th century, bibliographers focused on the identification of unauthorized editions and fictitious imprints. German bibliographer Emil Weller (1823-1886) is known for his identification of pseudonyms and fictitious printings published in Die maskirte Literatur der älteren and neueren Sprachen and Die falschen und fingierten Druckorte. Pierre Gustave Brunet's (1805-1896) Imprimeurs imaginaires et libraires supposés (1866) is another example of a bibliographer who focused on fictitious printing.

Bibliographers were also interested in topics such as intellectual freedom. For instance, Leonce Janmart de Brouillant (shown on right) published La Liberté de la Presse en France; Histoire de Pierre du Marteau, imprimeur à Cologne in 1888 focusing on freedom of the press in France during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Book History: The Early 20th Century

Prior to the 1960s, the study of books was dominated by the book as an artifact and the literary aspects of texts and authorship.

Bibliography

Bibliography is a specialized area of library science that involves the study of books as physical objects. The word bibliography originated in post-classical Greek as a references to the writing of books. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), as late as 1761 a bibliographer was defined as a person who writes or copies books. In 18th century France, the term shifted in meaning toward writing about books.

Analytical bibliography includes three areas: descriptive, textual, and historical. Descriptive bibliography focuses on the physical characteristics of the book, textual bibliography explores the connection between the text as envisioned by the author and the published form, and historical bibliography examines the history of books including their production and distribution.

In the first half of the 20th century, bibliographers were primarily interested in the physical properties of books. Finkelstein and McCleery (2006, 2) state that

"two key elements were inherited from Bibliography by book history: the very recognition that a book is a result of a collaborative, albeit for bibliographers an often corrupting, process; and a detailed system for describing books on the basis of their production attributes which provided a universal standard drawing attention to the material object rather than its contents."

Bibliographers were well-known for their identification of books. Treating books as physical objects, analytical and descriptive bibliographies were produced that detailed every available version of Shakespeare's plays or every work printed by a particular printing press. The methodologies applied by these scholars are still employed today as a component of book history.

Alfred W. Pollard

By the first half of the 20th century, the field of bibliography was well-established. For instance, Alfred W. Pollard (1859-1944) was an English bibliographer who focused on English texts. He is credited with bringing scholarly rigor to the study of Shakespeare and other English texts.

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Explore a couple examples of Pollard's work to get a sense for bibliography at the turn of the 20th century. Go to Old Picture Books with other essays on Bookish Subjects by Alfred W. or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale edited with introduction and notes by Alfred W. Pollard.

Ronald McKerrow

English bibliographer Ronald Brunlees McKerrow (1872-1940) spent his time focusing on the textual story of early English drama specifically the works of Thomas Nash and Shakespeare. He also conducted research on the English book trade in the early modern era. However he is best known for his work on the theory and practice of historical and textual bibliography. He wrote An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students in 1927 that remains a standard work today in the form of Philip Gaskell's New Introduction to Bibliography.

Fredson Bowers

Fredson BowersFredson Bowers (1905-1991) was an American scholar and bibliographer known for his book Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949) and a volume of bibliographical essays titled Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia. He was also the founder and editor of the journal Studies in Bibliography.

Bowers stated that descriptive bibliography is the systematic description of a book as a physical artifact. Analytical bibliography seeks to establish a book's history through printings and physical features. He also noted that the function of bibliography is to provide "sufficient data so that a reader may identify the book described, understand the printing, and recognize the precise contents." (Bowers, 1949, 124). Bowers defined historical bibliography as the study of "the evolution of printing (including type-founding and paper-making, binding, book ownership, and book-selling" (Bowers, 2006, 28). Critical or textual bibliography focuses on textual questions relating to the printing of the book.

The image of Fredson Bowers on the right is courtesy of University of Virginia Special Collections.

His definitions of the field reflect the precise and focused efforts of bibliographers in the early and middle part of the 20th century. Bowers (2006, 30) concluded that "the discipline is a technical study of a material object divorced from its content." He viewed bibliography as pure research and saw practical applications as the work of critical bibliography, textual criticism, and literary studies.

Concerned that librarians weren't aware of the important role of bibliography in collection development and preservation, Bowers wrote an article for Library Trends titled The Function of Bibliography. In the 1959 article, he stressed that a book can't be described properly without an understanding of methods of printing, editions, and other elements of analytical bibliography. While the bibliographer is interested in the "ideal copy", librarians are concerned about the copy at hand. Bowers stressed that "a librarian is the necessary intermediary between the book and the scholar" so the librarian must be skilled in bibliography (Bowers, 1959, 501).

Walter Wilson (W. W.) Greg

Like Bowers, W. W. Greg (1875-1959) took a traditional view of the bibliographer's role. He stressed that "what the bibliographer is concerned with is pieces of paper or parchment covered with certain written or printed signs. With these signs he is concerned merely as arbitrary marks; their meaning is no business of his" (Greg, 1966, 247). This attitude of bibliographers clearly separated them from researchers interested in areas that connected books with readers and writers.

To learn more about bibliographical history, skim Tanselles' article Bibliographical history as a field of study. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Book History: The Mid 20th Century

During middle part of the century, a growing number of scholars began to explore book history separate from the discipline of bibliography.

Lucien Febvre

French scholar Lucien Febvre (1878-1956) established the Annales School of history in France. He felt that history was more than a collection of facts. Febvre was interested in the context of historical events in terms of culture, psychology, and geography. This new approach to historical thinking became known as histoire totale.

Febvre wrote The Coming of the Book in 1958. It was co-authored and edited by Henri Martin who published it after the death of Febvre. Translated into English in 1976, this work is now associated with the founding of the field of study known as "history of the book" from the French phrase "historire du livre." This landmark work stressed that the history of books is often overlooked and taken for granted. The authors contended that

"these new books (printed with movable type) were to cause profound changes not only in the habits of thought but also in the working conditions of secular and religious scholars, the great readers of the time... the object of the present work is to study those changes, their causes and effects, and show just how the printed book became something that manuscript neither could nor did become" (Febvre, 1976, 9).

Febvre and others were studying the book not just as a physical artifact but as "one of the most potent agents at the disposal of western civilization" (Febvre, 1976, 10).

During the 1960s, French scholars developed and applied new approaches for the study of book history. The Annales school focused on uncovering historical patterns and themes with emphasis on the socioeconomic history of books and the experience of ordinary readers. Their approaches to the study of book history spread throughout Europe and the United States.

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a scholar in the areas of literature and culture. He was known for his innovative theories exploring how methods of communication influence society.

In 1963, McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man described the impact of movable type on the culture of 15th-century Europe. However he's best known for his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published in 1964.

The image of Marshall McLuhan is courtesy of the Library and Archives of Canada.

Marshall McLunhanGutenberg GalaxyUnderstanding Media

Book History: The 1970s

By the 1970s, a variety of disciplines began to embrace different aspects of book history.

The idea of pure bibliography was being challenged. Bibliographers like G. Thomas Tanselle (1934- ) noted that bibliography is a "related group of subjects" (Tanselle, 1974, 88).

In addition to bibliography, disciplines related to book history were combining elements of many areas including history, comparative literature, philology, sociology, and psychology.

American scholars tied book history with the emphasis on the experiences of women, minorities, and urban works through history. Rubin (2003, 556) notes that "such features of the American scene as the high literacy rate in colonial New England, the spread of evangelical religion, the institution of slavery, and the nation's large influx of immigrants required a distinctively American orientation."

The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress was established by public law in 1977. It's mission included the scholarly study of books. Since that time, centers have developed in many US States.
Gross (1997) notes that two major publications published in 1979 set the stage for the movement in America, Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change and Robert Darnton's The Business of Enlightenment.

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Take a moment to visit the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. Spend some time on the Affiliates & Partners page exploring their affiliates, partners, and related organizations to see what's happening across the United States.

Carlo Ginzburg

Carlo Ginzburg (1539-) is a historian known in the field of microhistory. Microhistory investigates small, well-defined units of research such as a particular family or community in a village. His book Il formaggio e i vermi, or The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller was published in 1976. In this foundational work, Ginzburg uses books, court transcripts, and other primary source documents to explore the life of a miller during the 16th century. Specifically he focuses on the miller as a literate member of society. In the preface of his book Ginzburg notes

"In the past historians could be accused of wanting to know only about 'the great deeds of kings,' but today this is certainly no longer true. More and more they are turning toward what their predecessors passed over in silence, discarded, or simply ignored. 'Who built Thebes of the seven gates?' Bertold Brecht's 'literate worker' was already asking. The sources tell us nothing about these anonymous masons, but the question retains all its significance.

The scarcity of evidence about the behavior and attitudes of the subordinate classes of the past is certainly the major, though not the only, obstacle faced by research of this type. But there are exceptions. This book relates the story of a miller of the Friuli, Domenico Scandella, called Menocchio, who was burned at the stake by order of the Holy Office after a life passed in almost complete obsurity. The records of his two trials, held fifteen years apart, offer a rich picture of this thoughts and feelings, of his imaginings and aspirations. Other documents give us information about his economic activities and the lives of his children. We even have pages in his own hand and a partial list of what he read (he was, in fact, able to read and write). Though we would like to know much more about Menocchio, what we do know permits us to reconstruct a fragment of what is usually called 'the culture of the lower classes' or even 'popular culture'."

 

Elizabeth Eisenstein

Elizabeth EisensteinElizabeth Eisenstein (1923- ) is known as one of the founders of the book history field. In the 1970s this American historian promoted the theory that social pressures created an environment ready for the printing press. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change was published in 1979. This book explored the consequences of shifting from script to print and the resulting communications revolution. She investigated the cultural and intellectual movements associated with the introduction of the printed book.

Eisenstein's work applied historical methodology to the study of the social effects of print media. Her work provoked much debate in the scholarly community because of its new way of thinking about the development of media.

While Eisenstein suggested that the printing press brought about widespread changes in reading and writing that contributed to cultural change, others argued that it was changes in society that created an environment where the printing press would be embraced. This "chicken or egg" debate continues today.

Book History: The 1980s

Book history as an academic field really took shape in the 1980s.

The variety of separate fields and areas of study came together in the 1980s to produce the current discipline of Book History.

"That Book History as a field of study has come to prominence in the last few decades partly derives from both a recognition of the key role print has played in our culture for the past five hundred years and a realization that the role has now been usurped by other media. The book will continue as a cultural component (it will not die), but its dominance has disappeared and this in some ways has licensed the study of its past" (Finkelstein and McCleery, 2006, 2).

In 1980, the topic of book history was discussed at conferences by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL and at the American Antiquarian Society.

Thomas Tanselle

Book Jackets Their History, Forms, and UseThomas Tanselle (1934 - ) is a scholar and bibliographer. In his classic 1981 paper titled The History of Books as a Field of Study, he noted that the roots of the study of book history come from two traditions of inquiry: the French based 'historire du livre' emphasis on cultural and intellectual history and the English focus on bibliographic scholarship based on physical evidence.

Tanselle recognized the importance of the tangible object as a primary source for the study of book history. However he also noted the socioeconomic importance of the book through history. He states that there is "a natural meeting place between the examination of books as physical objects and the historical analysis of the role of books in society" (1981, 6).

Tanselle has written a number of books including his latest title Book-Jackets Their History, Forms, and Use (2011). This book is a wonderful reflection of his definition of book history and the importance of the tangible object.

Robert Darnton

Robert DarntonLike Elizabeth Eisenstein, Robert Darnton (1939- ) was studying the cultural aspects of book history during this time period. In 1979, he published The Business of Enlightenment. While bibliographers like Tanselle put the physical book at the forefront, Darnton preferred to focus on the cultural environment surrounding the book.

In 1982, Darnton put into word what many scholars had been thinking. His landmark essay What Is The History of Books? laid the groundwork for the emerging field of book history. Darnton called the history of books "the social and cultural history of communication by print... its purpose is to understand how ideas were transmitted through print and how exposure to the printed word affected the thought and behavior of mankind during the last five hundred years." (1982, 65).

Darnton (1982) envisioned a "communication circuit" as an effective way to examine the life cycle of a book. He developed the circuit analogy to describe the life cycle of a book including an understanding of the author, the composition of the work, a bibliographic analysis, its availability in bookstores and libraries, and its impact on readers and society and how it reflects the time period in which it was published. He suggested that researchers investigate authors, publishers, printers, shippers, booksellers, and readers within the context of economic and social (i.e., intellectual, political, legal) factors. Darnton stated that "by unearthing those circuits, historians can show that books do not merely recount history; they make it" (Darnton, 1982).

Darnton's communication circuit contained the following elements:

Click the image below to view a larger version of Darnton's communication circuit.

Robert Darnton Communication Circuit illustration

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Read Darnton, Robert (Summer 1982). What is the history of books? Daedalus, 111, 65-83. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Why do you think this article article is considered to be "a classic" in book history literature?

According to Clegg (2001, 222), Darnton's landmark article "registered the emergence of the history of the book as a new discipline".

Thomas Adams and Nicolas Barker (1993) critiqued Darnton's approach to book history within the context of the discipline of bibliography. They suggested that "the weakness in Darnton's scheme is that it deals with people, rather than the book" (1993, 51). Adams and Barker suggested modifications to Darnton's circuit analogy. They noted that book history should emphasize the connection of social investigations of print culture to text conditions describing five stages in the life of book as a map including publishing, manufacturing, distribution, receptions, and survival.

Adams and Barker described their five stages. Publishing involves the author, patron or other financial backing, printer or manufacturer, and distributor. The manufacturing aspect including the printing press, but also the manufacture of paper, ink, illustrations, bindings, and all other aspects of the physical book. Distribution begins the dynamic stage of a book including the introduction of the book, transportation, destinations, and momentum including the entire history of a book including new and used markets. Reception can be passive or active as evidenced by reviews, sales, reprintings, influence, and application. Finally, survival of the item involves the initial reception, use, and ongoing visibility.

Throughout the 1980s, scholars in disciplines related to Book History began to formally describe their connections to the new area of study. For instance, the French multivolume Histoire de l'Edition was published in 1984 providing a foundation for the field.

D. F. McKenzie

McKenzie's Bibliography and Sociology of TextsD. F. McKenzie (1931-1999) worked in the area of bibliography and textual study. McKenzie's Panizzi Lectures of 1985 connected book history to the sociology of texts. In Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, he described the problems facing pure bibliographers by stating that "the moment we are required to explain signs in a book, as distinct from describing or copying them, they assume a symbolic status. If a medium in any sense affects a message, then bibliography cannot exclude from its own proper concerns the relation between form, function and symbolic meaning" (1986, 10). He goes on to state that bibliography must do more than simply describe and edit. Related disciplines like cultural history, the psychology of reading, and information theory must be incorporated.

McKenzie (1986, 12-13) suggested that "bibliography is the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception... (and including) not only the technical but the social processes of their transmission." He notes that this description

"accounts for non-book texts, their physical forms, textual versions, technical transmission, institutional control, their perceived meanings, and social efforts. It accounts for a history of the book and, indeed, of all printed forms including all textual ephemera as a record of cultural change, whether in mass civilization or minority culture. For any history of the book which excludes study of the social, economic, and political motivations of publishing, the reasons why texts were written and read as they were, why they were rewritten and redesigned, or allowed to die, would degenerate into a feebly digressive book list and never rise to a readable history" (1986, 13).

McKenzie (1986, 28-29) concludes

"in the ubiquity and variety of its evidence, bibliography as a sociology of texts has an unrivaled power to resurrect authors in their own time, and their readers at any time.. one of its greatest strengths is the access it gives to social motives: by dealing with the facts of transmission and the material evidence of reception, it can make discoveries as distinct from inventing meanings. In focusing on primary object, the text as a recorded form, it defines our common point of departure for any historical or critical enterprise. By abandoning the notion of digressive bibliography and recording all subsequent versions, bibliography, simply by its own comprehensive logic, its indiscriminate inclusiveness, testified to the fact that new readers of course make new texts, and that their new meanings are a function of their new forms. The claim is no longer for their truth as one might seek to define that by an authorial intention, but for their testimony, as defined by their historical use."

John Feather

In the mid 1980s, John Feather was asked to write an article for The Journal of Library History focusing on the development of the book history field. He concluded that

"the perimeters of book history are defined by the perimeters of the printed word itself, and if we accept, as surely we must, that we live in a culture whose development has been based on the transmission and understanding of words, then the history of the book is as fundamental to history as is the book itself to the culture whose history we seek to learn" (Feather, 1986, 26).

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Read Feather, John (Winter 1986). The book in history and the history of the book. The Journal of Library History, 21(1), 12-26. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Cathy Davidson

An American scholar in the area of English, Cathy Davidson published Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America in 1986 and Reading in America: Literature and Social History in 1989.

Her 1988 article in American Quarterly stressed that there is

"little consensus about which of the many questions raised by book historians deserve the most attention. Indeed, part of the excitement of the field (and particularly in America) lies in the diversity of approaches being employed to understand what impact books have hand upon American culture. The study of books here has remained notably multidisciplinary" (1988, 9).

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Read Davidson, Cathy N. (March 1988). Towards a history of books and readers. American Quarterly, 40(1), 7-17. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Book History: The 1990s

In the 1980s and 1990s, growth in the area of book history paralleled the rise of interest in cultural history. Rubin (2003, 557) notes that "as many of its practitioners insist, their enterprise requires discerning relationships between materials conditions, social structures, and cultural values - relationships that establish the meanings print forms carry as they pass from author to reader."

The 1991 creation of SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) marked an expansion of interest in book history. According to the SHARP website the study of the history of the book

"is not only about books per se: broadly speaking, it concerns the creation, dissemination, and reception of script and print, including newspapers, periodicals, and ephemera. Book historians study the social, cultural, and economic history of authorship; the history of the book trade, copyright, censorship, and underground publishing; the publishing histories of particular literary works, authors, editors, imprints, and literary agents; the spread of literacy and book distribution; canon formation and the politics of literary criticism; libraries, reading habits, and reader response."

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Visit the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) website. If you're interested in book history as part of your professional life, consider joining this organization. You can also join their listserv. You don't need to be a member of SHARP to join SHARP-L.

Roger Chartier

Roger Chartier (1945- ) is the current director at the Ecole des Etudes en Sciences Sociales or School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences rooted in the work of Lucien Febvre and The Annales School. Chartier brought together the idea of the book as a physical object and as an element of culture through his research on reading. His work crosses the areas of bibliography, social history, and literary criticism.

The Order of BooksRoger Chartier

In The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Chartier (1994, ix) stressed the

"works and discourses exist only when they become physical realities and are inscribed on the pages of a book, transmitted by a voice reading or narrating, or spoken on the stage of a theatre. Understanding the principles that govern the 'order of discourse' supposes that the principles underlying the processes of production, communication, and reception of books (and other objects that bear writing) will also be deciphered in a rigorous manner. More than even before, historians of literary works and historians of cultural practices have become aware of the effects of meaning that material forms produce... keen attention should be paid to the technical, visual, and physical devices that organize the reading of writing when writing becomes a book."

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Read Chartier, Roger (Summer 1992). Laborers and voyagers: from the text to the reader. Diacritics, 22(2), 49-61. IUPUI students can view the article online.
How and why is the study of readers and reading connected with book history?

Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French sociologist who described the intersection of materials production and print culture. In his 1993 book The Field of Cultural Production, Bourdieu developed a theory of the cultural field that placed artistic works such as books within the social conditions of their production, circulation, and consumption.

Bourdieu (1993) noted that in some cases books are produced for art's sake, while in others they are produced for the tastes of a particular class such as academics. Finally, they make be created for the mass audience. All of these areas must be studied in order to understand book history.

Cultural ProductionPierre Bourdieu

Jerome McGann

Jerome McGann (1937- ) is an American textual scholar. In The Socialization of Texts (1991), McGann brought together bibliography, literary history, and the study of print culture. He noted that the study of book history involves the socialization of texts as books travel from private to social spaces.

During the 1990s, the ease of scanning electronic texts and increase in tools for text analysis brought new research opportunities for book historians. However these technologies also ignited debate.

In The Rationale of Hypertext, Jerome McGann (1997) explored the connection between print and electronic media. He suggested that "we no longer have to use books to analyze and study other books or texts. That simple fact carries immense, even catastrophic, significance. Until now the book or codex form has been one of our most powerful tools for developing, storing, and disseminating information." He went on to state that electronic tools provide new ways of analyzing books.

Skim McGann, Jerome (1997). The Rationale of Hypertext. Available: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/public/jjm2f/rationale.html

Jerome McGann's Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Hypermedia Archive project has served as a model for hypermedia studies of texts.

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Explore two of McGann's digital projects. His NINES: Nineteenth-century Scholarship Online project contains hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed digital objects. Go to their blog for great examples of how these digital objects are being used in research.
Also, try his new project 18th Connect focusing on eighteenth-century scholarship online.

By the end of the 1990s, book history was exploding. Journals like Book History began publishing scholarly work on the history of the book. The definition of book history was expanding to include allied areas of study. Scholars expanded the idea of print culture including the role of the author and reader in the process. Johns (1998, 30) stated that

"we may conclude that print entailed not one but many cultures, and that these cultures of the book were themselves local in character... there is one concern in particular that possessed early modern readers, and that may be used as a key to the rest. Could a printed book be trusted to be what it claimed?"

Greenspan & Rose (1998) stated that book history involves

"the creation, dissemination, and uses of script and print in any medium, including books, newspapers, periodicals, manuscripts, and ephemera... (including) the social, cultural, and economic history of authorship, publishing, libraries, literacy, literary criticism, reading habits, and reader response."

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Get to know one of the key scholars in book history. Choose a well-known or lesser known book historian. Read at least two of their articles and skim at least one of their books. Read a couple articles that have been written about them or their work.

Book History Today

"The salient feature of Book History is its insistence on materiality and history: opposed to abstract notions of text, it takes as a founding principle that the status and interpretation of a work depend upon material considerations, that the meaning is always produced in a historical setting, and that the meaning of a text depends upon the differing readings assigned to it by historical, rather than ideal, readers." (Bishop, 2005, 131).

Today, book history has been woven into curricula across disciplines. However there are lingering concerns regarding the scope of the discipline.

The Scope

Vander Meulen (2003/2004) expressed concern that book historians have moved too far away from the physical, technical and aesthetic aspects of the book as an artifact in favor of a focus on related fields such as literary theory, library science, sociology, psychology, and economics. He stated that "printed artifacts lie at the core of book history, and keeping them as the focal point not only can give coherence to the field but also can stimulate the richest development of it as a means for understanding cultural and social evolution." (p. 193)

Hackel (2005) noted that the term "history of the book" is often used interchangeably for two sub-disciplines, the history of reading and the history of print culture. However, this is not correct. The history of reading is much larger than the history of the book including many types of communications. The history of print culture is a smaller area focusing on cultural topics related to books.

"If we take as the three subjects of literary inquiry authors, texts, and readers, the history of the book allows a theorized, archivally-based approach to contextualizing, situating, and understanding all three. The typography of seventeenth-century title pages, for instance, has helped scholars track emerging notions of authorship and explore early modern understandings of collaboration and literary property; variants across quarto and folio editions of playtexts have encouraged editors to reconstruct printing house practices and speculate about authorial revisions; materials evidence in binds, flyleaves, and margins have provided scholars with glimpses of the practices of earlier reader." (Hackel, 2005, 5)

In an address to the Canadian Association for the Study of Book Culture, bibliographer Carl Spadoni (2007, 5) does an effective job of describing the various disciplines involved with book history. He states

"if we have learned anything about these debates, incursion, and fireworks, perhaps we understand that there is no one way of writing the history of books. The historian will use different approaches at different times, depending upon his or her purpose and intended audience. As historians, we presume that history must be based on a variety of primary sources: archives, oral testimony, newspapers, journals and magazines, and of course, books. To slight books as primary evidence or not to understand them physically undermines the basis of our work... we must know how to analyse books and how to examine them."

Skim Spadoni, Carl (2007). How to make a souffle; or, what historians of the book need to know about bibliography. History of Intellectual Culture, 7(1). IUPUI students can view the article online.

The Rise of Digital Formats

Over the past two decades, the rise of digital formats have introduced a new wave of questions regarding the nature and study of book history.

“Digital technologies have transformed both the way in which many people read and the ways in which critics and student study the texts of the past. This means that now is arguably an especially important time to study book history, because we are living through an historical shift in how books are published, circulated, read, and discussed. Sometimes it can be difficult to analyze a phenomenon so ubiquitous that it comes to seem natural or unquestionable. When the printed word was by far the dominant form for the circulation of information it was difficult to understand it critically as a technology of communication. Now that the historical dominance of print may be coming to an end, it may be possible to develop new understandings of print’s cultural significance as an historical phenomenon. At the same time, digital media are so new and shifting that attempts to understand their implications will necessarily be provisional and speculative” (Levy & Mole, 2015, xvii).

The Conflict

Like any study in history, book history can be a difficult pursuit. Conflicting points of view, incomplete data, and lack of evidence can make analysis and interpretation difficult. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of the field requires expertise in many disciplines. As such, book historiography is particularly important. For instance, in an analysis of St. Clair's The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, Bonnell (2005/2006) identified mistakes and problems in St Clair's treatment of "the old canon." These types of criticisms are important establishing credibility to the interdisciplinary field of book history.

In Material Texts: Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History, Joseph Dane (2013) points out that book history is really about people. This shift toward a view of book history based in book culture is increasingly common. Yet, Dane stresses that the book itself is still an essential part of book history.

ReadRead!
Many outstanding books have been written over the past several decades on the topic of book history. Spend some time reading and reviewing one of these books cover-to-cover:

The Coming of the Book
The Gutenberg Galaxy
Understanding Media
Printing Press as an Agent of Change
The Business of Enlightenment
Book Jackets: Their History, Forms, and Use
Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts
The Order of Books

Material Texts: Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History

What's Next?

The history of book history will continue to evolve as researchers continue to explore questions. A few questions for study have been listed below:

ReadRead!
Many wonderful articles have been written about book history. Unfortunately, we don't have time to read them all. Choose two of the following articles or excerpts to read in depth. Compare them to the contents on this page and Darnton's "What is the history of books?" article. Where do these articles fit into our understanding of book historiography?

Amory, Hugh (Spring 1996). The trout and the milk: an ethnobibliographical talk. Harvard Library Bulletin, 7(1), 50-65.IUPUI students can view the article online.

Bonnell, Thomas (2005/2006). When book history neglects bibliography: trouble with the 'Old Canon' 'In the Reading Nation'. Studies in Bibliography, 57, 243-261. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Brown, Matthew P. (Winter 2004). Book history, sexy knowledge, and the challenges of the new boredom. American Literary History, 6(4). IUPUI students can view the article online.

Clegg, Cyndia Susan (Spring 2001). History of the book: an undisciplined discipline? Renaissance Quarterly, 54(1), 221-245. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Dane, Joseph A. (2003). The Myth of Print Culture: Essays on Evidence, Textuality and Bibliographical Method. University of Toronto Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=MrsR88JvxOcC

Erickson, Paul. Help or hindrance? the history of the book and electronic media. MIT Communications Forum. Available: http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/papers/erickson.html

Feather, John (Fall 1982). The history of books as a field of study: a review essay. The Journal of Library History, 17(4), 463-467. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Hall, David D. (1986). The history of the book: New questions? New answers? Journal of Library History, 21(1), 27-38. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Jenisch, Jared (April 2003). The history of the book: introduction, overview, apologia. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 229-239. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Johns, Adrian (1998). The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. University of Chicago Press. Available: ACLS Humanities E-Book at http://hdl.handle.net.proxy.ulib.uits.iu.edu/2027/heb.01007.0001.001

McCorison, Marcus A. (Winter 1991). An annals of American bibliography, or book history, plain and fancy. Libraries & Culture, 26(1), 14-23. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Rubin, Joan Shelley (September 2003). What is the history of the history of books? The Journal of American History, 90(2), 555-575. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Spadoni, Carl (2007). How to make a souffle; or, what historians of the book need to know about bibliography. History of Intellectual Culture, 7(1). IUPUI students can view the article online.

Tanselle, Thomas (1965). The historiography of American literary publishing. Studies in Bibliography, 18, 3-39. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Tanselle, Thomas (1988). Bibliographical history as a field of study. Studies in Bibliography, 41, 33-63. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Topham, Jonathan R. (June 2000). Book history and the sciences. The British Journal for the History of Science, 33(2), 155-158. IUPUI students can view the article online.

You may also want to learn a little about book history in different parts of the world.

Resources

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Amory, Hugh (Spring 1996). The trout and the milk: an ethnobibliographical talk. Harvard Library Bulletin, 7(1), 50-65.

Blake, Erin (August 21, 2012). The material history of ...? The Collation: A Gathering of Scholarship from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Bonnell, Thomas (2005/2006). When book history neglects bibliography: trouble with the 'Old Canon' 'In the Reading Nation'. Studies in Bibliography, 57, 243-261.

Bishop, Edward L. (2005). Book history. In M. Groden, M. Kreiswirth, & I. Szeman (eds.), The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, 2nd Edition.

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Bowers, Fredson (2006). Bibliography, pure bibliography, and literary studies (1952). In, Finkelstein & McCleery, The Book History Reader. Second Edition. Routledge.

Brown, Matthew P. (Winter 2004). Book history, sexy knowledge, and the challenges of the new boredom. American Literary History, 6(4).

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Clegg, Cyndia Susan (Spring 2001). History of the book: an undisciplined discipline? Renaissance Quarterly, 54(1), 221-245.

Dane, Joseph (2013). Material Texts: Blind Impressions: Methods and Mythologies in Book History. University of Pennsylvania Press. Available as an Ebook: http://site.ebrary.com.proxy2.ulib.iupui.edu/lib/iupui/detail.action?docID=10748965

Dane, Joseph A. (2003). The Myth of Print Culture: Essays on Evidence, Textuality and Bibliographical Method. University of Toronto Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=MrsR88JvxOcC

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McCorison, Marcus A. (Winter 1991). An annals of American bibliography, or book history, plain and fancy. Libraries & Culture, 26(1), 14-23.

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Rubin, Joan Shelley (September 2003). What is the history of the history of books? The Journal of American History, 90(2), 555-575.

Spadoni, Carl (2007). How to make a souffle; or, what historians of the book need to know about bibliography. History of Intellectual Culture, 7(1).

Suarez, Michael F. (2003/2004). Historiographical problems and possibilities in book history and national histories of the book. Studies in Bibliography, 56, 141-170.

Tanselle, Thomas (1965). The historiography of American literary publishing. Studies in Bibliography, 18, 3-39.

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Tanselle, Thomas (1981). The History of Books as a Field of Study. Second Hanes Lecture, University of North Carolina. Also, reprinted in G. Thomas Tanselle, Literature and Artifacts, 1998, 41-55.

Tanselle, Thomas (1988). Bibliographical history as a field of study. Studies in Bibliography, 41, 33-63.

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