History of the Book Anthology


I am currently teaching a History of the Book course, and I’m using Routledge’s The Book History Reader. The volume has a handful of seminal essays, but many of the articles are pitched above the undergraduate level. Fredson Bowers’s piece on bibliography, for instance, is beyond the reach of most college students, and the Eisenstein and Johns excerpts seem to me injudiciously chosen. Moreover, the selections on hypertext are both dense and dated. Can anyone recommend a book history anthology that is geared toward undergraduates and up-to-date? Alternatively, if you were to compile your own anthology, which essays would you include?

16 Responses to “History of the Book Anthology”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Hi, Randy

    Last semester I used Eliot and Rose’s A Companion to the History of the Book (Blackwell). The course was for English majors, but we did not read any literary works as a class. I assigned quite a bit of the Blackwell book–the pre-codex sections interested students greatly, as did the essays on literacy, censorship, artists’ books (as well as others), digital and electronic developments. We also read “Theorizing the History of the Book” (a big favorite) and “Authors, Authorship, and Authority,” in Finkelstein and McCleery’s Introduction to Book History (Routledge)

    I’ve often used Eisenstein’s essay, “Some Conjectures about the Impact of Printing on Western Society and Thought,” The Journal of Modern History, 40.1 (Mar., 1968): 1-56. It works well–and I used it last semester once again.

    Students respond quite well to the following:

  2. Peter Stallybrass, “Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible” in Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (eds) Books and Readers in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 42-79.
  3. D.F. McKenzie, “The Book as Expressive Form,” in Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge, 1999), 9-30.
  4. David Cressy, “Books as Totems in Seventeenth-Century England and New England,” Journal of Library History, 21 (1986), 92-106.
  5. Paul Saenger, “Silent Reading: Its Impact on Late Medieval Script and Society,” Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 13 (1982), 367-414.
  6. Eric Jager, “Did Eve Invent Writing?: Script and the Fall in ‘The Adam Books.’” Studies in Philology 93.3 (Summer 1996): 229-50.
  7. John Brewer’s “Authors, Publishers, and Literary Culture” and “Readers and the Reading Public” from his Pleasures of the Imagination (University of Chicago)
  8. William St. Clair, “Political Economy of Reading” (http://ies.sas.ac.uk/Publications/johncoffin/stclair.pdf)
  9. David Scott Kastan, “Humphrey Moseley and the Invention of English Literature” in Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, eds., Sabrina Alcorn Baron, Eric N. Lindquist, and Eleanor F. Shevlin (Amherst: U Massachusetts P, 2007), pp. 104-124.
  10. Roger Chartier, “Figures of the Author,” in The Order of Books, pp. 25-60.
  11. Paula McDowell, “Women in the London Book Trade” in The Women of Grub Street (Oxford UP, 1998).

    We also used a number of database, and I have a whole list of 19th through 21st century essays that have worked well. For example, Elizabeth McHenry’s introduction to Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (Duke UPress, 2002) resulted in a final project that drew upon African American Newspapers to study reading and gender.

    I have not used Nicole Howard’s The Book: The Life Story of a Technology (Greenwood, 2005; Johns Hopkins, 2009), but I would be interested in hearing from others who have. Years ago I used Kilgour’s Evolution of the Book (Oxford, 1998).

    This semester I am teaching a undergrad seminar on the eighteenth-century novel within the context of material culture and publishing history, and I have a number of essays that I’ve also used in book history courses including J. Paul Hunter’s “From Typology to Type: Agents of change in eighteenth-century English texts,” in Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning. Eds. Margaret J. M. Ezell and Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1994, 41-70; Janine Barchas’s chapters on the title page and the frontispiece in Graphic design, print culture, and the eighteenth-century novel (Oxford, 2003); Michael F. Suarez, “The Business of Literature: The Book Trade in England from Milton to Blake,” in A Companion to Literature from Milton to Blake, Ed. David Womersley, Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture (Blackwell, 2000), pp. 131-150; Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor, “Pamela’s Illustrations and the Visual Culture of the Novel” from Pamela in the Marketplace (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005), 143-176; J. A. Downie, “The Making of the English Novel,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 9:3 (April 1997); Eleanor Shevlin’s “The Warwick Lane Network and the Refashioning of ‘Atalantis’ as a Titular Keyword,” Betty Schellenberg’s “The Second Coming of the Book, 1740-1770,” and Barbara Benedict’s “writing on Writing: Representations of the Book on Eighteenth-Century Literature”–all in Producing the Eighteenth-Century Book: Writers and Publishers in England, 1650-1800, eds. Laura L. Runge and Pat Rogers (University of Delaware, 2009).

    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      That’s a great list, Eleanor. Thanks! I have not taught such a course, but if I were to do that, I would need something elementary such as Nicole Howard’s The Book: The Life Story of a Technology, a text that would suit students new to the subject. I would also want to use selected essays from The Cambridge Companion to Book History.

      This is a case where a digital resource page for a reference book too expensive for most students to purchase would be useful.

    • rrhumanist Says:

      What a rich trove of texts, Eleanor–thank you! I’ll need to look more closely at the Blackwell volume, as well as Finkelstein and McCleery’s introductory textbook. The St. Clair paper looks marvelous. Thank you for the link; I may try to sneak that essay into the syllabus this semester.

  12. Ian Gadd Says:

    I’ve had success with John Sutherland, ‘Publishing History: A Hole at the Centre of Literary Sociology’, /Critical Inquiry/, 14 (1988), 574-89. It focuses–with a sceptical eye–on three key individuals (Darnton, McKenzie and McGann): it thus provides a clear introduction to different approaches to the history of the book at the same time as offering arguments with which the students can directly engage. (And students DO love a grumpy article!)

    • rrhumanist Says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Ian! It’s good to hear from you, and I’m glad to learn of the Sutherland piece. I agree with you that students love curmudgeonly articles, especially those that help to define major scholarly positions.

      By the way, I’ve been exploring the virtual printing press that you’ve created on Second Life–it’s simply brilliant.

    • rrhumanist Says:

      I have a quick follow-up question, Ian. Last night I read Sutherland’s article; it’s sharp and stimulating, but Sutherland is much better on Darnton’s, McGann’s, and McKenzie’s weaknesses than he is on their strengths. Do you have your students read Darnton, McGann, and McKenzie before you assign Sutherland’s piece? I would be loath to give students just his version of the story.

      I’m facing a similar dilemma with Adam Gopnik’s recent essay in The New Yorker, “How the Internet Gets inside Us.” I’d like to assign this piece in the final weeks of the course, when we’ll be discussing the web and hypertext–Gopnik offers an interesting and provocative review of the works of Nicholas Carr, Clay Shirky, William Powers, and Sherry Turkle, among others. Yet at times he can be reductive, dismissive, captious. If time does not permit the assignment of all of these other authors, how do you deal fairly with one writer’s characterizations (and mischaracterizations) of their work?

      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        I would think that students would have already read Darnton and McKenzie–if not McGann, too. It depends, I suppose, on the audience and objectives of the course, but these names are so key in a course that’s dedicated to the history of the book (especially in a course not using book history as a theoretical/critical lens for literary studies but rather treating it as the prime subject matter). Also, these names are so frequently discussed by others in both essays and more expository pieces.
        My students have enjoyed seeing the dialogues and conversations that emerge across pieces as we cover different aspects of the history of manuscript, print, digital cultures. You might well find the Finkelstein and McCleery’s chapter “Theorizing the History of the Book” for introducing the various foundational figures in the field in a fairly objective manner.

        Like you, Randy, I am concerned with exposing students to the actual opinions and theories, so they can assess for themselves. I will send some of the titles I use for the 21st century to show opposing takes soon.

    • rrhumanist Says:

      I entirely agree with you, Eleanor. I have my students read Darnton’s “What Is the History of Books?” and McKenzie’s “The Book as an Expressive Form,” both in the Finkelstein-McCleery Book History Reader, and in a future version of the course, I may assign McGann’s “The Socialization of Texts.” But to amplify my earlier point somewhat, I’m not even sure that such a relatively brief exposure to these scholars’ arguments would prepare my students for an onslaught like Sutherland’s. Sutherland pronounces on Darnton, McGann, and McKenzie so severely and so authoritatively that I fear many of my students would be cowed into agreeing with him. The same goes for Gopnik and the authors he criticizes in “How the Internet Gets inside Us.”

      This is an old problem, of course: it’s “the world enough and time” issue. If one is teaching literary theory, for example, one often needs to resort to synoptic overviews in addition to brief selections from the theorists themselves, as the subject is so vast, but Eagleton, for example, is tendentious, and it’s hard to find someone who isn’t. I’m wondering whether Ian’s students are inclined to critique Sutherland’s critique or whether they feel compelled to agree with him because they have not read extensively in Darnton et al.

      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        I’ve not used this particular piece by Sutherland, but I have generally found my students unwilling to buy in automatically to one stance no matter the authority it might exude. (Often some have and some haven’t, and it is the student discussion that seems to create the space for thoughtful consideration of the critique.) That Darnton’s and McKenzie’s names are invoked frequently by diverse scholars in various other pieces we are reading (many of the essays in the Blackwell collection, for instance, refer to Darnton if not McKenzie, too) makes it more difficult for a single essay to result in a dismissal of their ideas. In some versions of the course I also assign more of their work.

        Nonetheless, Randy, you raise important questions about how to best introduce students to this field. I often go overboard with the reading in attempts to try to provide multiple voices. Also, there is the issue of geographic and chronological coverage. Some students this past semester were sorry that we did not do more with the book in Asian cultures.

  13. Dave Mazella Says:

    I haven’t taught the history of the book myself, but I would think that introducing students to the major arguments surrounding the field would be extremely useful for their understanding the methodological issues: what kinds of evidence do or do not get used, what kinds of generalizations are possible, what kinds of claims can be advanced, etc. Seems like a wonderful opportunity to teach them how to think and read critically, so long as they can follow the arguments. I wouldn’t let Sutherland get the final word, but show how the field proceeded, either by assimilating or not these kinds of critiques.

    • rrhumanist Says:

      I think that’s a sound strategy, Dave. The history of the book has moved on since Sutherland published his article in 1988, and it would be useful to show students how and to what extent practitioners and theorists have incorporated his critiques.

      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        Yes, I second that–and it seems, Randy, that this has been your aim. I’m not able to open your syllabus on this computer, but it sounds as if a key text for you has been The Book History Reader. Providing some larger context for some of this particular essays (some of which may be pitched a bit high) would complement the use of these texts. Anna’s comment about about gravitating toward Howard’s book for students new to the field speaks in part to this need for an accessible overview–and there are other works as well that could be used. I agree with Randy’s sense that the extract from Eisenstein’s work does not seem that well-chosen. I also use exchanges from the forum between Adrian Johns and Eisenstein in AHA. I do find that students favor essays that combine explicit discussion of theoretical approach and methodology followed by (are integrated with) concrete demonstrations.

  14. rrhumanist Says:

    Here’s a link to the syllabus for my history of the book course. I don’t assign much reading in the final month of the semester, 1) because students are generally exhausted by that point and 2) so that they can focus on their final projects–hypertext critical editions of works of their choice.


    I hope that the syllabus proves useful to others, and I welcome questions and comments.

  15. Anna Battigelli Says:

    How interesting that you begin with Ehrman. I see the logic of that; it must add an interesting and needed dimension to your discussions. And the final section on hypertext must also raise interesting questions.

    Does the temporal range present a challenge? (I’m interested in Eleanor’s claim above that students wanted greater geographical range.) It sounds like a fantastic course.

    • rrhumanist Says:

      Yes, the Ehrman text really brings home to my students the importance of book history. A fair number of the them are religious, and for many it is a bracing discovery that the bible was not produced on God’s printing press.

      The temporal span that I cover can make for difficult jumps, but on the whole it works pretty well. Students tend to appreciate the broad arc of the course, and they like tracing the story down to the present moment.

    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      I’ll be able to open your syllabus once I have access to my other computer, Randy, but Ehrman does seem like an excellent way to open the course.

      Let me second Rand’s sense that a vast chronological span works well. One reason perhaps stems from our own current transformations, and this long view of media history deepens the significance of this material for them. Geographically, students have been very interested in the Babylonian period, the Greek and Roman classical era, and the Islamic book (especially the presence of female scribes), and this interest has perhaps spurred curiosity about the book in China, Korea, and the like. Interestingly, they seem less interested in continental Europe after we leave the hand-press period.

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