A General View on Book History

Taking a step back from the specifics of book history and its many branches, I just wanted to take a second to discuss the bigger picture. It seems to me that book history is a very complex practice and seems to have a plethora of routes that one can take to view the practice.

As discussed in class on Monday, book history has the potential to loose control, in a sense, and become more than just book history, but rather general history. After reading “Theorizing the History of Books”, I found the title quite ironic. Ironic because the theories presented seemed to work together but the topics, processes and purposes seemed to all go in different directions. This was different to me because there is generally normality in a specific field of study.

For example, mathematicians all follow the same rules that apply regardless of the style of math. If an old rule is needed to complete a mathematical equation it is used. Reading about the forerunners of book history, D.F. McKenzie thought ‘sociology of the text’ was the best route for historically notating books and focused on textual meaning, but Robert Darnton found the ‘communication circuit’ the best bet for establishing the “History of the Book” and focused on analyzing the process of book production, creation and distribution.

Looking on the inside as an outsider, I wouldn’t group the two separate processes as book history. I would say that those two processes accomplish different goals, but not one of the same type. Also with the individual approaches different specifications create generalizations that have to be proven, for example Darnton’s involved the ‘communication circuit’ but this would include things like book smuggling, which could turn into history of man and not just books.

Book history, as I am beginning to dive into it, seems like a very complicated style of history and I am interested to see if there is one concrete model that is currently used for book history, or if the practice of “finding your own interpretation” is still the popular choice. Hopefully, these questions are answered as I continue through Writing 410.

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One thought on “A General View on Book History

  1. I agree with your opinion that the field of book history seems to be incredibly dynamic and somewhat scattered when one steps back to look at the larger picture. It is interesting that you broke it up into two areas of interest. Sometimes two people who both call themselves book historians can have very different methods and goals in mind. That draws the question as to what constitutes book history. The generalization and dynamic meanings of the term indicate that there is room for confusion.

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