In diligently navigating my way through the concepts of book history, I find I have to keep reminding myself of the importance of it all. For me, the discipline of literary studies has always been of great interest. I believe there are infinite possibilities for the interpretation of literature and that many of the methods for doing so have yet to be invented. However, the excitement that the field of book history has to offer comes to me in dosages ardently prescribed by each new text I read. Having just been introduced to the intricate field of study that is book history, I am surprised by some of the common characteristics that are shared between the history of books and literary studies. Overall, I am confident that the enthusiasm that I have for literary studies will only serve to bolster this newfound interest for the history of books.
What caught my eye the most was the difference in the overarching goals of each field. While literary studies seems to seek a comprehension for the meaning of the text both within the text itself and within the context of society, book history recounts the ways in which text shaped meaning. Darnton articulated it best when he declared that “books do not merely recount history; they make it” (135). Throughout the history of each of these fields, a multitude of contributing voices has debated over the importance of authorship in relation to that of the readers or of society in general. From the New Bibliographers to the Annale School, the discipline of book history has seen its share of disagreements on the matter, and it seems as though it may be a disagreement that will never be fully resolved. Is it possible that one actor within the life cycle of a book may have a greater influence on it than the others? From my limited experience thus far I am inclined to believe that each contributor, though unique, has an equal stake in the outcome of a text’s meaning.
Furthermore, both areas retain a certain dedication for creating clarity from obscurity. In reading Elliot’s recollections of his initiation into the world of a book historian, I was struck by his commitment to learning more about the author Besant. His journey toward analyzing the truth of that time period consisted of weeding through data, documents and records to be met by dead-ends or unreliable conclusions (as so many book historians seem to encounter) that prolonged his search. As Elliot said, historians are responsible for looking beyond the clues and assessing them for what they really stand for (285-286). Just as members of the field of literary studies retain clues from the text and from other surrounding sources to gain a certain level of understanding, so too do book historians acknowledge that the small records and pieces of data represent a much larger meaning, if only they could uncover the truth.
We are just two weeks into this class about book history, and I am already convinced of the immortality of the effects of books and of books themselves.