Choosing Cambridge

Research has never been my strong suit. If anything, it’s often the part of being an English major that I have shied away from. I love reading; I love writing. And I especially enjoy thinking about what others have already written. It is the act of finding this writing though that I’ve always found frustrating. I am having much of this same problem as I begin researching Cambridge and the books that inspired social change in England.

So, I stated with a recommended text–A History of Cambridge University Press. Although daunting, the book outlines an extensive overview the history of book publishing in England between 1873-1972. I also thought this a good place to start because as ‘Volume Three’, I hoped that the book would be modern and relevant. In skimming this entry I was hoping to look for three things: 1–a specific book to focus on; 2–a narrowed time range in English history; 3–an individual social trend within the selected time range. The third objective has been the hardest to articulate because I am not entirely sure yet what I am looking for. I think that the connections I make between book and social movement will only be clarified through more and more research.

The book opens with a powerful notion–”books, the products of Cambridge University Press and the justification for its existence” (MiKitterick pg.1). This idea struck me because it seemed to represent the ‘idea’ I’m looking for, ie. the influence of books on people, and the influence of people on books. Neither can exist without the other. Well certainly people can exist without books, but our lives would be much harder, and less interesting. The introductory pages also note many practical changes to the Cambridge University Press (paper, printing, sulphite, consumers, etc.), however, it was this initial idea of justification and existence that I was really looking to explore more.

When reading this book one text that was covered struck me most–The Expansion of England (Macmillan July 1883) (pg.38). The Expansion of England documents the rising history of colonial movement (with new focus on India), and drew large audiences as well as a wide readership. The book writes, “seldom can a course of undergraduate lectures in the humanities have had such a long-term effect on public opinion” (pg.38). This book influenced travel, commerce, and opinions on foreign politics and affairs. It seems like it was monumental in shaping the opinions of a public that did not have access to learning and fact like we do now. I also thought this book was particularly relevant because it is a compilation of undergraduate lectures. As I leave college it is going to be strange to also leave behind lecture, one of the most dominant parts of my four years spend at Michigan. At least in terms of academics. Many of these lectures have helped to shape my opinions, so I am curious to see how the same phenomenon was happening in 1880 England.

So I’ve four the answers to my first two questions: 1–the book I’m focusing on is The Expansion of England; 2–I’ve narrowed my time period to around 1880. However, I am still a bit unsure about the conjectures and correlations that I will be able to make from this data. Even from just reading the introduction to A History of Cambridge University Press I’ve come across some trends that I wouldn’t have originally thought of. Maybe I can track movement to and from India, and see how the increasing publication of information influenced travel. Or perhaps I could explore the influence of this text on education trends and enrollment in the University. I’m not sure if either of these ideas are going to be feasible, but as I explore The Expansion of England more, I hope that I will find an answer to my third question that is both interesting and manageable.

While browsing online I was only able to read to about pg.70, but I am in the process of trying to locate the book in the library for further reading, and the hope of more resources in reference.

Works Cited

McKitterick, David. A History of Cambridge University Press. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 2004. Print.

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2 thoughts on “Choosing Cambridge

  1. Sounds like a well conducted search. I think that the most difficult part of research is finding that first source that can provide good info. Often you try too hard to find one source that provides all the info you are looking for and you overlook a lot of solid information. I think also when looking back in history, it’s hard to find data that you could use to strengthen your argument or your research. This is where correlation comes in– my suggestion is to find the book you are looking for and focus on it. Then you can do research on other movements during the time frame and perhaps find a correlation between popularity of the book and some other quantitative factor. It’s impossible to pin a social movement based on a work of literature, but it’s not unreasonable to consider a correlation between the two factors.

  2. I appreciate John’s suggestions here, and his observation that you can look at possible connections between these two things–the publication of the lectures as a book and the way British people were thinking about India, traveling to India, etc.

    Some concrete things to work on, as we may have discussed: figuring out who might have heard the lectures and what their public lives might have been like, whether they were connected to India, etc. Also, looking at reviews/mentions of the book in magazines and newspapers, generally trying to figure out how the ideas of the book might have been spread beyond the book. You could also find out more about the author: did he lecture in other places? Did he write other stuff?

    Let’s talk more about this interesting topic! Can’t wait to see what you discover!

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