The Study of Book History

As we have completed this course, we have learned the various ways to understand the field of book history. It is a large field that is aimed at studying every aspect of the book in order to figure out whatever questions may surround it. Now that books are being digitized, it’s curious to think how the entire field will be reformed in the future. Right now, I find it difficult to think that book history will be changed because of e-readers, but in a century or two, there could be considerable change. 

We learned about different book historians and what parts of books they focused on, some of them choosing to study the physical parts of books– namely book sleeves. Could this still be a possibility with digital texts? It’s hard to imagine, a lot of the presentation of the text will be removed with digitized texts, where the focus is primarily the communication of text. I think that this can be both good and bad. I personally have to problem with digital text as many readers do– the whole “it’s destroying the integrity of reading” argument or whatever, where there is something wrong about everything being made digital. We looked at articles that had both sides of the argument, but I’m still undecided.

While I don’t have a kindle or any e-reader, I am considering buying one. I hate reading off of my computer, I find it far too distracting and often am unable to do close readings of texts. I think that reading off a kindle with digital texts would make procrastination less appealing. Also, I think it’s environmentally responsible to use a kindle versus paper, so that is appealing to me as well. I am slightly paranoid that one day the electronic grid will collapse and by then all our texts will be digital and eventually be lost. So while I think converting texts to fit the screen is a good idea, it could very easily backfire and set civilization back a few centuries, worst case scenario. 

Looking at screens is also uncomfortable on my eyes, and I definitely do it enough, so reading off a kindle or tablet could be overexposure to backlights. There is still something very cathartic about closing my computer and turning off my phone and picking up a book before I go to bed. I think that this is important in that you can have both, I don’t think that once you buy a kindle it means you stop reading off of paper. It just happens less. 

I can’t really say how this may affect book history, I can’t even say with authority that it will affect book history. The field may not change at all, it may just be easier to find information than it was before. But I think it will, just looking at how other mediums have changed because of the internet and digitalization. Music is so much more accessible now, people can produce their own music and sell it right from their computer. Similarly, movies are now being seamlessly streamed to screens. This seems like a huge step in the right direction. It would be interesting if authors could sell PDFs of their books of their websites, eliminating the need for publishers. Of course that opens the door to piracy, which would certainly affect the industry. Perhaps this will shape how we read and study books in the years to come.

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One thought on “The Study of Book History

  1. It IS hard to predict the future, I agree. Yet, I think your concluding paragraph points to some good analogies for how book history might change, given the changes that have happened in the way we distribute texts of all kinds (i.e. movies, music, etc.). Certainly, as you note, the ways in which it’s become easier to access and share texts definitely changes the way we read and the way we experience the world of “print.” Popularity is one thing; virality is another!

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