Publication Date

November 1, 1995

The "history of the book" may be the newest field of study in the historical profession. Long the province of librarians and bibliographers, it first excited broad interest among American historians as recently as 1979, with the publication of Robert Darnton's The Business if Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopedie 1775-1800 and Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change.

"Book history" is not just about books. It broadly studies the creation, diffusion, and reception of the written and printed word. Specifically, it focuses on the history of authorship, editing, printing, the book arts, publishing, the book trade, periodicals, copyright, censorship, libraries, literary criticism, canon formation, literacy, literary education, reading tastes, and reader response. As such, book history is an innovative branch of social and intellectual history—"a particularly hot topic in the humanities," as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing () was founded in 1991 as an international umbrella organization for book historians. is a truly interdisciplinary venture: its 800 members include not only historians, but also literary scholars, sociologists, classicists, librarians, linguists, art historians, bibliophiles, publishing professionals, journalists, editors, and booksellers.

publishes a membership directory and a quarterly newsletter that reports on the rapid growth of this field. It maintains an electronic bulletin board and an Internet Web page providing a communications link and scholarly resources to hundreds of historians throughout the world. Currently is planning to launch a new academic journal devoted to book history.

is, in fact, engaged in constructing a new academic discipline from the ground up. It supports new graduate programs in book history at the University of South Carolina and the University of London, and it is bringing together a consortium of New York area universities to teach the subject on the graduate level. It collaborates with newly founded Centers for the History of the Book at Penn State University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Toronto, Drew University, and North Carolina's Research Triangle. It assists projects such as the Reading Experience Database (a computerized information bank on the history of reading in Britain) and projected multivolume histories of libraries in the United States and Britain.

has held successful conferences at the CUNY Graduate Center (1993) and the Library of Congress (1994). Our 1995 meeting at the University of Edinburgh featured papers on such topics as the reception of D.H. Lawrence in China, the dissemination of books in the Canadian Northwest, the public library and reading habits in Sinclair Lewis's America, the Indian audience for English novels, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's copyright battles over Uncle Tom's Cabin.

is soliciting papers for its next conference, which will be held July 18-21, 1996, at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. Abstracts (one page) should be sent by November 20, 1995, to 1996, American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609-1634. For information about joining , contact Jonathan Rose, History Dept., Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940. E-mail:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.