Wednesday, April 01, 2009

HoB Nob - Histories of the Book in 7 countries

There are many books about the minutia of publishers, printers, booksellers, and authors lives, or how books are made, or how to collect books, or how a particular library was put together. On a grander scale, there are many books on the broad sweep of books, covering cuneiform tablets to ebooks, or the greatest books or libraries in the world. But the middle ground, the book histories of a particular place across time, or of a particular time across places, are less common. National book histories are important landmarks in this middle ground, and it is remarkable that such books on seven major English language nations are all coming out at nearly the same time.

Start clearing bookshelf space now.

Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland , Scotland, and New Zealand are the countries in question, with the university presses of Cambridge, North Carolina, Toronto, Queensland, Oxford, and Otago doing the heavy lifting, and the American Antiquarian Society helping out the US effort. The works are in various stages of completion, with Vol. 3 of Britain's history by Cambridge leading the way in 1999, and Canada being the first of the countries to finish, with their 3rd volume appearing in 2007.

Britain's history will be seven volumes, 3 of which are already printed, with 2 more on the way this year. The three volumes out, vols. 2-4, cover the period from 1100 to 1695, with the next 2 covering 1695-1914 out by the end of summer. On series page, a brief discussion of the series states:

The seven volumes of the History of the Book in Britain will help explain how these texts were created, why they took the forms they did, their relations with other media, and what influence they had on the minds and actions of those who heard, read or viewed them.

The books will be collections of essays that collectively will cover the period thoroughly. It will be the most scholarly of the group (though all will be well done I think), I imagine, and also the mos expensive. I have vol. 3 and I think they do a fine job, and will slowly buy the rest as the reference purse permits.

The United States series started shortly after the British, and has a bit more of a convoluted publishing history. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester MA is the prime mover in this series, originally working with Cambridge University Press to produce the first volume in the series, The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. It was reissued by the AAS and the University of North Carolina Press in paperback in 2007. What prompted the change in partners for AAS I do not know - perhaps Cambridge already had enough on its plate with the British series. In any case, vol. 3 The Industrial Book, 1840-1880 followed in August of that year, and vol. 4 Print in Motion: 1880-1940 was just released in January 2009. V. 5 The Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America is promised in September of this year, and will be a major addition to book history of the most recent period. All volumes except for v. 1 are available from UNC in hardcover only, but for about a third of what the British series costs per volume.

The Canadian series by the University of Toronto Press (Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal is doing the French edition) is, as mentioned above, the only one of the six to be completed. Starting with vol. 1 published in 2004, the three volumes cover to 1840, to 1918, and to 1980 respectively. Our reading group here at the shop read vol. 1, and while I would not recommend it other reading groups, it is very informative and an excellent resource. As with other series, the Canadian is a one of a kind resource and a well constructed set of books. The price for these volumes runs approx.. $85 USD each or so new, a bit more than the US series.

Australia's effort by the University of Queensland Press is affectionately called the HOBA, for A History of the Book in Australia. Like Canada, this is a three volume effort. Volume I is not yet scheduled for release, but vol. II 1890-1945 came out in October 2001, with vol. III Paper Empires : 1946-2005 arriving in summer 2006. Like the other series, a collection of different essays and case-studies are presented to provide a broad view during the different times. Vol. II appears to only be in hardcover, while vol. III appears to have a paperback edition in addition to the hardcover. Prices for the hardcovers are around $75.00 USD.

The Irish book history series of 5 books is being published by Oxford. The first work in that series is Vol. III The Irish Book in English, 1550-1800 came out in early spring 2006. Again a collection of essays by scholars and well made. This volume looks primarily at the printed book in Ireland and its effect on the culture and covers the spread of presses throughout ireland from English areas to the rest of the island. I did not see when the next volumes were scheduled, and I fear that the downturn in the world economy may delay this series and perhaps others. The book costs 195.00 USD for new copies, and I don't think used ones will be very common.

The University of Edinburgh is publishing the Scottish series through its Centre for the History of the Book. The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland Project, or EHOBS, started off with a bang on St. Andrews Day 2007, with two volumes released at once. The two, Ambition and Industry 1800-1880 and Professionalism and Diversity 1880-2000 are the last two in the series. I could find no scheduled date or tentative titles for the first two. The volumes are, like the other UK works, expensive, with prices similar to the Irish and British series.

The last of the seven nations to begin its History of the Book series is New Zealand/Aotearoa. While an earlier work called A Book in the Hand: Essays on the History of the Book in New Zealand was published in 2001, it seems to be a smattering of essays more literary rather than a more concerted overview of the history. I learned of the upcoming volume from a brief entry in Beattie's Book Blog by a New Zealand Publisher and bookseller. Further investigate uncovered a blurb from the Humanities Research Network in NZ/A that is a call for scholars to work on a single volume that covers both Maori and English books and publishing, divvied into 4 time periods from 1830-2010. There is no suggestion as to the publication date, but I think if we see it before 2012 I will be surprised, as they are just getting started. I do wish the team there success and happy researching.

Such works as these listed above are important landmarks in any field. As such, they take a great deal of effort and time to finish. I have firm hopes that all of the projects will be completed, because many hands are at work in each group. My only fear is that the essays won't dovetail well enough, and that gaps may appear in the different histories. I have not seen that so far in the volumes I personally own, but in other areas such as medieval history the collections of essays sometimes seem a hodgepodge of scholarly essays loosely connected by the broad title of the work.

So, as I said. clear shelf space. These books will be thick, well made, and full of new research. You may not want all of the series, but don't wait too long to get the volumes you do want. I imagine the works are geared toward academic institutions and the print runs will not be large.

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