In association with the Friends of the Victoria University Library
For some contributors to the history of the book, the subject appears bounded and specific, for others it is more indefinite, more a label than a discipline. This lecture explores how these differences relate to parent disciplines and the training of respective contributors from literary, historical, bibliographical, codicological, digital, library and conservation studies. In ways akin to the elision between ‘the history of art’ and ‘art history,’ there are in the English-speaking world subtle semantic differences between ‘the history of the book’, the ‘history of books’ and ‘book history’, but the greater challenge is whether any of these descriptors are sufficiently robust to dispel questions about originality, integrity and coherence. In contemplating future directions, the lecture will consider the approach of some of the founding practitioners, surveying the insistence upon interdisciplinarity and examining the limits to this ambition. It will probe the further complications of the ‘history of print culture’ and question whether ‘book history,’ until recently apparently practised mostly in and about the Western World, can be global in ambition.
James Raven is Professor of Modern History at the University of Essex and a Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge; he was previously Reader in Social and Cultural History at the University of Oxford and a Professorial Fellow of Mansfield College. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries, and a member of the American Antiquarian Society, he has also held visiting appointments in the United States, France, Italy and Britain. His scholarship in social and cultural history and cultural studies was recognized with the award of LittD from the University of Cambridge in 2012. His recent publications include Bookscape: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800 (Chicago, 2014), based on his British Library Panizzi Lectures for 2010; Publishing Business in Eighteenth-Century England (Boydell, 2014); and Lost Mansions: Essays on the Destruction of the Country House (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Numerous earlier books and articles examine social, economic and communications history, historical mapping, approaches to media and literary history, the spatial organisation of knowledge, historical bibliography, and colonial cultural history. He has also published on specific aspects of urban, business and popular and intellectual history, and is a regular reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. As part of a major long-term project re-examining the spatial history of Enlightenment global networks, he is completing a book on reading and commercialisation, and he is also currently completing research for an OUP history of chancing, gambling and state lotteries. He directs the Cambridge Project for the Book Trust and the Mapping the Print Culture of Eighteenth-Century London project, and is now launching a major European network project on the historical geographies of communications and social media (building on an earlier European Science Foundation workshop, ‘Knowing About Mediation’, involving participants from 14 EU countries).