Centre for the History of the Book

Across Boundaries: The Book in Culture and Commerce

Based on a conference hosted by the CHB this series of nine scholarly essays focuses on the book as it helped facilitate commerce and culture over the last five centuries. Leading scholars explore difficult questions arising from the unique relationships that have existed for centuries between economics and literary culture.

This work opens with an insight of the kinds of transformation that texts can be seen to undergo as they cross and recross ontological boundaries. 'Orality Lost: Text and Voice in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries' by Roger Chartier explores the complex manoeuvres involved in the movement between orality, manuscript, and print. A similar theme is pursued by Sylvia Huot in 'The Writer's Mirror: Watriquet de Couvin and the Development of the Author-Centered Book', in which she explores the transition of the manuscript from being a reader-centered item to an author-centered presentation of works.

Several other essays explore the deep and mutually implicating relationship that has existed between economics and literary culture. In 'Book Ventures, Cultured Capital and Enduring Reputation in the Italian Renaissance' by Lisa Jardine, she examines the role of the book as “objet d'art” in addition to its function as repository for text. Wallace Kirsop's 'Patronage Across Frontiers: Subscription Publishing in French in Enlightenment Europe' traces the dissemination of French literature across the globe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, showing the extent to which communications networks and political disruption all helped to shape the intellectual life of the period. James Raven's 'Commodification and Value: Interactions in Book Traffic to North America, c. 1750-1820' offers an account of the sometimes difficult, and often eventful, book-trade links between Britain and America. Fiona Black's Beyond Boundaries: Books in the Canadian Northwest offers insight on how books served in important ways to create and sustain new international routes. Bill Bell's 'Cultural Baggage: The Scottish Emigrant Reader in the Nineteenth Century' reveals how cultural values were often reproduced, and even sometimes modified, through the use of books and reading in exile. These geo-political relations are set in a broader context in I.R. Willison's 'Across Boundaries: The History of the Book and National and International Literatures in English' in which he offers an illuminating survey of the many places where today the history of the book can be seen to meet other intellectual fields.

The last essay, 'George Saintsbury: Criticism and Connoisseurship' by Alan Bell, shows the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries having a proliferation in the publication of series, dedicated to biography, history, and literary criticism, often presented as specimens for appreciation.