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What is the History of the Book?

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4162-1
196 pages
December 2017, Polity
What is the History of the Book? (0745641628) cover image


This book introduces the fast-developing field of book history. James Raven, a leading historian of the book, offers a fresh and accessible guide to the global study of the production, dissemination and reception of written and printed texts across all societies and in all ages.

Students, teachers, researchers and general readers will benefit from the book's investigation of the subject's origins, scope and future direction. Based on original research and a wide range of sources, What is the History of the Book? shows how book history crosses disciplinary boundaries and intersects with literary, historical, communications, media, library and conservation studies. Raven uses examples from around the world to explore different traditions in bibliography, palaeography and manuscript studies. He analyses book history's growing global ambition and demonstrates how the study of reading practises opens up new horizons in social history and the history of knowledge. He shows how book history is contributing to debates about intellectual and popular culture, colonialism and the communication of ideas. 

The first global, accessible introduction to the field of book history from ancient to modern times, What is the History of the Book? is essential reading for all those interested in one of society's most important cultural artefacts.

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Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of illustrations and tables
  • 1. The Scope of Book History
  • Redefining the book
  • First books first
  • 2. The Early History of Book History
  • Pre-histories of the book
  • Towards bibliography
  • 3. Description, Enumeration and Modelling
  • Retrospective catalogues and bibliometrics
  • New perspectives and projects
  • Circuits and diagrams
  • 4. Who, What and How?
  • Economics
  • Wider horizons
  • Control: Copyright, censorship and circulation
  • Libraries
  • Cautions and precepts
  • 5. Reading
  • Identifying readers
  • Recovering reading practises
  • Consequences
  • Further reading
  • Index
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Author Information

James Raven is Professor of Modern History at the University of Essex.
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"Book history is an exciting and fast-growing area of literary and historical study focused on the distribution and consumption of texts. Raven offers an expert survey of the origins, theoretical and methodological underpinnings, and major resources and findings of the field, across a global range of times and places."
Ann Blair, Harvard University
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