Sunday Book-Thought 40

Under all ruins is history, as any tourist knows. Indeed the dust that gathers above the ruin of cities may be said to be the cover of the most wonderful of the picture-books of Time, those secret books into which we sometimes peep. We turn no more perhaps than the corner of a single page in our prying, but we catch a glimpse there of things so gorgeous, in the book that we are not meant to see, that it is worth while to travel to far countries, whoever can, to see one of those books, and where the edges are turned up a little to catch sight of those strange winged bulls and mysterious kings and lion-headed gods that were not meant for us. And out of the glimpse one catches from odd corners of those volumes of Time, where old centuries hide, one builds up part by guesses, part by fancy, mixed with but little knowledge, a tale or theory of how men and women lived in unknown ages in the faith of forgotten gods.
Lord Dunsany

Book History as a Sub-Division of History

Book history is no more than the latest minor sub-division of history; after an initial flurry of excitement it will find a similar level of importance as the history of medicine or the history of ideas. Discuss. (Yes, the stuff from this post was originally submitted as a piece of coursework.) 

There’s a lot that can be learned from studying the book as a material object. Books — in all of their formats, from cuneiform tablets to digital texts — have served, and continue to serve, as points of convergence for otherwise-disparate scholarly disciplines, fields of work, and personal perspectives. While some people may deem book history to be “the latest minor sub-division of history,” it’s more aptly described as a broad lens through which to view history, as a potential focal point for scholars to make sense of, and find meaning in, greater historical contexts. Other sub-divisions of history, such as the histories of medicine and ideas, have also served as focal points for meaning-making in historical study, but have become so engrained in contemporary historiography that they are now seldom studied as distinct fields. Book history still faces its initial flurry of excitement. Ideally, though, it’ll someday find a similar level of importance as the histories of medicine and ideas, which have both become recognized as integral aspects of comprehensive historical study. However, book history’s emphasis on materiality could prevent the field from ever dissolving into general historiography as the histories of medicine and ideas have. Continue reading “Book History as a Sub-Division of History”