Darnton, Robert. "What is the History of Books?" The Book History Reader. Eds. David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery. New York: Routledge, 2002. 9-26.
"its purpose is to understand how ideas were transmitted through print and how exposure to the printed word affected the thought and behavior of mankind during the last five hundred years" (9)
highly interdisciplinary (10)
life cycle of a book: "communications circuit that runs from the author to the publisher (if the bookseller does not assume that role), the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader. The reader completes the circuit because he influences the author both before and after the act of composition" (11)
"some holistic view of the book as a means of communication seems necessary if book history is to avoid being fragmented into esoteric specializations cut off from each other by arcane techniques and mutual misunderstanding" (11)
example of Rigaud; ordered dozens of copies of Voltaire's Questions; unusual for him -- showed that he thought the book would sell well (and it did) (13)
Voltaire exploited profit motives of booksellers to have his ideas spread (e.g. told pirate presses he would touch up editions for them -- then presses used this to sell the book); improve quality while increasing quantity in circulation (15)
reading is still the most difficult stage in the circuit to study (17)
authors: what is the nature of patronage? how did authors deal with booksellers, printers, readers?
publishers: evolution of publisher as distinct figure? more work needs to be done on publisher's catalogues; rich but underused resource
printers: how shops were organized? role of journeyman in labor history? relation to booksellers, publishers?
shippers: little known about this part of the process; wagons, canals, railroads may have influenced books more than we think; shipping costs high for a product with little intrinsic value; sheets easily damaged; routes unstable due to fluctuations of harvest, war, politics, insurance rates
booksellers: bookseller as cultural agent? (see H. W. Bennett on bookselling in early modern England)
readers: "readers remain mysterious"; reading always more complicated
- "By its very nature, therefore, the history of books must be international in scale and interdisciplinary in method. But it need not lack conceptual coherence, because books belong to circuits of communication that operate in consistent patterns, however complex they may be. By unearthing those circuits, historians can show that books do not merely recount history; they make it." (22)