Adams and Barker 1993

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Adams, Thomas R. and Nicolas Barker. "A New Model for the Study of the Book." A Potencie of Life: Books in Society. Ed. Nicolas Barker. London: British Library, 1993. 5-43.

Martin, Febvre, The coming of the book -- began tradition of "the history of the book"

Eisenstein presented a critique of history with Printing Press -- social revolutions caused by printing press, rather than other way around; Darnton, too, focusing on Enlightenment

the bibliographer is thus "unexpectedly dragged into the limelight by academic historians" (6)

bibliography used to occupy same position as archaeology; but now seems doomed always to be a handmiden to other disciplines

quintessentially interdisciplinary

"The power of books is not just what strikes the eye, but what may be latent, to be disclosed in the future." (9)
  • "latent power is vastly magnified by the multiplicity of copies" (9)

bibliographers often too content "to dig their own small patch"; social historians can add much (10)

criticisms of Darnton's communication circuit:

  • term "publisher" is anachronistic
  • shipper (simply providing a service as he would for any other commodity) not as important as more general lines of communication
  • most importantly, deals with people rather than books (12); focuses on history of communication
  • "it ignores the sheer randomness, the speculative uncertainty of the book trade." (12)

term "book" doesn't include broadsides, ephemera, etc.; Adams and Baker propose "bibliographical document" (13) -- limit is if "the agent's intention involves the process of duplication" (13)

new model:

  • still a circle of connected elements influenced by elements in the center
  • but elements inverted
  • indirect forces outside, exerting pressure
  • five events in the life of a book: publishing, manufacturing, distribution, reception, survival


  • four parties: author, patron/financier, manufacturer, distributor
  • four headings: creation, communication, profit, preservation
  • "The decision to publish, not the creation of a text, is, then, the first step in the creation of a book." (18); often influenced heavily by factors not intrinsic to the text


  • how to include the printing press in a more general history of technology? (18-9)
  • manufacture of illustrations, graphics? (19)
  • manufacture of paper, ink? (19)
  • physical look and feel of the book carries evidence of provenance; "deserves more attention as an aspect of the impact of printing" (20)
  • binding: structure and appearance (20); progressive decline in durability of both
  • "Throughout the whole manufacturing process the historian must take into account the essential ingredient that made it all happen, labour, particularly the place and function of labour in a new technology." (21)


  • begins the book's "dynamic phase" (22)
  • four elements: initial impetus, consequent moving of books, destination (intentional, unintentional), momentum
  • immediately after publishing, but also secondhand markets and how books survived to today
  • various reasons to desire to own a book


  • initially "passive" and "mute" (27)
  • evidence: direct documentation (published and private responses), popularity (reprintings, sales), influence, use (27)
  • book authors and manufacturers can't control its use (29)
  • literacy rates; what is reading? (30)


  • three stages:
    • creation and initial reception (determined by physical form, size, subsequent popularity);
    • comes to rest without any use (in danger of disappearing);
    • book becomes desirable as an object (for text or in its own right)

"What we offer is a map." (39)