Publishing History has something of a Balkan status in this country's universities. Bibliography, sociology, economic history periodically lay claim to it: none is prepared to grant it the dignity of a subject or area of study in its own right. In the past few years there were signs that publishing history might form itself into something coherent. There was the foundation of the learned journal, Publishing History, in 1977. Its publishers, Chadwyck Healey, embarked on a laudable, if sisyphean, programme of microfilming whole sets of publishers' records. Meanwhile libraries - notably that of the University of Reading - systematically acquired and sorted publishers' archives. But we still lack anything comparable to the German Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens. Nor does Britain have an equivalent to John Tebbel's multivolume history of American publishing. The student of the subject in this country (particularly if he is interested in contemporary matters) will find himself dredging through the pages of more or less hagiographic 'house histories' and the nuts-and-bolts trade material to be found in the weekly columns of the Bookseller. Direct approaches to publishers and agents (though some are helpful) are commonly turned away. And, one suspects, many British publishers have simply junked their dead files.
LRB 17 February 1983 | PDF Download