Is Literary History Book History?
I found the following paragraph extremely difficult to write. When I began this project, a more widespread interest in using the tools of bibliographers and book historians was just emerging. When I finished, there was an explosion of material – and methods – on this topic. Where at first I needed to motivate my choice of methodology, by the end I needed to situate it. Another problem was that the debates that people were having about how to do this, or all of the different ways one could do this, were largely over by the time I completed the manuscript. Thus I went from thinking how to initiate readers into a field to having to think how to tag my work as belonging to this field and adding an important new element. That new element was reading texts. As I say in the book, what book historians seem to most often overlook in trying to understand the meaning of books are the contents of books. I was interested in understanding how literature in particular, as a fast growing subset of book content, played a key role in facilitating the diffusion of the book.
Thus the rewriting that this paragraph underwent was also a process of compression. Instead of a long methodological excursus on how to do book historically informed literary history I had to move quickly to the argument of what such work could show us about books and literature. Keep clicking on the numbers to read a history of the paragraph’s versions.