Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Introduction

Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Introduction

Article excerpt

The essays in this issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada / Cahiers de la Societe bibliographique du Canada proceed from papers delivered at the Fourth National Conference on the State of Canadian Bibliography, held at the Bibliotheque et Archives nationales du Quebec in Montreal from 20 to 22 June 2007. The descriptive title of the conference, "Beyond the Text: Bibliography in the Digital Age," suggested the following topic: how has twenty-first-century computer technology changed the practices commonly associated with books--the collection and preservation of them in libraries, the writing and publishing of them, and the study of them as artifacts? These questions were addressed. As session succeeded session, however, speakers responded equally to the broader topic implied in the serial title of the conference, surveying and evaluating the current approaches to bibliography. Evidently there was a need to take stock of book studies--to consider the impact of computers without focusing on them alone and to reflect on the surge of scholarly curiosity and achievement in the field of book history. The result is this collection, a discussion in seven parts of the bibliographical discipline as it is manifest in research and library practice today.

Three questions arise for debate among the following essays. The first regards the relation of bibliography to book history. Are they separate disciplines? The question may be put as a problem of definitions. "Bibliography" commonly refers to the identification, listing, and description of a class of books. This general definition encompasses more specialized usages, in which "descriptive bibliography," the observation of the physical attributes of books for the purpose of precisely determining how they were made and used, differs from "catalogue," a simple list of authors, titles, and publication information. But given recent developments in academic research, does "bibliography" now also mean "book history"--or is the latter something new? In his discussion, Nick Mount points to hiring patterns and differences between green and hoary scholarly associations as evidence of a basic split: universities are hiring candidates with expertise in book history, and the novelty of this field is patent in the recent flourishing of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP). This view accords with Jonathan Rose's vision of book history as a "new academic frontier":

   Historians have always used documents to reconstruct the past, but
   only in the closing years of the twentieth century did they come to
   understand that documents themselves have histories. They had not
   truly appreciated that earlier, no more than a fish appreciates the
   water. But certainly after Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing
   Press as an Agent of Change (1979) historians began to ask, in a
   methodical way, how the vast mountains of paper called into
   existence by all literate societies were created, reproduced,
   disseminated, read, stored, and (in some cases) destroyed. (1)

In contrast, in her essay here Patricia Lockhart Fleming sees bibliography and book history as essentially one and cites an early-twentieth-century example of their interdependence. If as early as 1952 Marie Tremaine methodically listed certain books and described their physical form while situating their production and reception in a wider social context using collateral evidence (archival and printed), then the hailing of book history as an invention of the last thirty years is surely exaggerated. "In discovering what was published (even what was projected for, but failed of publication), one might gain a useful view of the activities and preoccupations of a little society," wrote Tremaine in her preface, and this is exactly what her landmark work on British North America delivered--a general portrait of authorship, printing, publishing, and reading in the colonies that would become Canada, traced from hundreds of documents precisely observed. …

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