Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Three Steps towards a History of the Book in Newfoundland

Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Three Steps towards a History of the Book in Newfoundland

Article excerpt


Cet article passe en revue les diverses possibilites de recherche qu'offre l'etude de l'histoire du livre a Terre-Neuve a travers trois periodes distinctes. Une premiere qui s'etend des plus lointaines annees de la colonisation jusqu'a la fin du XVIIIe siecle, une autre traversant le XIXe siecle et la premiere moitie du XXe avec la mise en place d'un gouvernement local et enfin la derniere couvrant les decennies posterieures a l'entree de la province dans la Confederation canadienne. La documentation sur la premiere periode est peu nombreuse contrairement a celle de la deuxieme plus abondante, disponible en partie grice a des journaux et des monographies, tandis qu'on ne compte plus pour la troisieme periode l'amas d'informations qui attend i etre collige et analyse. Cette etude met l'accent sur la deuxieme periode tout en soulignant qu'a une epoque ou la circulation des livres etait de portee nationale voire internationale, on vit a Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador, a l'instar d'autres regions similaires, des projets locaux s'y implanter et qui durent etre pris en compte pour trouver place dans une histoire du livre comme objet culturel.


This essay forms part of a continuing attempt to lay out in a general way what is currently known about the culture of the book in Newfoundland and Labrador. Over ten years ago, I was asked to prepare a sketch of the facts and problems as part of a series of preliminary studies for the History of the Book in Canada, now published in three volumes. (1) That paper, which I wrote with the assistance of Sandi Hannaford (now Sandi Tulk), is still online, (2) and parts of it were used for an entry in volume I of the History. (3) In what follows I have freely used the older essay, supplementing it with new material, taking into account discussion in the History of the Book in Canada. This could be called version 1.3, though this is the first full appearance in print. The question still remains, even after the appearance of the great synthetic History of the Book in Canada: Where are we in relation to a history of books for Newfoundland and Labrador? Despite the broad frame of information that the History now provides, I still argue that a Canadian history does not, indeed cannot, tell the local history for any region in the country.

The History of the Book in Canada has not altered the basic local narrative we set forth in the earlier version of our article. This narrative is in three parts. In what follows, I begin with a brief chronological account, divided into two main divisions. The first considers the long period that extends from the late sixteenth century before continuous settlement, up to the time of the first known printing in the colony in the early nineteenth century. The second goes from the first decade of the nineteenth century, in which there was a remarkable growth of journalism and other written forms, up to the time of Confederation (1949), a period of activity for the propagation of reading and literature in middle- and upper-class milieus, and the growing spread of literacy in the working classes. Though both periods may seem to be overly extended for meaningful discussion, it seems as though there is a continuity in each.

Finally, there is a third period, certainly the richest in terms of documentation and remembered history, and the most promising area of research for new scholars, though the least well treated here. From Confederation onwards, there was expansion of other media and at the same time a rapidly and vastly developed book-based school system including the university, now extended to all social groups, and another attempt (remarkably similar in some ways to that of the late nineteenth century, but now marked more strongly by a social scientific and educational impulse) to define the culture in its own terms, to preserve and to rewrite the history, and to publish works that are oriented specifically towards local culture and politics. …

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