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Leslie Howsam (University of Windsor), “Inverting Interdisciplinarity: Who will take book history to the next level?”

Thursday, January 19, 2017 @ 4:15 PM - 6:00 PM

In association with the Faculty of Information

Robert Darnton famously worried that book history might lead to “interdisciplinarity run riot.” Perhaps instead the time has come to turn it inside out. In my 2006 Old Books & New Histories I called for mutual respect among the three core disciplines. Each scholar asks questions grounded in the field(s) of study where their intellectual formation happened. This paper aims to go beyond the existing practitioners of the “interdiscipline” we call book history to consider its encounter/engagement with other ways of understanding the world, both academic and not. The argument is that practitioners better understand their own discipline’s engagement with book culture than anyone else (hence historians of science and scientific culture; hence literary scholars and creative writing; hence historians and historiography). But what are the questions that legal scholars might ask of “the book” in all its complexity of mutability and mediatedness? Sociologists? Management experts? Nutritionists? These and other academic disciplines have research challenges that connect with the realms of book culture while remaining rooted elsewhere. Similarly such book-dependent fields of popular knowledge as diet and exercise, military history, and celebrity biography are perhaps best served by journalists, bloggers and others. But those commentators should first acquire some familiarity with the basic principles of book-historical knowledge.

Leslie Howsam is Distinguished University Professor Emerita at the University of Windsor, Senior Research Fellow at Ryerson University’s Centre for Digital Humanities, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She earned a PhD in modern British history from York University in 1989 and joined the faculty at Windsor in 1993. She was later founding president of the Canadian Association for the Study of Book Culture / Association Canadienne pour l’étude de l’histoire du livre (2004 -9) and president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (2009-13). She now serves as General Editor for the series Studies in Book and Print Culture published by the University of Toronto Press. She is a Trustee of the Cambridge Project for the Book Trust and a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. Her major publications include, as editor, The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and in 2009 the British Library and the University of Toronto Press jointly published Past into Print: The Publishing of History in Britain 1850-1950.  This was based on lectures delivered as part of her James P. R. Lyell Readership in Bibliography (2005-6) at the University of Oxford. Her first book was Cheap Bibles: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the British and Foreign Bible Society (Cambridge University Press, 1991); perhaps her best-known is Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book & Print Culture (University of Toronto Press, 2006).


Thursday, January 19, 2017
4:15 PM - 6:00 PM
Event Category:


Faculty of Information (Room 728)
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