Conference Theme

Models of revolution or conquest shape much of the general discourse on the history of the book, despite the fact that many excellent studies, in their details, demonstrate quite the opposite, showing rather the continuity and gradual migration of forms and practices in book culture. Oral story, manuscript, printed book, newspaper, e-book: each is reborn in the next in ways that more often than not amount to a complex accumulation rather than a clean replacement. In this sense, books and the book trade itself may be likened to genes, which both perpetuate themselves and change; they recombine with themselves while altering in response to their environment. SHARP 2015 presents the following challenge to the world book history community: can we reconsider the history of the book using models of transition, permeation, rebirth, inheritance, and/or organic transformation? How do books, book cultures, or book systems spread and readapt? What comes into view (or what fades) if a conceptual model of generational change is brought to bear on the question of how books are made? Are there areas in which a kind of revolutionary model is still appropriate?

Canada, the host country, suggests a rich example of the theme of generation and regeneration. As History of the Book in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2004–7) observes, the 1960s witnessed a rebirth of authorship and publishing. Population growth, economic prosperity, decolonization, and humanitarian ideals intersected in ways that offered the postwar generation the opportunity, which many previous ones had desired, to repatriate the structures of print culture and thus to steer all kinds of literature in new directions. There followed a reinvention of oneself and the world, and if any single event captured the optimistic spirit of the time, it was surely Expo ’67, the international exposition in which Montreal and the cities surrounding debuted as a cosmopolitan, outward-looking centre of Québécois and Canadian culture. In striking ways, Montreal announced itself a centre of books; and yet this change must be understood in sequence with many prior ones, for publishers had been busy here since Fleury Mesplet established the city’s first press in 1776.


The theme of the generation and regeneration of books can be approached from at least three broad perspectives:

1. Evolution in the form of books

  • How does a work change from one edition or medium to another?
  • How does one kind of book owe its form to another, in whole or in part?
  • How is the form of books imagined?
  • What external forces or lines of influence can we discern behind the creation of books?
  • What effect have generational changes had on books and on the book trade as a whole?

2. Adaptation and innovation in practices of authorship, publishing, and reading

  • What patterns of international influence can be revealed by comparing contents (text or illustrations), genres, and techniques of bookmaking across space and time?
  • What is the cultural, technological, political, or other milieu in which a given work has taken shape or circulated?
  • How have authorship, publishing, and reading changed from one place, age, or social position to another?
  • What is the relation between the local small press and the global media corporation?
  • What is the relation between the laws that govern books (e.g., copyright, censorship) and changing cultures of production and reception?

3. Generational change in the field of book history

  • How is the history of the book continuing/changing (e.g., bibliographic approaches to computer code)?
  • How does the concern with place – with a particular city, region, state, or continent – continue to structure book history?
  • How well is the history of the book synthesizing scholarship in different languages?
  • How can the history of the book use contributions (conceptual, methodological, etc.) from other disciplines?
  • How can the history of the book benefit from the contributions of professional and documentary environments?

SHARP 2015-Call for papers (PDF 559 Ko)