WESSWEB - Western European Specialists Section Newsletter

Vol. 18, No. 1 (Fall, 1994)
New Haven, Connecticut
Page 11

Book Review

Publishing and readership in Revolutionary France and America: a symposium at the Library of Congress. Sponsored by the Center for the Book and the European Division; ed. Carol Armbruster. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. xv, 215 p.: ill.; 25 cm. (Beta Phi Mu monograph series, ISSN 1041-2751; no. 4) ISBN 0313287937; LCCN: 9238070. $36.36

Not simply another contribution to the growing literature on the history of the book, as worthy and interesting as that would be, this symposium is all that and more. The many distinguished scholars from France and America who gathered at the Library of Congress on May 2-3, 1989, have given us a rich texture of political, economic, social, and cultural history, with psychological insights thrown in for good measure. For all of this we are indebted to WESS member Carol Armbruster, French/Italian specialist at the Library of Congress, in her three-fold role of conference organizer, book editor, and (with David Skelly) translator of the papers delivered in French. (Although some would prefer to read these contributions in the original, the literate quality of the translations nullified any tendencies of my own in that direction.)

The papers are grouped here under four broad headings: publishing as a profession, publishing and the law, reading, and collecting and using materials. The first group consists of a general introduction to "Printing, Books and Revolution" by Daniel Roche; a case study from France by Robert Darnton, a widely known writer and speaker in this field; and a highly interesting, almost McLuhanesque, explanation by Larzer Ziff of the significance of Benjamin Franklin's understanding of print culture as a new phenomenon.

The second group provides separate studies of France and America by Carla Hesse and James Gilreath, respectively, followed by Jane Ginsburg's bringing the two together in "A Tale of Two Copyrights: Literary Property in Revolutionary France and America."

The third section begins with a discussion of "Book Markets and Reading in France" by Roger Chartier, an original thinker who questions the widely-accepted assumption that printed texts had a direct and uniform effect on their readers; continues with Lynn Hunt's insightful if somewhat technical analysis of verbal and visual images of men and women in the French Revolution; followed by David Hall's discussion of writing and reading in America as a politics of culture; and concludes with Michael Warner's explicit statement of what is alluded to by other speakers, the relationship between "Publication and the Public Sphere."

The final grouping consists of Henri-Jean Martin's discussion of both breaks and continuity in French libraries before and after the Revolution; and Marcus McCorison's survey of American book collectors and their collections. Martin, considered to be the founder of the history of the book as an intellectual discipline, reveals his continuing stature in the field in both his paper and its extensive apparatus of bibliographical footnotes. A helpful "Select Bibliography", brief information about the contributors, and an index conclude the volume.

One hesitates to apply the term "definitive work" to a collection of essays, however inter-related, by different authors. This collection, however, should stand for many years as both a rich mine of information on a subject of continuing interest, and a fertile field of suggestions for further research on related topics.

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