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History of Bookselling

18 March 2022 @ 2:00 pm 3:30 pm GMT

Bookselling Research Network Event 180322

In this first themed event, the BRN explored the history of bookselling, beginning with two fifteen minute presentations. The first was from Dr Will Smith who is a practising bookseller at Sam Read Booksellers in the Lake District, followed by Professor Simon Eliot who is a book historian at the Institute for English Studies. Short extracts of these presentations are below.

Uncovering multi-generational histories within Sam Read Booksellers’ – Dr Will Smith (Sam Read Booksellers)

In this presentation Dr Will Smith explored the rich history of Sam Read Booksellers, a bookstore that opened between The Fells in 1887 and is still a thriving shop today. Will described that there is an active oral history group in the area and the community share past photographs and accounts, and that the books that are in the photographs of the store can be used to date the photos. Will told the group how he is actively trawling through the history to put it all together, and how he has found some fascinating insights, such as that E.M. Forster visited the store in 1907 to post a letter.

Will explained that he is interested in what sort of questions people form for critical accounts of bookselling and in what we mean by the history of a bookshop; whether it is ownership, documents and photographs, generations of selling, or the lives of the people.

‘Archives of All Sorts’ – Professor Simon Eliot (Institute of English Studies, London).

Professor Eliot’s presentation considered witting and unwitting testimony, and for historians access to the unwitting is highly valuable. An archive of all sorts can reveal things that were never intended or thought of by the compilers. In this talk, Professor Eliot examined what could not have been known without systematic investigation of archives. One example of unwitting evidence is printed public library catalogues, and that the number of copies available of certain books were measure of popularity. Another example explored during the presentation was that archives reveal messages that included hidden meaning for both sender and receiver. For example messages sent from publisher John Camden Hotten (1832 – 1873) detailed closure of a bookshop, but the underlying message was that one stream of clandestine publishing of eroticism was no longer going to be available, and this can be understood through the archives. 

The event then moved on to a series of lightning talks. We were delighted to receive a high number of volunteers to give a presentation, which evidenced how much research in this area there is being done.

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