History Books and Book History

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
New Hampshire Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Thomas A. Horrocks, Harvard University

Session Abstract

When history books are subjected to scholarly study, such works are examined most commonly with reference to their narrative texts or their authors' backgrounds. Little attention is paid to the marketplace in which these books competed for the attention of readers. In particular, the important role of publishers—in terms of the initial decision to publish manuscripts, the editing process and the subsequent efforts to republish or remarket them—has been largely ignored. The failure to recognize the crucial roles of publishers in the procurement, editing, packaging and marketing of history books has led to misunderstandings about the receptivity of such works at the time of their initial release and about the changing contexts for their use in subsequent reprintings and iterations.
This panel seeks to expand how the publisher's role in producing history books is understood. The individual papers will examine history books published from the 19th century to the present and used by home-schooled children, seventh graders, and university students in the Philippines and the United States. The books, their authors and publishers are: the monosyllabic histories by Josephine Pollard, originally published by McLoughlin Brothers of New York, and later by Mantle Ministries in Texas; A Brief History of the Philippines by Leandro Fernandez, Ginn and Co. in Boston; and The Anatomy of Revolution by Crane Brinton, W. W. Norton and Co. in New York. Each paper will address the following questions:
1 What was the context surrounding the decision to publish—or republish—each history book?
2 What contribution did the publishers make to the final form of their respective books?
3 How did the students, the intended audience of the histories, benefit (or not) from the publishers’ efforts?
By recognizing and contextualizing the publisher’s role in the histories of history books, we can better appreciate the critical, commercial, and historical significance of these works—especially those that are read by students but often overlooked by professional historiographers who adhere to the old adage: "whatever popularizes vulgarizes."