The original inspiration for this issue of Lingua Franca derived from the bilingual seminar on Global Book histories at SHARP’s Paris conference in 2016. The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation generously provided funding for a number of scholars from countries where book history is an emerging discipline, with the publication of selected papers a condition of the funding application. As a result, the SHARP conference was able to cover the costs of attending for scholars from three continents, who were invited to review the state of book history in their native countries. The original speakers at the Delmas Workshop were from South America, Asia and Eastern Europe, and the discussion was chaired by Jean-Yves Mollier (Université de Versailles-St-Quentin-en-Yvelines) and the editors of Lingua Franca, Martyn Lyons (University of New South Wales) and Susan Pickford (Sorbonne-Université), who also acted as interpreter when required. Between 20-25 participants attended. Four of the papers presented on that occasion have been selected for publication here in slightly extended versions. Two further contributions have been specially commissioned to focus this issue firmly on South America and Eastern Europe.

We begin with contributions from South America, by our editorial colleague Mariana de Moraes Silveira, a doctoral student at the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil), Gustavo Sorá, an anthropologist from the Universidad de Córdoba (Argentina) with his co-author and former student Paula Molina Ordoñez, and Juan David Murillo Sandoval, a historian working in Chile (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago) but writing on Colombia. Both Juan David Murillo’s and Gustavo Sorá’s articles have been translated from Spanish, and Mariana Silveira’s work from French. Their contributions adopt different approaches but, taken together, they present a lively picture of how book history has developed as a research field in South America.

The contribution of Sorá and Molina Ordoñez confirms the growth of comparative Latin American studies. The authors take the sociology of science as a starting point to critically assess the specialised field of book and publishing studies in Argentina. Central to their argument is a quantitative analysis of the participants and topics presented in two meetings of the Argentinian Colloquium of Studies on Books and Publishing (CAELE), convened in La Plata (2012) and Córdoba (2016) respectively. A third meeting is scheduled for Buenos Aires in November 2018.[1]  As the authors emphasise, all academic events are institutional rituals, and their study accordingly suggests the ways in which knowledge is socially constructed, consolidated and propagated. The authors underline the emergence of publishing houses specialising in book history, such as Ampersand in Buenos Aires. In Argentina, as in Brazil, Sorá outlines a thriving autonomous tradition of book history which, while developing its own interpretive frameworks, remains extremely conscious of external (especially French) reference points. It is a vital part of an expanding network of South American scholars in general.

Conferences and other collective initiatives are also central to Silveira’s assessment of the Brazilian case but, in contrast, she adopts an eminently qualitative and historiographic approach. In this article, she emphasizes the existence of a strong tradition of antiquarianism and bibliography in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Brazil. Brazilian book history has since absorbed and adapted the legacies of French cultural history and the histoire des mentalités. Brazilian book historians have produced many scholarly studies of censorship, the history of the press and of libraries, and important syntheses already exist, such as Laurence Hallewell’s Books in Brazil: A History of the Publishing Trade (1982), translated into Brazilian Portuguese in 1985. Today, researchers influenced by the transnational turn concentrate on the reception of 19th-century French fiction but, in Silveira’s opinion, connections with the United States and other Hispanic-American countries remain under-explored. Silveira’s masterly overview sketches the history and achievements of a flourishing discipline which casts regular glances towards its Argentinian neighbours for comparative purposes.

Murillo Sandoval previously presented his research at SHARP’s regional conference in Monterrey (Mexico) in 2015, and he is a co-editor of a recent volume on reading and publishing in Colombia between the 16th century and the present.[2] His article is similar to Silveira’s in approach, but he takes a deeper interest in outlining the agents and institutions involved in the development of book history. Opening with a dire diagnosis of the ‘odyssey’ that is publishing a book in Colombia as described by writer Hernando Téllez in 1964, Murillo Sandoval’s analysis is concerned with the complex ties between the State and academia in the shaping of book history. He also shows how historically low rates of literacy and scarce access to cultural goods pose frequent challenges, and this remark could equally apply to Brazil. It applies to a lesser extent in Argentina, where both private and public educational systems have promoted reading more successfully since the late nineteenth century.

Although in each case these three contributions highlight specifically national historiographies, they are all interested in dynamic interconnections which transcend the framework of the nation-state. They emphasise how transnational, connected, comparative and global approaches have helped to renew studies in book history in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. Sorá and Molina Ordoñez go further to insist that the constitution of specialised fields of study can only be understood with reference to their international dimension. The individual trajectories of the authors themselves suggest such cross-border entanglements: both Silveira and Murillo Sandoval are interested in the transnational circulation of printed material and both have studied in Paris; Sorá has published on the translation of Brazilian books in Argentina and pursued both his masters and doctoral research in the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.[3]

Lingua Franca’s mission is to promote ‘the history of the book in translation’, but this takes on a double, if not paradoxical, meaning in the context of the South American historiographies discussed here. On one hand, translation is to some extent superfluous in the region, since all Hispanic-American countries share a common language and Brazilian Portuguese, at least in its written form, is easily accessible to Spanish-speaking neighbours, and vice versa. On the other hand, translation is indispensable if we want to make the results of expanding research available to wider audiences – or even within South America itself, since the circulation of books and academic books in particular often encounters barriers. Books and ideas can and will find alternative paths, but it doesn’t hurt to facilitate the process.

The necessity for translation seems even greater in Eastern and East Central Europe, not only to facilitate dialogue with the rest of the world, but to assist communication within the region itself, with its rich multiplicity of ethnicities and language groups and its variety of scripts. The work of our three eastern European colleagues has been translated from Russian, Croatian and Bulgarian respectively. They all describe difficulties peculiar to the history of their own countries, locating the main problems in their emergence from Soviet or Soviet-style regimes in Russia, or from Yugoslav communism the case of Croatia.

Tatiana Bogrdanova, a PhD student from Itä-Suomen Yliopisto (University of Eastern Finland) in Joensuu, explores the history of book history in her native Russia. She explains that research into ‘book science’ virtually ground to a halt in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist years, when the book market was flooded with propaganda literature produced on a massive scale by state-regulated publishing houses. After the fall of communism, many publishers could not survive economic de-regulation and collapsed, but eventually university programmes, independent scholarly journals and libraries recovered. The Moscow State University of the Printing Arts dominates the field of book studies and information science in Russia. Bogrdanova points towards a potential threat to further progress in Russian book studies: the growing intellectual isolation of the Russian Federation does not augur well for its future.

In Croatia, as Nada Topić from the Solin Public Library reports, book studies remains a new field involving a small research community. The discipline is centred around libraries, information science, museology and the digitisation of the national heritage, and a considerable effort has been made to chart the history of religious books. The main centres of activity in Croatia are at the three universities of Zagreb, Osijek and Zadar, all of which offer courses in book history. The infrastructure of book studies relies on the annual conference of AKM (Archives, Libraries and Museums), as well as the biennial meeting of LIDA (Libraries in the Digital Age), and the open access journal Libellarium. Topić recommends the fundamental work of Aleksandar Stipčević (The Social History of the Book amongst the Croats, 2004-8). She laments the paucity of doctoral theses produced in the field: the few to have been completed to date include her own work on the Split bookseller Morpurgo.

Vasil Zagorov, from the State University of Library Studies and Information Technologies in Sofia, emphasises Bulgaria’s rich manuscript heritage, dissolved and dispersed in the political conflicts of the medieval centuries. Manuscript culture, however, continued to thrive in Bulgaria until the nineteenth century, and its importance re-surfaced in the twentieth in the form of samizdat publications. Zagorov traces the important bibliographical work done during the nineteenth-century National Revival which culminated in the independence of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878. In the twentieth century, Zagorov describes the vocational trajectory of book studies as a preparation for the specific professions of librarianship, printing, publishing and bookselling. One effect of this was a tendency to divorce the study of the printed book from that of the manuscript codex. Zagorov is more sanguine about the influence of the communist regime than are Topić or Bogrdanova, but he now welcomes a new flourishing of book history in Bulgaria, stressing the role of the National Library in Sofia.

Overall, the articles translated and collected here offer a strong contrast between well-developed research traditions in South America, and book history in its relative infancy in the other countries surveyed. In Eastern or East Central Europe, the field is commonly defined as ‘book science’, a label which implies a slightly different emphasis than does the phrase ‘book history’, with which western European and north American scholarship is more familiar. ‘Book science’ grounds the study of books within the field of traditional bibliography and adopts it as an instrument in the vocational training of librarians. In spite of this, the history of reading remains an under-developed field in all the national contexts under discussion. As Topić concludes for the Croatian scene, we know most about authors and least about readers.

The articles collected here on Eastern Europe complement the selection published in 2016 in Lingua Franca’s second issue on Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, and they raise similar questions. Whereas the ‘transnational turn’ has clearly been a source of inspiration in the historiography of the South American book, national frameworks are dominant in Eastern and East Central Europe. At SHARP’s Montreal conference in 2015, a panel retrospectively reviewed the place of national histories of the western book in a transnational age, but in Eastern Europe national book histories are still a future aspiration, rather than a historic achievement. Perhaps national histories of the book are a necessary stage for the discipline as it emerges as an autonomous field, or perhaps the national (and nationalist) focus remains a powerful legacy of the fall of communist regimes.

In the course of the discussion which followed the papers at the Delmas seminar in Paris, Roger Chartier encouraged book historians to take a broader view of the intellectual context of their subject. If we define book history or book science too narrowly, he argued, we fail to connect it to important cultural developments like the central European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. He went on to remark that the history of censorship was a field in which all the countries represented here had a common interest; the comparative history of censorship awaits its author.[4]

This issue and the Delmas Seminar itself demonstrate the varied and multidisciplinary nature of book history; but they also show us that a global view of book history confronts us with different definitions of what actually constitutes the discipline. We believe, however, that we all have an interest in understanding what book history looks like through another’s lens, and SHARP hopes that similar workshops at future conferences, as well as future issues of Lingua Franca, will pursue this objective.

Martyn Lyons

Susan Pickford

Mariana de Moraes Silveira

[1] See

[2] Diana Paola Guzmán Mendez, Paula Andrea Marín Colorado, Juan David Murillo Sandoval and Miguel Ángel Pineda Cupa, eds., Lectores, editores y cultura impresa en Colombia, siglos XVI-XXI. Bogotá: Utadeo, 2018.

[3] Gustavo Sorá, Traducir el Brasil: Una antropología de la circulación internacional de ideas. Buenos Aires: Libros de Zorzal, 2003; and Brasilianas: José Olympio e a gênese do mercado editorial brasileiro. São Paulo: EDUSP, 2013.

[4] Robert Darnton, Censors At Work: How States Shaped Literature. New York: Norton, 2014, is a step towards this objective, although its scope is limited to Ancien Regime France, colonial India and the German Democratic Republic.


  1. Brazil: Mariana de Moraes Silveira, The history and historiography of the book in Brazil: present conditions and future directions
  2. Argentina: Gustavo Sorá and Paula Molina Ordoñez, The specialization and internationalization of studies on books and publishing in Argentina
  3. Colombia: Juan David Murillo Sandoval, The history of books in Colombia: the roadmap of an emerging field
  4. Russia: Tatiana Bogrdanova, Book studies (knigovedenie), or the history of the book, in modern Russia: A brief overview
  5. Croatia: Nada Topić, History of the book as a research topic in Croatia: a brief overview
  6. Bulgaria: Vasil Zagorov, The Bulgarian book – historical routes and scientific directions