- Twenty-First Century Book StudiesThe State of the Discipline
During the 25th annual Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) conference in 2017, held at the University of Victoria, Canada, Stevie Marsden and Rachel Noorda moderated a workshop on the topic of "The Twenty-First Century Book." Six scholars (Beth Driscoll, Per Henningsgaard, Simone Murray, DeNel Rehberg-Sedo, Simon Rowberry and Claire Squires), whose research is predominantly positioned within the twenty-first century, were invited to discuss the challenges and opportunities for studying the twenty-first century book. The 2017 SHARP conference, "Technologies of the Book", seemed the perfect setting to hold this workshop. Not only did the conference theme complement many of the twenty-first century book subjects discussed during the workshop, but as it was SHARP's 25th annual conference, it was imbued with reflection on the society's past twenty-five years and the community of scholars it has developed. The following year, in 2018, there was another panel focused on twenty-first century book research, entitled "Constructing the Purpose of Research about Twenty-First-Century Publishing."1 Indeed, SHARP membership data indicates that many of its members are interested in twenty-first century research and scholarship: thirty-four percent of SHARP members who indicated a historical period in their membership data listed the twenty-first century as a period of interest, either as an exclusive historical period of study or alongside other periods, particularly the twentieth century. Thus twenty-first century book research is a significant area of SHARP research and a period of study that interests a growing group of SHARP members. However, the discussion of twenty-first century book research held during the workshop indicated that there was a need for a fuller examination of the state of the discipline of the twenty-first century book. Accordingly, this article will explore and examine current trends, themes and critical discourse [End Page 370] related to the twenty-first century book in order to explicate the current state of twenty-first century book studies.
However, before considering the status of twenty-first century book studies and its place in the book history field and timeline, definitions are needed for three terms: publishing studies, book history, and twenty-first century book studies. We have singled out these terms for explicit definition for two reasons. Firstly, they are commonly used, or referred to, in much of the academic literature we will be discussing but their definitions can at times be contested. Therefore, it is important for us to clarify how we are using them throughout this article. Secondly, as these terms are commonly used together, and sometimes analogously, definitions are important in delineating their relationships with each other.
Publishing studies has been used to describe academic research of the contemporary book industry (primarily post-1960s conglomeration);2 descriptive industry reports that largely fail to incorporate theoretical frameworks and historical context;3 or as a catch-all term for the study of forms, mediation, content, markets, and the connection between past and present in the life of books.4 Even scholars who use the term publishing studies have described it as an "ill-defined premise"5 that is unclear and underdeveloped, "far from neutral" and which carries "untoward implications."6 The term publishing studies is particularly prevalent in the United Kingdom and Australia,7 which makes publishing studies a foreign (or at least little-known) concept and discipline in almost all other parts of the world. For example, Noël has argued that '[i]n France, like in most countries, there is no such thing as a unified sub-field addressing book publishing or "publishing studies."'8 Because of the geographically limiting and "indeterminate"9 nature of publishing studies, its usefulness and purpose as a term is highly restricted. Therefore, despite the prevalent use of the term in seminal works such as Simone Murray's mapping of the work of twenty-first century book studies (which will be discussed in more detail presently), the problematic and variable nature of the term prompts this article to relinquish publishing studies in search of more descriptive and precise vocabulary.