May 1862: Confederate and Union forces clashing during the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
We start this week with The War That Forged A Nation: Why The Civil War Still Matters by James M. McPherson, and Susan-Mary Grant and the author discuss the latest work by the Civil War’s most preeminent historian (no. 1887, with response here).
Next up Kate Fleet tackles a curate’s egg of a book, as she reviews Sean McMeekin’s The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923 (no. 1886).
Then we turn to The Gages of Hengrave and Suffolk Catholicism, 1640-1767 by Francis Young, as Eilish Gregory recommends a well-researched and detailed book on an early modern English Catholic family (no. 1885).
Finally we have Peter Webster’s Archbishop Ramsey: The Shape of the Church, which Sam Brewitt-Taylor praises as a fine addition to the literature on this key Archbishop (no. 1884).
We start this week with John Foot’s The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care. Peter Barham and the author discuss a hugely ambitious book about the movement in Italy to transform the institutional landscape of Italian mental health care (no. 1883, with response here).
Next up is Browned Off and Bloody-Minded: The British Soldier Goes to War 1939-1945 by Alan Allport, as Andrew Muldoon praises a book which should attract, and deserves to gain, both a specialist and a general readership (no. 1882).
Then Thomas Hamm covers two contributions from the early American history ‘Atlantic turn’ generation, as he reviews Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England by Abram Van Engen and London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community by Jordan Landes (no. 1881).
Finally we turn to Hubert Wolf’s The Nuns of Sant’ Ambrolio: the True Story of a Convent in Scandal, which Sara Charles recommends as an intriguing retelling that avoids sensationalist tabloid clichés (no. 1880).
We start this week with the latest volume from the Victoria County History, The History of the County of Somerset. Volume XI: Queen Camel and the Cadburys, edited by Mary Siraut. Michael Hicks and the editors discuss a comprehensive, indispensable, and almost definitive volume (no. 1879, with response here).
Next up is James Morone’s The Devils We Know: Us and Them in America’s Raucous Political Culture: Essays, and Karen Heath recommends a collection which will be indispensible for any scholar concerned with American contemporary social and political issues (no. 1878).
Then we turn to Francis I and Sixteenth-Century France by Robert J. Knecht. David Potter believes the world of Francis I has been the ideal domain for this lover of art and culture, collector of foibles, and superb teller of stories (à la Brantôme) to deploy his skills (no. 1877).
Finally we have Dan Stone’s The Liberation of the Camps: the End of the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rainer Schulze reviews an engrossing book that is incredibly rich in survivor testimony (no. 1876).
Happy New Year! We start 2016 with Remembering the Irish Revolution: Dissent, Culture, and Nationalism in the Irish Free State by Frances Flanagan. Sean Ledwith and the author discuss a thoughtful and scholarly contribution to an understanding of a generation that tried to change the world (no. 1875, with response here).
Next up is Samantha Baskind’s Jewish Artists and the Bible in Twentieth-Century America, as Peter Webster praises a tightly focussed and coherent volume, which is also lavishly produced and a pleasure to hold (no. 1874).
Then we turn to Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert. Steve Cushion reviews a book which makes you think again about the shirt on your back, and wonder how much blood there is on it (no. 1873).
Finally we have Kate Loveman’s Samuel Pepys and his Books: Reading, Newsgathering, and Sociability, 1660-1703. Lena Liapi believes that this book will be of great interest to anyone working on the history of reading (no. 1872).
We begin this week with Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal by Neilesh Bose. Markus Daechsel and the author discuss an encyclopedic and important study (no. 1871, with response here).
Then we turn to Benjamin Pohl’s Dudo of St Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: History, Tradition and Memory. Elisabeth van Houts recommends an impressive debut from a medievalist of considerable talent (no. 1870).
Next up is The Oxford Handbook of the French Revolution, edited by Dave Andress, as Anne Byrne praises a convenient and scholarly starting-point for many different aspects of this turbulent epoch (no. 1869).
Finally Jess Prestidge reviews an original, thoroughly researched and highly readable addition to studies of Thatcher and Thatcherism, as she takes on God and Mrs Thatcher: The Battle for Britain’s Soul by Eliza Filby (no. 1868).
We start with the aforementioned History of Drinking: The Scottish Pub Since 1700 by Anthony Cooke, as Callum Brown and the author discuss a well-written account of the commerce, sociability and drinking communities of the country (no. 1867, with response here).
Next up is John Van Atta’s Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819-1821. Matthew Mason recommends an outstanding one-volume introduction to the Missouri Crisis and Compromises (no. 1866).
Then we turn to The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities: Italy and the Southern Low Countries, 1370-1440 by Patrick Lantschner, as Laura Crombie praises a book which offers a new political account of the later Middle Ages (no. 1865).
Finally Thomas Colville reviews an engaging but flawed longue durée history of science, Steven Weinberg’s To Explain the World: the Discovery of Modern Science (no. 1864).
We start this week with Holy War, Martyrdom and Terror: Christianity, Violence and the West by Phillipe Buc, as Cecilia Gaposchkin and the author debate an enormously ambitious book (no. 1863, with response here).
Then we have another in our occasional podcast series, with Daniel Snowman talking to Peter Burke about the latter’s career and forthcoming book, What is the History of Knowledge? (no. 1862)
Next up is Stalin’s Agent: The Life and Death of Alexander Orlov by Boris Volodarsky. Andrei Znamenski recommends an erudite and meticulously researched study (no. 1861).
Finally Josh Ehrlich believes Barbarism and Religion: Volume 6, Barbarism: Triumph in the West by J. G. A. Pocock represents as monumental an achievement as could be hoped for from any historian in any age (no. 1860).
We start this week with Michael Johnston’s Romance and the Gentry in Late Medieval England, as Katie Bridger and the author discuss an insightful, fascinating contribution to our understanding of the world of the gentry (no. 1859, with response here).
Then we have a great interview by Jordan Landes with Elizabeth Williams, talking about her most recent book, The Politics of Race in Britain and South Africa, which examines British support for the anti-apartheid movement among its own black communities (no. 1858).
Next is The Crisis of British Protestantism: Church Power in the Puritan Revolution, 1638–44 by Hunter Powell. James Mawdesley praises a fine work of scholarship, which will surely become essential reading for those investigating the religious politics of the British Isles at a critical moment in their histories (no. 1857).
Finally we have Lily Geismer’s Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party, and Patrick Andelic believes this timely, original and richly detailed book should be required reading for all those seeking to understand the modern Democratic Party (no. 1856).
This post has kindly been provided for us by Dr Stephen Gregg of Bath Spa University, and is the text of a talk given to the panel session ‘Opening the book: reading and the evolving technology(ies) of the book’ as part of Academic Book Week.
I want to talk about the undergraduate perspective on a particular kind of academic book – the edition. In fact my starting point is that, from the student perspective (and according to some scholars), there is no longer a clear idea of what that is.
The place and perceived value of the printed critical edition seems to be still firmly established. I once asked my students to identify and compare value markers of their printed text in front of them and of an online version of the same text, and they made a pretty good case for the printed text, citing everything from the name of the publisher, to modes of reading, navigation, and interaction, and even pointing to the durability of its medium. And this in a digital humanities module. However, asking them to tell me how and why either of these versions look the way they do was a far more tricky question. So my polemic will be a plea for teaching in a way that puts students themselves in the position of editors and curators of literary texts: and that the best way of doing this is an engagement with digital editing and curating.
But first, I’m going to begin by outlining how a dramatic rise in the online availability of our literary heritage drives certain changes in reading and studying practices. When a lot of academics are running to catch up with the accelerating process in disseminating the world’s literary heritage online – even in their own field, and I include myself – is it any wonder that our students, stepping off the path of the printed set text, also find themselves slightly taken aback and click on the top hit in Google? Because there is indeed a chaotic mass of types of texts they can find. In addition to catalogue entries and Amazon hits, there are texts from web sites and web ventures that essentially depend upon some form of commercial revenue or profit (e.g. Google, Luminarium, editions via Kindle, and even apps), non-profit web organisations (e.g. Project Gutenberg, Poemhunter, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust), nationally-supported or privately-endowed institutions (e.g. Folger digital texts, British Library Shakespeare Folios), University libraries (e.g. SCETI, Virginia, Adelaide, Bodleian), a whole host of academic projects (e.g. Rosetti Archive, EEBO-TCP, the Correspondence of William Godwin, the Walt Whitman Archive) and, of course, via institutionally-accessed and pay-walled commercial publishers (like Cengage or ProQuest). My essential point is that there is a blurring of the definition of the ‘edition’. What we see – for sometimes good reasons – are projects that describe themselves as digital archives, databases, digital library collections, social editions (like Transcribe Bentham), and apps (e.g. Touchpress’s The Wasteland). And texts that come via these platforms look, feel and function very differently.
Between the printed and digital text, there’s a two-way process happening. The easy and quick availability of texts online drives a certain kind of reading of printed editions which makes invisible ‘the history of their own making’ (D. F. McKenzie). At the same time, undergraduates don’t often spot the distinction between the kinds of texts they find online and the one in their printed critical editions. This partly because they see only the text in their editions, and not the ‘edition’ (introduction, textual note, annotations, etc.): the actual edition becomes invisible. I don’t want to denigrate undergraduates’ skills and this isn’t entirely the students’ fault: it’s partly how English literary studies – at least in many seminar rooms – is still running with the idea of the literary text as an immaterial abstraction (despite the influence of various kinds of historicization). It’s this that renders invisible the processes that shape the form of the book in their hands. So I guess my rant is partly a plea for a serious consideration for the materiality of the book and a bigger role for the history of the book in English Studies.
But I’m also thinking about the lack of attention (at undergraduate level) paid to how editions and texts end up on the web in the ways they do. Formats vary hugely, from poorly catalogued page facsimiles, to unattributed HTML editing of dodgy nineteenth-century editions, to scholarly high-standard editing with XML/TEI encoding. But there are still plenty of these digital versions and collections that make it very difficult to see who these resources are for and how they got to look and function the way they do. And, as I’ve hinted at earlier, issues of format and accessibility are linked to how the various sites and projects are funded. In significant ways a lot of texts available digitally do much worse than the print edition at signalling ‘The history of their own making.’
So, the second half of my polemic is about how we should be making our students more aware of how the edition is remediated based on an understanding of the limits and affordances of digital technology and of how the internet works. Because this is where digital technology can open their books in a vital way. I’ve found it intensely interesting that the digital humanities community has been using a variety of material and haptic metaphors to describe what it is they are doing – ‘making’ or ‘building.’ For me, this is wonderfully suggestive. In asking my students to understand the processes involved in transforming a material book into an printed edition and then a digital edition is a necessarily haptic experience. This experience – a process that involves decisions about audience, purpose, authority, and technological affordances and restraints – enables a student to understand their literary object of study in a vital and transformative way. It might seem odd that I’m emphasising materiality in a debate thinking through the effects of what is, ostensibly, an immaterial medium, but technology is material and digital editing should involve the material aspects of the book and material work. My undergraduate dissertation student is producing a digital edition of a work by Henry Fielding: she will be going to the British Library to see the source text as an essential part of her learning. In a few weeks time, my students will be building a digital scanner partly out of cardboard; after that even our training in digital markup will start with pencil and a printed sheet of paper.
So I’m arguing that we give students the opportunity to be academic editors of books, and not just in theory but in practice; to enable them to be creators and not merely consumers of texts, because the electronic editions of the future should be powered by an early and vital experience of digital making.
 Leaving aside why there is an increasing use by undergraduates of online texts instead of printed ones in class – though I suspect it’s partly down to the increasing centrality of the mobile device as well as an expectation that everything is, or should be, freely accessible.
 D. F. McKenzie, quoted in Jerome McGann, ‘Coda. Why digital textual scholarship matters; or, philology in a new key,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, eds, Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 274-88 (p.274).
 I’m always reminded of internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz’s maxim: ‘It’s not OK not to understand the internet anymore.’
We start with The Text and the World: The Henryków Book, Its Authors, and their Region, 1160-1310 by Piotr S. Gorecki. Shami Ghosh and the author discuss a work which succeeds magnificently in providing a history of a European monastic institution that serves as an example of European history within a larger, overarching framework (no. 1855, with response here).
Next up is John Richard Moores’ Representations of France in English Satirical Prints 1740-1832, and James Baker finds much to recommend in this lively volume (no. 1854).
We then turn to Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World by Luke A. Nichter. Robert Ledger believes this to be an excellent study of the transatlantic relationship during this period and a fine addition to the historiography of the Nixon Presidency (no. 1853, with response here).
Finally we have a review article on the origins of the landscape of Paris by Anthony Nardini, covering Planning the Greenspaces of Nineteenth-Century Paris by Richard S. Hopkins and How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean (no. 1852).