The Printed Book in Europe, 1455-2010

Course Organiser: Professor Simon Eliot
26-30 June

This course will explore the origins, spread, and impact of printed materials in Europe, and particularly Great Britain, from Gutenberg to the point at which they appear to be facing their greatest challenge in five hundred and fifty years. The course will concern itself not only with processes and products, but with the problems of distribution raised by the mass-manufacture of printed materials, and by the changing nature of the ways in which these materials were read and stored. Most importantly of all, the material nature of the book will be emphasised, and its changing impact on the culture of Europe — and beyond — will be explained in terms of this materiality.

Course Outline


1 Printing in Europe and Britain to the 1520s John Goldfinch
Printing and Selling Books in Britain 1520s–1630s Giles Mandelbrote


3 Printing and Selling Books in Britain 1640s–1700s Giles Mandelbrote 
4 Case Study: Shakespeare’s Quartos Brian Vickers
5 Case Study: Shakespeare’s Folios Brian Vickers


6 Making and Selling Books and Periodicals 1710s–1790s Simon Eliot
7 The First Industrial Revolution in Print 1800s–1860s Simon Eliot
8 Case Study: W.H. Smith 1790s–1900s Simon Eliot


9 The Second Industrial Revolution in Print 1860s–1910s Simon Eliot
10 Global Markets and Global Conflicts 1910s–1950s Simon Eliot
11 Case study: Oxford University Press 1860–2010 Simon Eliot


12 All Change 1960s–1990s
13 The New Millennium

Outcomes for Students

  • To give the student a broad understanding of the history of printed books and other texts in post-medieval Europe.
  • To present an overview of the social, economic, political and religious contexts in which the European book developed.
  • To introduce the student to the changing technologies of book production over the period.
  • To provide the student with the opportunity to examine contemporary books and other historical artefacts that constitute the evidence on which the arguments of the course rest.
  • To offer the student several case studies which will illustrate the arguments of the course. 

Recommended Introductory Reading

Altick, R.D., The English Common Reader (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1957). [Particularly chapters 10–15]
Blagden, C., The Stationers’ Company. A history 1403–1959 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960), chapters 1–8.
The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999-2010), Volumes 3-6.
Eliot, Simon, ‘The Business of Victorian Publishing’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, ed. by D.A. David (Cambridge: CUP, 2000), pp. 37–60.
Eliot, Simon (ed.), The History of Oxford University Press (Oxford: OUP, 2013), Volumes I-III.
Feather, J., Publishing, Piracy and Politics: an historical study of copyright in Britain (London: Mansell, 1994).
Hellinga, Lotte, William Caxton and Early Printing in England (London: British Library, 2010).
St Clair, W., The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Sutherland, J.A., Victorian Novelists and Publishers (London: Athlone Press, 1976).
Vincent, D., Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

Simon Eliot is Professor of the History of the Book at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and was the founding director of the London Rare Books School. He is co-director of the recently-established research centre – which brings together the work of the IES and the Centre for Publishing at UCL – the Bloomsbury Chapter. He has published on quantitative book history, publishing history, history of lighting, and library history. He is co-editor of the journal Publishing History, and is General Editor of the new four-volume History of Oxford University Press (2013-17). He is currently directing a large-scale project on the communication history of the Ministry of Information 1939-46.