update: collaborative reading on richard sher’s enlightenment and the book, beginning Oct. 11

Hi everyone,

I’m back in town, and ready to get things rolling for our next reading, beginning next week.  How does Sunday, October 11th sound to everyone?

Eleanor, I believe, had called the Introduction and ch. 3; I can take chs. 1 and 2; Laura Rosenthal has called ch. 4; and Joe Byrne, ch. 6.  Any takers for the conclusion?  I figure we’ll do one segment a day until the book is completed, and Rick can chime in whenever he wants.  Additional takers are welcome.

How does that sound to everyone?

Best wishes,



9 responses to “update: collaborative reading on richard sher’s enlightenment and the book, beginning Oct. 11

  1. works for me. joseph byrne.

  2. Great to have you aboard, Joseph. DM

  3. Eleanor Shevlin

    Sorry, I have had an exceptionally busy week–and I meant to write to see whether it would work if we started October 1st. I can, however, have the introduction up by this Monday night.

    In the meantime, I had posted a list of reviews of Sher’s book that included selected excerpts that I thought would be useful as we proceed with our own reading. I am including again here:

    Bibliography of Select Reviews (with brief excerpts) of Richard B. Sher’s
    The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers
    in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America

    Library Journal, 132.5 (3/15/2007): 74-74. Reviewed by William D. Walsh.

    This extraordinary work of scholarship is essential for all research libraries.

    Review of English Studies, 58, Issue 237 (Nov. 2007): 740-742. Reviewed by Antonia Forster.

    This is an exceptional piece of work. It is both an astonishing accumulation of informative detail and a multiplicity of lively interconnected narratives of authors, books, booksellers, printers and other subjects. It is a very useful reference book, with its nearly 150 pages of tables and bibliographies; it is also an engaging and stimulating read.
    The skeleton upon which the book is built is Sher’s database, reproduced as seven tables in the appendix between pages 613 and 707, to which he refers very frequently within the text, especially tables 1 and 2. …

    Review of English Studies, 58, Issue 237 (Nov. 2007): 740-742. Reviewed by Antonia Forster. (Continued)

    …it is impossible to do more than glance at a few examples of the qualities that make this book so compelling. Few could hope to make a riveting and sometimes humorous story out of book formats, but Sher manages even this as he discusses the differences and the implications … Similarly, his exploration of the nature and function of apparently inconsequential biographical details on title pages is interesting and thought-provoking. These details, not included in the ESTC and usually coming at the end of titles, may be as little as ‘Esq.’ or ‘D.D.’ or the slightly more elaborate ‘Surgeon in Edinburgh’ or ‘Merchant, and General Inspector of the Fisheries in Scotland’ (as Sher reminds us, most of these Scottish Enlightenment authors had paid employment or professional careers other than that of writing), or they may reach the heights of the title page of William Cullen’s Materia Medica, reproduced on p. 158, with more than 80 words listing Cullen’s positions and fellowships …
    With a wealth of factual information, Sher demonstrates the weakness of a number of myths or popular over-simplifications about the book trade during this period, from copyright to copy money or from the idea of ‘a general progression in the eighteenth century from aristocratic patronage to patronage by booksellers’ (p. 196) to claims about the prevalence of subscription publication. As chapter 7 makes clear, the complexity of the Irish reprint trade in the eighteenth century is far greater than has been suggested by much traditional comment and indeed by bookseller complaints at the time.

    MLN, 122.5 (December 2007): 1234-36 (Brief notice section). Reviewed by Richard Macksey.

    Although Sher is by instinct a very learned fox (as evidenced grosso modo by the size of his book, the abundance of its technical details, and a 45-page bibliography of archival and published material), in his Introduction he demonstrates that he can also assume a (moderately) hedgehog posture. Thus, in addressing the large question of whether there was in fact an “Enlightenment,” let alone a Scottish one, he considers the key elements in his title and boldly stakes his claim. In his initial discussion he also engages in a bare-knuckle account of the critics of the Enlightenment, situating Carl Becker’s 1931 book as the beginning of the “modern era of anti-Enlightenment thought.” (A fox would have qualified this assertion by saying “Anglophone . . . thought.”) He concludes his treatment of the anti-Enlightenment critics, who are still very much with us, by making an apodictic assertion: “From Becker to Horkheimer and Adorno to [John] Gray, most modern and postmodern critics of the Enlightenment have had only a superficial familiarity with it, and their writings are more often polemical attacks on an abstraction of their own creation than careful and contextual analyses of works by Enlightenment thinkers” (13). (A more cautious fox might have suggested that the debate highlights some of differences between a Continental and an Insular perspective. And would not a more ‘foxy’ reading even of Horkheimer and Adorno’s dark Dialektik have revealed beneath its surface a paradoxical possibility of a positive concept of the Enlightenment [e.g., DA, xvii–xviii, 31, 38])

    The Enlightenment and the Book is an immense and pioneering work of scholarship, meticulous in its details and nuanced in its discussions of cultural exchange and the commerce of ideas. … In its scope and detailed execution it will undoubtedly become a standard reference for intellectual historians and literary critics in the years ahead.

    The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 8.4 (December 2007): 456-458. Reviewed by David Allan.

    The wider interest of this book, beyond the confines of Scottish Enlightenment studies, should also be underlined. …What The Enlightenment and the Book demonstrates, however, is the absolute centrality of a network of Scottish booksellers, some in Edinburgh but several also occupying commanding positions in London, to the development of the eighteenth-century book trade and thus to the formation and shaping of the broader culture of the age. …

    The Enlightenment and the Book triumphantly unites the study of authors with the study of texts, and forges a better understanding of the relationship between those who wrote books and those who sold them.

    Technology and Culture, 49.1 (Jan. 2008): 263-265. Reviewed by Nicole Howard.

    Richard Sher’s work is an impressive and detailed examination of Scottish Enlightenment publishers that reveals just how robust book history can be when the bibliographic details are tethered to a broader historical picture. … His broader aim is to address the ‘negotiated, collaborative and often contested activity’ of book publishing during the Enlightenment in a way that avoids generalizations by being solidly rooted in empirical evidence.

    Journal of British Studies, 47.1 (Jan. 2008): 183–185. Reviewed by Ellen J. Jenkins.

    The pivotal role of booksellers and publishers in the presentation and spread of Enlightenment ideas has never attracted the sort of attention bestowed upon the authors of the day, such as David Hume, Adam Smith, William Godwin, and Edward Gibbon, but Richard Sher, Distinguished Professor of History at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, has redressed this imbalance admirably in The Enlightenment and the Book. According to Sher, the contributions that Andrew Millar, Thomas Cadell, William Creech, Andrew Strahan, and others made to the book trade in the eighteenth century were responsible for shepherding Enlightenment works into print and thus into posterity. The relationships these men forged with the writers whose work they published were much more complex and collaborative than strictly commercial, so the omission of attention to their contributions has left an important aspect of Enlightenment history in the dark.

    ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society, 99.1 (March 2008): 187-189. Reviewed by. M. D. Eddy.

    This book represents a powerful tool that will no doubt be used to reinterpret and, I hope, to recast the intellectual framework so often used to understand the books being read in Britain, America, and the British Empire during the second half of the eighteenth century. It makes a plethora of insightful points regarding the factors that motivated writers to write, readers to read, and publishers to publish. The research is solidly based on printed and manuscript primary sources, thereby allowing it to be responsibly innovative. In short, it raises the bar to a new level for scholars of eighteenth-century Scottish thought who are serious about the cultural history of ideas and who prefer specific examples over brushstroke theorizing.

    Libraries & the Cultural Record, 43.2 (2008): 238-240. Reviewed by Greg Matthews.

    Richard B. Sher summarizes his book as ‘a study of the architecture of book culture’ (597). Yet the metaphor too modestly describes his considerable achievement. Sher explores his subject brick by brick, surveying both the creation and disintegration of an influential era of bookmaking and the transmission of ideas beginning in “Auld Reekie” during the mid-eighteenth century and ending approximately fifty years later in the New World. …

    The Enlightenment and the Book is destined to be a widely influential study. Sher’s
    astonishingly careful and cohesive treatment of a widely influential and often misunderstood or maligned period in Western history provides a nexus for multiple
    areas of critical investigation, including the Scottish Enlightenment, publishing history, book culture, authorship, and readership. It also serves as a solid foundation for new work in these fields as well as a model of sound scholarship and responsible research.

    Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 301 Issue 3 (April 2008): 106-106.

    Discerningly illustrated, at once scholarly and accessible, this is an essential addition not only to 18th-century studies but also to the history of the book—a poignant subject in our post-book age.

    Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 102.2: (Jun 2008): 268-270. Reviewed by Stephen W. Brown.

    The effort to give his scholarship a human face may be this book’s most admirable feature. ….A good work of scholarship should transcend its research. It needs to tell its tale well (as Sher’s book does), and it also must rouse its readers out of their chairs to engage its arguments, sometimes in outrage. Sher is a writer who wants his reader to respond and who is up for the consequent challenge. Let me end by taking up the gauntlet on one point. Sher strategically avoids the ephemeral press, using newspapers and magazines only selectively for their advertisements and what they tell him about bestsellers. Yet the most widely circulated publications in the period would have been titles like the Scots Magazine and Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, which had court-record-confirmed sales in the thousands per issue. … Many of Sher’s bestselling genres disappeared as books when the medium for the exchange of ideas about medicine, economics, politics, history, and the emerging social sciences (as well as literary criticism) became the periodical rather than the monograph.

    History, 93, Issue 311 (Jul 2008): 433-434. Reviewed by Raymond Birn.

    Weighing in at 1.4 kilograms, Richard B. Sher’s comprehensive and beautifully
    illustrated volume explores the shared responsibility of reformist Scottish authors and their publishers for the explosion of the printed word in the English-speaking world during the second half of the eighteenth century. The work comprises three parts: a thoughtful examination of the profession of authorship among writers identified with the Scottish Enlightenment; a close observation of publishing practices among Scots in eighteenth-century Edinburgh and London; and a detailed description of the reprint industry dominated by Scots in Dublin and Philadelphia before and after the American Revolution….
    Sher devotes more than one-fourth of his text to Irish and American republication of Scottish Enlightenment books. Since they mainly served the Irish and American markets, were beyond the scope of British copyright legislation, and generally exported books to Scotland and England in more modest and affordable formats than the originals, Dublin’s reprinters, according to Sher, were not pirates in the strict sense of the term. This position surely is worth further discussion, as perhaps is Sher’s general assertion of the ‘national mission’ of the Scottish Enlightenment. … [Sher’s book] is an accessible feast of intellectual comfort food, a copious and hearty meal for bibliographers and bibliophiles, historians, literary scholars, and anyone else interested in the material foundations of cultural diffusion.

    American Historical Review, 113.4 (Oct 2008): 1238-1239. Reviewed by Tilar J. Mazzeo.

    All told, this book is a remarkable feat of scholarship, and scholars will find in it a wealth of historical information and reference material. And, at the same time, Sher presents a compelling reassessment of the relationship between book history and the production of both national culture and cosmopolitan (and often transatlantic) exchanges. It is not a light read, and readers may find themselves occasionally bogged down in minutiae, but it is a book that amply rewards serious study.

    Eighteenth-Century Life, 33.1 (Winter 2009): 61-66. Reviewed by Roger L. Emerson.

    [Sher] is generally committed to the view that the Enlightenment in Scotland (and elsewhere) was an urban affair created mostly by professional men meeting in such venues as clubs, societies, and academies. They tended to see all knowledge as forming a single system and producing, or associated with, politeness, intellectual creativity, and improvements of various kinds. He believes this was bound up with material culture. Every place was different in its mix of people, interests, and concerns, but everywhere the Enlightenment was cosmopolitan, tolerant, secular, sentimental, yet given to rational thought. Although he tells us that publishing was but one factor among others (23) contributing to the Scottish Enlightenment, he often writes as if it were the only one that counted, because he sees it as sustaining intellectual productivity and making the Scots important in the world of letters. …
    Book history may be interesting for showing how ideas got spread, but it does not define the content of the Scottish Enlightenment. However, there is much more in this book that will be and should be read by those concerned with Scottish authors and how they produced and marketed their books and themselves, as well as by those concerned with the Scottish book trade and the ways in which enlightened thought was dispersed. On those topics, Sher will be read for a long time to come.

    English Historical Review, 124, Issue 507 (Apr 2009): 435-437. Reviewed by Adam Budd.

    Sher’s extensive new study provides a pioneering examination of the interplay among the social relationships, material conditions, and cultural contexts that enabled the Scottish Enlightenment to emerge as the defining literary phenomenon of the mid- to late-eighteenth century — on both sides of the Scottish Borders, Irish Sea, and Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, this book is a weighty but subtle intervention in the current proliferation of books on material culture and the history of print. Sher has refined his inclusive methodology to develop new insights about the dynamic nature or, as he calls it, the ‘problem’, of complex relationships among people and their evolving professions, as well as their ‘enlightened ’ ideas. This approach to the history of the Enlightenment in Britain raises important questions regarding the more narrowly-focused studies that have speedily assumed canonical status in the blossoming field of Book History.

    Rigorously empirical and yet evidently aware of its theoretical assumptions and suggestions, The Enlightenment and the Book is a monograph packed with case-studies that illustrate social and commercial history conditions that enabled the Enlightenment to emerge from intellectual concepts to printed matter. … Despite its impressive depth and detail, this book addresses a wide range of readers — including specialists, students, and more general readers. Indeed, the book’s logical structure and effective sub-headings, with its extensive appendices and useful Index, invites comparison with the kinds of flexible scholarly genres that were born out of the social and business relationships that Sher reveals.

    Eighteenth-Century Studies, 42.4 (Summer 2009): 603-611. Reviewed by Evan Gottlieb. (“Producing and Consuming the Scottish Enlightenment,” Review Essay)

    Sher’s guiding insight is that we cannot truly understand the Scottish Enlightenment without paying close attention to its material manifestations: the books that contained its ideas, and the people who literally brought them into the world (to paraphrase Samuel Johnson’s definition of publishing). …
    For the eighteenth-century scholar interested more specifically in the central writers and books of the Scottish Enlightenment, the book’s most fascinating elements are arguably to be found in its appendix. Table 1 … denominates 115 core writers of the Scottish Enlightenment, who are listed alphabetically along with their life dates and career summaries. Each author in Table 1 is then numerically keyed to Table 2, which lists in order of publication 360 books Reviews 607 published in the period 1746–1800 by those authors. Table 2—the guiding assumptions and limitations of which are neatly laid out in Sher’s opening chapter—not only allows readers to see at a glance who published what (and in what order), but also contains a host of other valuable details: along with the title, publisher, and place of publication for each first British edition, Sher includes its format, number of volumes, price, general topic, and even a popularity rating (based on the number of editions published in Britain through 1820).
    The Enlightenment and the Book is truly a cornucopia of riches and a first-class resource for anyone interested in approaching the Scottish Enlightenment from the perspective of the actual books in this period that made their way into the public’s hands.
    If Sher’s book tells us more than we had previously thought possible about the material conditions of the Scottish Enlightenment’s production, it nevertheless necessarily leaves unanswered the question of what became of those books when they actually reached readers’ hands.

  4. Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we push it back a week? Eleanor, contact me offline and we’ll set up the final schedule and announce. DM

  5. Eleanor Shevlin

    Works for me! I will be posting the introduction before the 11th (probably this weekend). I am at a conference from October 8th until the 11th, but I will be back late on the 11th–and I will check in then.

  6. I rather sheepishly dropped by, expecting to find the discussion in full swing if not already over, and am now happy to see that I’m not only timely but have arrived early enough to grab a cup of coffee and a good seat. I’ll be looking forward to Sunday.

    • Eleanor Shevlin

      Excellent! Although I haven’t posted the introduction yet–it will be up in time to start things off on the 11th!


  7. Glad you’re back, Chris. Our reading got put off by scheduling difficulties, but we’re ready to go on the 11th. DM

  8. Eleanor Shevlin

    Apologies (once again)—I just returned this morning from the conference. My post will be up today.