This paper aims to show how the concept of “Bibliography” has changed since the late nineteenth century. It proposes discussing what “Bibliography” did and did not include in the various stages of its development; how the study of “Bibliography” moved from the UK to the USA; how it narrowed down from an originally much wider concept and how, under the influence of French historians over the past three decades, it has widened out again, reaching a better synthesis of the study of books as material objects with the study of the history of the book.
A discussion and critical assessment of the writings of the major main stream bibliographers and book historians is presented.
From an original (nineteenth century) emphasis on enumerative bibliography, the concept of “Bibliography” widened out (from the end of the nineteenth century) to include historical bibliography and the study of books as material objects; in the mid‐twentieth century this wider approach narrowed down, as a consequence of much emphasis being placed on descriptive, analytical, critical and textual bibliography. Under influence of French book historians the emphasis has changed again and the value of a wider historical approach and greater inclusivity in subjects has brought the study of historical bibliography and that of the history of the book much closer together.
This research looks only at Western Europe and the USA.
Practical implications of this study are: the widening‐out of the subject to include all physical manifestations of the book; the dimension of creative reading; and the emphasis on the importance of artifactual evidence for correct establishment and interpretation of texts has had implications for preservation.
This paper is a critical assessment of the literature, drawing the logical consequences of its findings. It presents an argument for the inclusion of all aspects of the book as a physical object, as well as for the importance of using all available evidence.
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