Institutional Scholarship

The Book Mania: Book collectors in the United Kingdom, 1880-1905

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dc.contributor.advisor Graham, Lisa Jane
dc.contributor.advisor Hayton, Darin Sweitzer-Lamme, Jon 2014-08-05T15:13:50Z 2014-08-05T15:13:50Z 2014
dc.description.abstract Historian of the book Leah Price explains that, "transitively, the book that I touch after you've touched it blurs the boundaries between my body and yours." Insistent upon physical distance from their social inferiors, members of the middle class sought not only to purchase different books than the lower class, but books outside their reach altogether. Middle class individuals attempted to widen the divide between themselves and the lower class through the use of activities like book collecting, while simultaneously moving closer to the upper class. This transitivity, between different bodies who have handled the same book, is important for the middle classes, who are close physically--living in the same cities and spaces often difficult to distinguish from their supposed social inferiors--to the lower classes that they are trying to escape, use the difference between the books read by the lower and upper-middle classes to create a larger difference. The larger difference--of culture, not just space--that is implied by physical contents of the bookshelves of the various classes is precisely the difference that book collecting creates. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the British middle class, growing at a rapid pace, worked to define itself in opposition to the lower classes. Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist and cultural theorist, argues that individuals of the middle class used cultural status symbols to form an identity related to, but independent from, the upper class. Rare and beautiful books provided their owners with an opportunity for self-definition through the obtaining of cultural capital: the "competence in society's high-status culture" that allows individuals to function and flourish in that society. In my thesis, I argue that books were seen as cultural objects rather than tools of information transmission by the middle class, and were used by members of this class in attempts to form an identity separate from the lower class and more closely aligned with the elites. Instead of treating culture casually, the newly comfortable took culture "too seriously." Because they have had to study these cultural subjects, they are "likely to see [their] knowledge and techniques devalued as too narrowly subordinated to practical goals." In short, Bourdieu argues that the middle class viewed acquiring cultural capital as a means to an end--the end of obtaining the status and legitimacy that comes with not being a member of the working class. In the process, he argues that they replaced "consumption of the work with consumption of circumstantial information." In this case, books become objects consumed for their cultural importance, rather than objects of signification or information transmission. In order to differentiate themselves from members of the working classes, members of the newly comfortable classes of Britain worked to establish their "gentility." One of the ways in which members of this class attempted to obtain this cultural capital was through book collecting guides--books written with the aim of instructing middle class consumers in the methods of obtaining the correct rare and beautiful books, and allowing them to build a book collection on their own. Book collecting experts, notably John Herbert Slater, expounded on the topic of book collecting at length in books published fairly regularly between approximately 1880 and 1905. This subgenre of books includes books by many authors, but I have focused on Slater as a case study because of his prolific writing, position as an expert in the field, and his discussions of the motivations of book collectors. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of History. en_US
dc.language.iso en en_US
dc.subject.lcsh Middle class -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century
dc.subject.lcsh Book collecting -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century
dc.title The Book Mania: Book collectors in the United Kingdom, 1880-1905 en_US
dc.type Thesis (B.A.) en_US
dc.rights.access Open Access

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