Mark Curran

The Geography and Structure of the Late Eighteenth-Century Book Trade

Intellectual Geography / Wednesday 7 September, 2011

The process of mapping the distribution of the near half-million books traded by the Société typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) between 1769 and 1794 represents a perfect test-bed for the ‘intellectual geography’ approach. Previous scholars, most notably Robert Darnton, have taken the STN papers as representative – suitable for studying what books reached readers everywhere in France. Because eighteenth-century editions were widely swapped amongst publishers, the story goes, wholesalers (like the STN) located throughout Europe quickly ended up with more or less the same stock. Rejecting this hypothesis, this paper begins to rewrite our understanding of the geographical structure of the eighteenth-century book trade on bicentric and polycentric lines. The Neuchâtelois, despite their extensive correspondence and trade networks, never found a satisfactory way to market their books in Paris or Amsterdam. The consequences of this new understanding may be profound, but cannot be fully explored from the STN evidence alone. As such, this paper concludes by outlining one potential pathway towards a focused and collaborative bibliometric digital humanities effort to better understanding the eighteenth-century European book trade and Enlightenment.