Undergraduate student contribution


Georeferencing the Early Modern London Book Trade: 1. Theory without Practice

Screen capture of the ESTC homepage.
Screen capture of the ESTC homepage.
The following blog post identifies a disjunction in how the geohumanities spatial turn has influenced theoretical literature in print culture studies as compared to practical, bibliographic datasets. First, I provide an overview of recent literature in print culture studies and geography, noting an increasing theoretical interest in and understanding of the spatiality of the historic book trade, particularly the early modern English book trade. I then provide an overview of digital bibliographic databases, noting the absence of spatially relevant data points and structures. When contrasted with the abundance of spatial theories in print culture studies, the lack of geocoded bibliographic data can only be regarded as an untapped potential for print historians. By geocoding bibliographic datasets, print historians, I suggest, can develop new and exciting research opportunities for their discipline.
In the introduction to GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place (2011), the editors refer to a rapidly growing zone of creative interaction between geography and the humanities (Richardson, Luria, Ketchum, and Dear 3), which they call the geohumanities. As defined by these editors, the geohumanities involves humanities and geography scholars alike researching how spatiality manifests in cultural texts. In print culture studies, the geohumanities spatial turn is evident. Many print historians refer to the geography of the book as an emerging, interdisciplinary field of inquiry concerned with the spatiality of print production, dissemination, and reception (Howsam 57; MacDonald and Black 505; Keighren 745; Ogborn and Withers 1). The term geography of the book is itself a reference to the sixth chapter of Lucien Fevbre and Henri-Jean Martin’s The Coming of the Book (1958; trans. 1976), which is considered by many to be a seminal text in the field. In the sixth chapter of The Coming of the Book, titled Geography of the Book, Fevbre and Martin trace the processes that enabled the book trade to transition from a nomadic, highly specialized trade in the fifteenth century to a centralized, commercial trade in the eighteenth century; for doing so, they are considered by many to be the first to think about print culture in explicitly spatial terms. Miles Ogborn and Charles Withers (2010), however, point out that the geography of the book is nearly inseparable from the material history of the book more generally:
the recognition of the materiality of the book means that it is an object that must have geography. Its making can be located and its movement can be mapped. Its history as an object is shaped by where it is made and where it can subsequently be found. This makes for many possible geographies. The material conditions of production and circulation of books take place on every scale from that of the printed page itself to global networks of trade and empire. (Ogborn and Withers 12)
For Ogborn and Withers, as for other print historians and geohumanists, the geography of the book constitutes not so much a new topic but rather a fundamentally new way of thinking about existing topics in print culture studies.
Despite the increasingly theoretical understanding of the geography of the book, historians of early modern English print culture have been markedly slow to pursue bibliographic applications of such theories. In the specific field of early modern print culture studies, Blayney (1990) and Pantzer and Rider (1991) serve as the only concrete attempts to geo-reference and map bibliographic datasets.1 Blayney’s The Bookshops in Paul’s Cross Churchyard (1990) describes, locates, and maps the sites of the individual bookshops that proliferated throughout Paul’s Cross Churchyard in the seventeenth century. Likewise, Pantzer’s first and third appendices in volume three of the Short-Title Catalogue (1991) index and map STC entries by the address of their printer and/or bookseller. In today’s age of digital scholarship and web-based collaboration, it is a major drawback that both Blayney (1990) and Pantzer and Rider (1991) are published exclusively in print.
Though historians of early modern English print culture have undoubtedly embraced information technology and the digital humanities, they have yet fully to include complex spatial considerations in their information architecture. Popular databases and digital archives such as the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), Early English Books Online (EEBO), British Book Trade Index (BBTI), and London Book Trades Database (LBTD) offer researchers a wealth of useful data, often cross-referenced and downloadable; none of this data, however, contains geo-coordinates or geographically precise data points (i.e., more precise than London) for place of printing or bookselling. The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), for example, contains over 460,000 MARC-tagged database entries of early printed books. Database entries contain unique tags for data points such as book title, author, and publication year. They do not contain a unique tag for the address(es) associated with each book. Address information is included in data field 260|b along with the printers’ and/or booksellers’ name(s) as described by the book’s imprint. ESTC record number 006182591 serves as an example:
260|a London : |b Printed by Thomas Creede, for Tho. Millington, and Iohn Busby. And are to be sold at his house in Carter Lane, next the Powle head, |c 1600. (ESTC 006182591)
Because of the way the imprint data is parsed in field 260, it is very difficult for a programmer to harvest the address information using any form of regular, field-based script. Evidently, the ESTC and similar bibliographic databases are designed to support queries about material books (e.g. outputs by year, author, region, etc.), while the BBTI and similar databases are designed to support queries about people (e.g., stationers by year and region, output by stationer, etc.). No database currently exists [in 2014] that supports dynamic and complex queries about the spatiality of bibliographic information.
It is high time that programmers, encoders, print historians, and geographers collaborate to develop a database (or series of databases) that geocode(s) the information that already exists in online resources such as the STC and BBTI. The need for such a database has been voiced by numerous scholars across disciplines and specializations (Black 79; F. Black, MacDonald, and J.M. Black 11; Gregory, Kemp, and Mostern 15; Howsam 57; Keighren 750; MacDonald and Black 507). Fiona Black, a print historian primarily interested in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Canadian book trade, proclaims that [t]here are dramas pertaining to the spatial contexts of print culture waiting to be explored [through the application of information technologies] (Black 109). In the field of early modern print culture studies, many of these spatial dramas take place in the city of London. A database that dynamically links information about London printers, publishers, booksellers, and printed books with spatial data points such as toponyms and geo-coordinates would undoubtedly uncover important, new research questions about the early modern book trade: What was the spatial distribution of printers, publishers, and booksellers in early modern London? How did this distribution change between 1475 and 1640? Were certain genres of printed books printed and/or sold in certain areas of the city? What was the median distance between where a book was printed and where it was sold? Such questions are of enormous relevance to early modern English print historians and demonstrate the significant potential of a geocoded bibliographic database. The following two blog posts will discuss what such a database might look like and how it might be created.


  1. In addition to Blayney (1990) and Pantzer and Rider (1991), a number of articles, chapters, and monographs engage extensively with primary data pertaining to the spatiality of the early modern London book trade. See, for instance, Robin Myers, Michael Harris, and Giles Mandelbrote’s edited collection of essays titled The London Book Trade: Topographies of Print in the Metropolis from the Sixteenth Century (2003); see also James Raven’s Bookscape: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800 (2014). I believe that such works must be classified as historiographies rather than bibliographies, however, because they contain detailed, conceptual discussions of the topic rather than exhaustive datasets. (TLG)


Cite this page

MLA citation

Landels-Gruenewald, Tye. Georeferencing the Early Modern London Book Trade: 1. Theory without Practice The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 6.6, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 30 Jun. 2021, mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/6.6/BLOG16.htm.

Chicago citation

Landels-Gruenewald, Tye. Georeferencing the Early Modern London Book Trade: 1. Theory without Practice The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 6.6. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 30, 2021. mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/6.6/BLOG16.htm.

APA citation

Landels-Gruenewald, T. 2021. Georeferencing the Early Modern London Book Trade: 1. Theory without Practice In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 6.6). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/editions/6.6/BLOG16.htm.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Landels-Gruenewald, Tye
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Georeferencing the Early Modern London Book Trade: 1. Theory without Practice
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 6.6
PY  - 2021
DA  - 2021/06/30
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/6.6/BLOG16.htm
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/6.6/xml/standalone/BLOG16.xml
ER  - 

TEI citation

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