Legal deposit, literary value, and rejected books at the 1818 select committee on the copyright acts

Field, Hannah (2021) Legal deposit, literary value, and rejected books at the 1818 select committee on the copyright acts. Review of English Studies. ISSN 0034-6551

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While copyright libraries now routinely present themselves as exemplars of assiduous preservation, in line with the long duration of their legal deposit privileges, the history of these libraries is also a history of discrimination, sifting, and rejection—especially up until the early nineteenth century. This article uses the 1818 Select Committee on the Copyright Acts to examine how the theory and practice of legal deposit entail a (shifting) calibration of the catholic and the selective. I focus on two sets of documents. The first is the minutes of the select committee, where I trace the different modes of literary value put forward by library representatives. In particular, I consider the difficulty librarians face when asked to comment on individual texts (rather than the principle of deposit). The second group of documents comprises parliamentary returns from the Bodleian Library and the Cambridge University Library listing deposit items that these libraries rejected between 1814 and 1817. I have traced many of the roughly 500 texts listed and present strategies drawn from the computational humanities for exploring the different authors, genres, and forms represented. In conclusion, I propose that legal deposit can generate negative bibliographies—lists of the works not to be preserved in certain libraries—that allow book historians to investigate canon formation in terms of rejection, relegation, and indifference, rather than elevation and appreciation.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2021 08:51
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2021 10:30

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