The Book and Publishing in Argentina: Books for Everyone and the Hispanic American Model

Studies on the Book and Publishing: A Recently Autonomized International Space

The scientific research that revolves around the book world in general and publishing practices in particular is relatively recent. Despite the emergence of some in-depth studies in the 1950s and 1960s (for example, L’apparition du livre by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, in 1958), it was in the 1980s when these multiplied and came together, which gave rise to the formation of an academic specialty. Encouraged by the cultural history boom, authors such as Robert Darnton, Peter Burke, and Roger Chartier encouraged their colleagues and scholars by showing them that texts, readers, booksellers, and publishers opened new discussions on the social, ideological, and moral basis of global phenomena as decisive as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the French Revolution. A threshold for this foundational academic time was the multiplication of national book histories, whose initial (and perhaps the most successful) model was Histoire de Tedition francaise, coordinated by Roger Chartier and Flenri-Jean Martin, and published in four volumes by Promodis and Cercle de la Librairie, between 1986 and 1991. Later on, there arose national histories about Australia, Canada, the United States, Spain, and other central countries, which are collective works where dozens of researchers are gathered and which appeared in more than one volume. In other words, they are reference oeuvres that brought together specialists in the subject, amongst which the synergy produced by cross-citation systems is observed. This is a process which evidences in itself the consolidation of hypotheses, discussions, dialogues, and controversies.1 Some of these national histories also competed against French history with regard to the volume of books that they gathered, as though quantity stood for historical greatness as evidence of significant impact on a global book history. Instances of this include The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain and A History of The Book in America. Edited by John Barnard, David McKitterick, and Ian Willison, the first volume on the British history was published in 1998; the seventh and last one, in 2019. The work about the USA is made of five long volumes edited between 2000 and 2010, under the general supervision of David Flail. In this internationalization cycle, for the Hispanic world, only Historia de la edicion en Espana (1836-1936), directed by Jesus Martinez Martin, can be included. Its first volume makes reference to the temporal axis between 1836 and 1936, and was published in Madrid by Marcial Pons, in the year 2001. It was just in 2015 when a second volume focusing on the period between 1939 and 1975 appeared.2

It is important to link these academic enterprises with a “cycle of internationalization”, a decisive factor for the consolidation of spaces of scientific specialization. There are at least two other indicators of this process: the creation of professional associations and the multiplication of academic events.3 In 1991, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP), the main international association of specialists, was founded.4 Over the period, academic meetings were multiplied until in 2005 they were interspersed with a large international event. I refer to the colloquia that SHARP managed to stabilize at the International Congress of Historical Sciences (ICHS), a big ecumenical event of historians held every five years. In July of that year, this massive global event took place in Sydney and hosted the colloquium entitled Le livre, I'edition et la lecture dans le monde contemporain. Its organization was led by Jean-Yves Mollier, Jacques Michon, and Martin Lyons, renowned researchers of this area of expertise in France, Quebec, and Australia. While in France, Roger Chartier was the main reference for the studies about the Modern Age, Mollier gained prominence as leader researcher on the publishing practices during the Contemporary Age.5 Michon is the author of Histoire de I’edition litteraire au Quebec au XXe siecle 1900-1930 (Montreal, Fides, 1999). His distinguished position was consolidated as of 1985 when the University of Sherbrook founded Groupe de Recherche sur l’Edition Litteraire au Quebec (GRELQ). Lyons had a similar role when studies on the written and printed culture were introduced in Australia, at the University of New South Wales, home of the 20th ICHS.

In those same decades, in Latin America, some “national” histories were published, but in no case was this emergence related to such an international movement, as may be observed from the hypotheses, writing styles, and bibliographic references. One case is Books in Brazil: A History of the Publishing Trade (Scarecrow Press, 1982), written by English librarian Lawrence Hallewell. The Brazilian translation was published in 1985 by T. A. Queiroz and Edusp. In 2005, this last publisher launched a second illustrated version, which extended to include 800 pages and came in a bigger and more luxurious format. As for Argentina, in 1985 there arose El escritor у la industria cultural (The Writer and the Cultural Industry), written by literary critic Jorge B. Rivera, and published by Centro Editor de America Latina. Furthermore, La edicion de libros en la Argentina: Una empresa de cultura (Book Publishing in Argentina: A Cultural Enterprise), written by historian and publisher Leandro de Sagastizabal, and published by Eudeba in 1995, can be mentioned.

There are similar features in Historia del libro en Chile: Desde la colo- nia al bicentenario (History of the Book in Chile: From the Colony to the Bicentenary) by literary historian Bernardo Subercasseaux, a book which was published in 1993 by Andres Bello.

The Sydney conference aimed at synchronizing the several projects of national histories of publishing which were conducted or underway in the central countries, as well as encouraging the knowledge on the histories of books in regions about which little or nothing was known. This chapter originated with the invitation to the colloquium in Sydney. The “national models” notion was the common denominator for the discussion stimulated by that event. A model meant singularity and power of “irradiation” (rayonnement, as the French call it), or international influence of particular national experiences. When thinking about this aspect, I asked myself: to what extent is the history of Argentine publishing singular? How is it integrated into the Ibero-American cultural space? What particularity does it observe in relation to the rest of the publishing markets in Latin America? In order to address these questions, I set out to highlight the most conspicuous features of Argentine publishing history, together with pondering upon the ways in which such history had been thought of and written up to 2005, as carefully as possible, as required by the responsibility that I assumed, to bridge the gap between my national academic community and the international space, which truly consolidated in the Sydney event.

Publishing in Argentina may be conceived as a model in relation to three dimensions of its configuration: (1) the signification of foreigners and the transnational space in printing, bookselling, and publishing; (2) the centrality of the projects that since the beginning of the 20th century sought to affirm the belief in an important mass of readers through various series of “cheap books”; and (3) the action of Argentines who participated decisively in the connection between the different Latin American markets and in the consolidation of the Ibero-American book space. As opposed to the case of Brazil, for instance, it is impossible to understand the history of Argentine publishing in an isolated way, by disregarding the Ibero-American scale which determines its specific differentiation. Before interpreting such features, I will present a brief history of historiography about the book and publishing in Argentina.

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