Studies on the Book and Publishing in Argentina

In Argentina, the book and publishing were consistent with the evolution of the national culture and the State. By the first decades of the 20th century, a differentiated space for bookstores, printing houses, and publishing houses that revitalized an intense literary, intellectual, and scientific activity was already apparent. Back then, the literacy of the majority of the native and foreign population, and the development of several spheres of cultural activity (journalism, literature, fine arts, cinema, and the radio) shaped the edges of modernity in this country. Compared to other Latin American realities, the histories of literature and culture of this period refer to Argentina as a modern, “literate culture” (cultura letrada).6

History and literature have based their domination in the academic field, with the study of the full modernity of letters and politics, in the consolidation process of the national culture ranging from the end of the 19th century to the 1940s. How original national and continental thinking was in the framework of contemporary Western history stood out as a structuring problem in the chapters that those disciplines consecrated to the legitimate culture. Therefore, it would not have been unusual for the essay and the history of ideas to become the most valued discursive and printed forms for reflecting upon these processes. As in other national cases/ these choices are consistent with a scarce legitimacy of studies about material forms, as well as the social and economic conditions of the existence of symbolic goods, about the properties of cultural practices as social facts, among others. In Argentina, the studies looking at the book and publishing have been, in general, complementary chapters of works about legitimized and distinguishing subjects: literary genres, authors’ works, intellectual movements of political impact.8

Up to 2006, the history of the book in Argentina was mainly dealt with outside the university. Bibliographers, librarians, essayists, publishers, and booksellers have written a considerable number of works about the history of printing houses, some about bookstores, and about certain publishing houses. An exemplary work of this repertoire is Domingo Buonocore’s. Between the 1910s and 1950s, he was the author of press articles and books in which the institutions and illustrious men of the printed culture were depicted.9 This includes some brief essays about specific companies: for example, the Coni and Peuser printing houses or the Lautaro publishing house.10 There were also memoirs and autobiographies.11 Another segment is formed by diagnosis of the publishing industry that includes significant historic, bibliographic, and statistical data.12

In the 1990s, the Boletfn and the Estudios series by Sociedad de Estudios Bibliograficos Argentinos (the Society of Argentine Bibliographic Studies) made valuable contributions under the direction of Jose Luis Trenti Rocamora. A context that was favourable for reflection upon the practices of publishing (both its technique and history) was the Career in Publishing at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, founded in 1990. Despite its technical- professional approach, the activities performed by professors such as Leandro de Sagastizabal and Ana Mosqueda in that course engaged students’ and alumni’s intellectual interest in the historical and social knowledge of the national publishing sphere. Since such an undergraduate programme was not academic or scientific, it is understandable that, regardless of the efforts put into it, it was not a context powerful enough for the academic legitimacy of an autonomous field of expertise.

In the academic world, until 2006, the most successful and longest history of print culture had been that by literary critic Jorge Rivera. In El escritor у la industria cultural13 (The Writer and the Cultural Industry), the history of the printing houses, bookstores, and publishers arose as a means to understand the social, political, and material conditions and periods of the professionalization of the writer. In recent years, the field of literary studies shows a renewed interest in including book production as a specific means to understand the evolution of the national literary system. Along with Jose Luis de Diego and his team, in-depth works by Patricia Willson (2004) and Graciela Batticuore (1999) can be mentioned. They are researchers whose analyses includes some of the recent problems of the international history of publishing together with an academic approach.

In 2006, there were so many happenings that it may be postulated that this was a foundational year for academic studies on the book and publishing in Argentina. (1) the launch of Editores у politicas editoriales en Argentina -1889-2000 (Publishers and Publishing Politics in Argentina. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica), a collective work organized by Jose Luis de Diego; (2) the foundation of the research group called “Cultura escrita, mundo impreso у campo intelectual” (Written Culture, Printed World, and Intellectual Field), at the Museum of Anthropology of the National University of Cordoba; (3) the emergence of Paginas de Guarda, a journal specialized in studies on print culture and created in the framework of the Undergraduate Program in Publishing of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA)14; (4) the edition of El libro en la cultura latinoamericana (The Book in Latin-American Culture. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica), authorship by Gregorio Weinberg - the only essay (very brief, by the way) about the history of the book at a Latin American scale15; (5) the publication of Centro Editor de America Latina. Capitulos para una bistoria by Monica Bueno and Miguel Angel Taroncher (Centro Editor de America Latina. Chapters for a History. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI) - a monographic study about this major publisher founded and directed by Boris Spivacow between 1966 and 1990.

In the collective work directed by Jose Luis de Diego, there appeared endless studies about the specific impact of publishing; that is, as a sphere that is not just a result of aesthetic creation but rather a coercive force. Nonetheless, in some passages of that work, publishing is only taken as an appendix to rethink the national literary canon. The literary bias was also observed in other important monographies, including those in which Fernando Degiovani (2007) analysed the Biblioteca Argentina (Argentine Library) - a series created by Ricardo Rojas that performed a decisive role for the intellectual conflicts that surrounded the celebrations of the centenary of Independence.

Amongst the historians, the first who stood out in the contemporary scene of studies about the book and publishing in Argentina was Leandro de Sagastizabal with La edicion de libros en Argentina: Una empresa de cultura (The Book Publishing in Argentina. A Cultural Enterprise). Published by Eudeba (the University of Buenos Aires UP) in 1995, this book is made of unequal, fragmentary, and, in some aspects, shallow chapters. However, De Sagastizabal’s intention to consider publishing as a subject for researching and teaching is valuable.16 Subsequently, this author answered doubts about his approach by a thorough study on the Bibliography of the Argentine Republic by Navarro Viola (1879-1887) (De Sagastizabal 2002). The importance of the works prior to that by De Sagastizabal should also be considered, such as Luis Alberto Romero’s (1990), which looked at the signification of the cheap book and the cultural politics of socialism.1' This text, though, focused on broader ways to deal with cultural history that did not lead to specialized or systematic research about books and publishing houses.18

From another analytical side, there are Horacio Tarcus’s (2001) projects which emerged, mainly, from his research about Samuel Glusberg, a publisher from Buenos Aires who was significantly influential for the literary vanguards and for the political projects conducted by Peruvian Jose C. Mariategui, a remarkable Marxist intellectual during the 1920s. In 1998 Tarcus founded the Centre for Documentation and Research of the Left-wing Culture in Argentina (Cedinci).19 This institution is a model for the generation of the necessary conditions for studies on print culture and intellectual formations. Last, the growing significance of publishing proposed by Carlos Altamirano should also be taken into account. His study of this practice arose from his research with Beatriz Sarlo (1980); it emerged indirectly in some of his individual works, and it expanded in some topics required in the history and culture sociology agenda promoted by the Centre for Intellectual History of the National University of Quilmes (UNQ). In this centre, it should be noted that Alejandro Blanco regularly devotes himself to publishing in order to delve into the history of sociology in Latin America. His works include, for instance, detailed chapters about the roles of Gino Germani and Jose Medina Echavarria as series directors and translators.20

In the past years, monographic works that look at various forms of publishing history in Argentina have increased remarkably. Since it is impossible to mention all of them, I would like to put emphasis on two Cordobese contributions: the works by Alejandro Dujovne (2015), which focused on publishing in the history of Judaism and the Jewish Book in Argentina, and by Ana Clarisa Agiiero (2017), which considered the history of print culture in Cordoba of the first quarter of the 20th century. Dujovne’s studies are indeed important because they concentrate on a world of immigrants who were different from the Spanish ones, but with a significance which may be homologous to these in order to understand the evolution of publishing in the country. Agiiero may be the first to break Buenos Aires-centred atomism to reveal the scope of the history of publishing away from the capital. She shows that the experiences in Cordoba were not a result of the print activities held in Buenos Aires but rather created specific forces to differentiate cultural practices and careers, which, in some cases, reached a national and international dimension.

As a conclusion to this brief overview, the gaps in the dynamic Argentine research space cannot be overlooked. It is important to reaffirm that, until 2006, in Argentina, works on the book and publishing had barely interacted with the reference works in international academic scene. It seems that a critical and comparative approach to the international area of studies on the book and publishing provides information about the variety of topics and issues that could densify this national academic space: monographies of dozens of singular undertakings, studies about experiences in various urban and regional contexts, research studies concentrating on the publishing of non-literary genres, economic and legal analyses, histories of institutions, analyses of the role of the State, approaches from material bibliography and the sociology of texts, ethnographies of fairs and of the uses of printed goods. It goes without saying that a research study about the book and publishing must necessarily include an extremely ample system of connected roles, positions, specializations, and institutions: authors, translators, paper manufacturers, graphic companies, booksellers, literary agents, fairs, libraries, trade unions, and the education system. As I will show, the geographical and mental limits of Argentina are just some of the causes and conditions that give shape to this publishing history. A transnational perspective is essential.

This area of academic specialization multiplied with more research teams, materialized in new publications, and was consolidated from 2012, when the first Argentine Colloquium of Studies on the Book and Publishing (CAELE) was conducted. This event includes more than 100 presentations on average.21 At present, the amount and diversity of researches make it hard to present a general view of publishing studies in Argentina. Although I will try, I prefer this text to keep the spirit which, in 2005, encouraged me write it for the Sydney colloquium, when we still did not have a differentiated area of studies.


This chapter shows an outline of the history of the book and publishing in Argentina over the long term (1810-1950). Even at the risk of presenting a simple general account, this choice is justified by the aim of organizing progressive differentiation thresholds of publishing practices, by signalling those printed forms, as well as patterns of professional action and thinking which have distinguished the history of the production, circulation, and uses of the books in Argentina from that in other Latin American locations. To this end, I insist on three hypotheses that should describe such history: foreigners and the transnational space, the cheap or “within everyone’s reach” book, and the Ibero-American scale.

At the very beginning of the 20th century, the Biblioteca La Nacion (a series of 875 titles published by the newspaper La Nacion between 1901

and 1920) confirmed the existence of a wide general public, eager to read fashionable subjects, classic authors of universal literature, and representative works of Argentine letters and thought. The genesis of this reader community creation process dates back to the policies of education, science, and library promotion, as well as book publishing and the press encouraged by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento from the 1860s.22 Nevertheless, the genesis of a social division between the practices of both book market (production and diffusion) and literature dates further back: the former practices were developed by foreigners who arrived in the country with the knowledge acquired in their places of origin; the later by members of the creole elite, most of them trained or exiled overseas. A balance between writers (producers of texts) and book specialists (producers and retailers of printing goods) is essential to grasp an opposite and complementary relation correlative to the foreign-national one that structures any national culture and the publishing fields in particular.23

Additionally, the end of the Spanish Civil War (1938) determined, as has been sufficiently demonstrated (Esposito 2010), the fate of all publishing markets in the continent. As we will show in Chapter 3, the exile of republican intellectuals and publishers in Argentina and Mexico strengthened the alliances between the agents and companies of these markets at a time when Argentina already had a differentiated cultural space and became, mostly due to the standstill in Spain, the main Spanish-language publishing centre.24 From the 1940s, the prospects in one country and the other were more and more interdependent; the market scale became definitely Ibero-American. That is why it is a good strategy to observe some dimensions of the Argentine publishing field from Mexico through the history of Fondo de Cultura Economica (FCE), a publishing house which is almost a synonym for Mexican books. In effect, most of the initial choices of the FCE catalog oriented towards the social and human sciences were made by contrasting them with the profile of the Argentine publishing houses for continental distribution, which disseminated literature, essays, and psychology. It was the Argentine Reformist Arnaldo Orfila Reynal who spearheaded the arrival of FCE books in the southern part of the continent and, from 1948, directed the Mexican publishing house for 18 years. His career helps characterize a type of social, publishing, and academic experience which asserts certain constant relationships in the configuration of Hispanic American publishing fields up to our recent times.

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