Imperial Publishers And The Idea Of Colonial History, 1870-1916


  • Leslie Howsam University of Windsor


History, HIC, 2005, Leslie Howsam


Drawing on correspondence in their archives, this article discusses British publishers' engagement with the problem of colonial history from the 1870s to 1916. This was the period when history was becoming professionalized but, apart from J.R. Seeley, few academic historians were writing marketable books on imperial subjects. The publishers turned instead to colonial administrators or journalists while failing to recognize the originality of texts by colonists themselves. The methodology is a juxtaposition of historiographical issues with those raised by scholarship in the history of the book and print culture. The publishing history of Seeley's Expansion of England (Macmillan, 1883) is followed by three case studies concerning imperial narratives in English publishing houses: Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, and Macmillan & Co. The central argument is that the agency of publishers in the composition and conceptualization, as well as the marketing, of colonial histories has been neglected. The essay nuances the debates about early imperial historiography and enriches book-history scholarship by extending its methodologies to non-fictional sources.

Author Biography

Leslie Howsam, University of Windsor

Leslie Howsam's current research concerns history books regarded both as material objects and as the vehicles of historiographical practice. She applies the methods and theories of "history of the book" to the historical discipline in a way similar to the methodologies used in literary and history-of-science studies. She has been at the University of Windsor since 1993 and was appointed Professor in 2003. She became General Editor of the University of Toronto Press series Studies in Book & Print Culture in 2000 and in 2004 was elected as founding President of the Canadian Association for Studies in Book Culture/Association canadienne pour l'étude de l'histoire du livre. She is a Trustee of the Cambridge Project for the Book and a Director of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing. Her publications include: Cheap Bibles: Nineteenth Century Publishing and the British & Foreign Bible Society (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Kegan Paul: A Victorian Imprint: Publishers, Books and Cultural History (University of Toronto Press, 1998); and "Book History Unbound: Transactions of the Written Word Made Public," Canadian Journal of History (April 2003). She has been appointed to the J.P.R. Lyell Readership in Bibliography at the University of Oxford for 2005-2006.