Prof. Dr. Bill Bell

Bill Bell

Dr., Professor für Anglistics
University of Cardiff, Great Britain

Studied English Literature in Lynchburg (Virginia, USA),
Bowling Green (Kentucky, USA) and Edinburgh

Research Project
Crusoe’s Books/Regimes of Knowledge

Both of my research projects seek to explore the causes and effects of an increasingly mobile European print culture throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first of these projects relates to the cultural practices of a number of itinerant communities, with particular emphasis on the way in which they intersect with historic reading practices. The iconography of the exiled reader has a long literary genealogy, from ›The Tempest‹ to ›Robinson Crusoe‹, accompanied by a wealth of pictorial images representing readers under strange skies, all of which shed light on the operation of the ›imagined community‹ in the high colonial period. Diaries, correspondence, and official reports bear witness to the importance of print for the perpetuation as well as the transformation of colonial ideology in a number of contexts.

While it is often assumed that commercial enterprise followed the flag in the nineteenth century, there is also evidence that the geographical movement of books and other printed texts, as carriers of culture, was a powerful agent in the spread of colonial values. By the mid-nineteenth century, the production of emigrant manuals, travel guides, railway timetables, maps and almanacs, was at an all-time high. In this sense, books were not only carriers of expansionist ambitions but were central to the formation of a new global information order. Among the reading constituencies to be examined are Scottish emigrants in
the New World, convicts in Australia, polar explorers, and troops in the First World War. Also of interest in this regard are the reading and printing practices of nineteenth-century missionary communities, in which printed texts operated as important agents for cultural encounter. The relationship between reading and the circulation of print, in India for instance, is highly complex. Not only did it have an impact on the transformation of native cultures, but also had a considerable effect on missionary mentalities themselves.

My second, related, project addresses the importance of books, libraries, and other artifacts to the spread of intellectual culture between European centres during the Enlightenment and after. The publishing, collecting, and translation activities of intellectuals in this period were central to the creation of, and engagement with, an international community of the mind. Drawing on the methods of both intellectual history and the history of the book this aspect of the research will seek to locate the production, circulation, and reception of ideas within the material culture of the period.

Selected Publications

Bell, B. 2007. The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland. Volume 3: Industry and Ambition 1800-1880. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bell, B. 2009. »Worlds Elsewhere« in D. McKitterick (ed.): The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Volume 6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bell, B. 2010. »Crusoe’s Books: The Scottish Emigrant Reader in the Nineteenth Century« in S. Colclough and A. Weedon (eds.): The History of the Book in the West IV: 1800-1914. Farnham: Ashgate.

Bell, B. 2011. Commentary: Selkirk’s Silence. Times Literary Supplement. 17 March, 2011.

Bell, B. 2012. Signs taken for Wonders: An Anecdote taken from History. New Literary History 43(2): 309-329.