Book Review: Stephan Füssel, Corinna Norrick-Rühl: Einführung in die Buchwissenschaft. Darmstadt: WBG, 2014.

Guest post by Elisabeth Böker, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Stephan Füssel, Corinna Norrick-Rühl: Einführung in die Buchwissenschaft. Darmstadt: WBG 2014. 142 pages. ISBN: 978-3534235445.


Recently, an introduction to book studies was published in the reputable series „Einführung“ (Introduction) of the WBG (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft). The authors of Einführung in die Buchwissenschaft are Stephan Füssel and Corinna Norrick-Rühl of the Institute for Book Studies at the University of Mainz, in cooperation with Dominique Pleimling and Anke Vogel. Einführung in die Buchwissenschaft functions less as a compendium than as an outline to selected questions of the field. The book aims at giving students an overview of the subject. Additionally, it wants to support B.A. students of book studies and related subjects with the necessary background information. Einführung in die Buchwissenschaft starts with an introductory chapter and is then further divided into three parts. Chapter two (Wissenschaftsgeschichte des Faches Buchwissenschaft) examines the historical dimension of the discipline of book studies. Here Stephan Füssel observes a first acknowledgement of the importance of the book for the dissemination of knowledge in the year 1460 when a writer expressed in a book’s colophon that the invention of the printing process was a “gift of God’s grace” (“Gnadengeschenk”). Füssel then traces the discussions surrounding professional instruction in the book trade from 1460 until today, Worth mentioning are for example the self-reflections of the publisher Georg Joachim Göschen (1752-1828). Göschen said that an education for booksellers is necessary, as they should not only know their business area but also the publishing business. A short overview of the range of book studies programmes at the different universities in Germany today concludes the chapter. The author not only presents the institutions in Germany but also lists international organisations and research institutions. Chapter three (Traditionelle Arbeitsfelder der Buchwissenschaft mit historisch-kulturwissenschaftlicher Perspektive) introduces several fields of inquiry within book studies from historical and cultural perspectives. The author of this part, Corinna Norrick-Rühl, mentions four big research areas. One of them is the materiality of books where scholars have focussed on the development from parchment to paper, book covers or typography. Another one is the book trade and the historiography of publishing. Norrick-Rühl briefly introduces other important books and series which are standard works on that topic or give an insight to book studies research– like Wittmann’s Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels (History of the German book trade) or the Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens (Archive for the History of Bibliology). She also turns to the importance of archives and their problematic situation in the age of digitisation, raising the readers’ awareness for these issues. The two other research fields she introduces are the dissemination of literature as well as bibliophile and provenance research. In the fourth chapter (Neuere Arbeitsfelder der Buchwissenschaft mit sozialwissenschaftlicher, ökonomischer oder juristischer Perspektive) the authors refer to current topics such as reading and reader research, book market studies, questions of copyright and the economics of publishing. For example, they outline different types of publishing houses and their professional divisions, such as marketing or public relations. The chapter focuses on the most important approaches only. Especially, the part about the e-book market and social reading is very insightful. The reader gets an overview of the latest developments and the current situation of the market, as well as the critical debates and discussions of the pros and cons of e-books. Students thus also perceive the value of book studies for critical reflections on media change. All in all, the book is very useful and well structured. It was overdue that an introduction to book studies is published in German – there are already some in English-language works such as The Book History Reader by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery or Perspectives on American Book History by Scott E. Caspar, Joanne D. Chaison and Jeffrey D. Groves. The target audience of Einführung in die Buchwissenschaft gets a useful overview, especially since the most important topics of the B.A. programmes (above all the one at the Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz) are covered. Particularly helpful additions are the boxes of methodological guidance and career opportunities for book studies students. Unfortunately, as common for the WBG introduction series, the book rarely uses visual aids; only two are presented – an image of an impressive title page from 1619 and a table on book formats. Other tables and visualizations, such as e.g. a chart of the different types of publishing houses, would have been convenient, because a well-structured schema besides a text helps to better understand complex themes. However, the key terms highlighted in the text’s margins are a very helpful addition. It is clear that in an introduction of 140 pages only the most important topics of book studies can be mentioned. Beyond this, the book provides an extensive bibliography of recommended titles for further reading. This list is very profitable for students, in particular since important titles are marked with a star.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: