This course offers a unique opportunity for students of book history, literary studies and related disciplines to experience at first hand surviving archives of the British book trade. Using the unparalleled resources available in libraries in London and Reading, students will work with a wide range of documentary evidence to explore the internal workings of a publishing house and understand the entirety of the publishing process from the submission or commissioning of manuscripts, to the marketing, distribution and retail of published products, and the life survival of texts.

Publishers’ archives come in all shapes and sizes. The records of many firms have been lost and most collections are fragmentary. Students will learn about the history and organisation of book trade archives in the UK and related matters of ownership, access, copyright, and digital preservation. They will also learn how to negotiate collections that are only partially catalogued and to overcome gaps in material. Although the importance of publishers’ records as business archives and as a source for economic history will also be explored, the main aim of the course is to discover what publishers’ archives can tell us about author/publisher relations and the workings of the publishing and bookselling industries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Collections to be explored are likely to include: Macmillan, Bentley, Longman, Allen & Unwin, Frederick Warne, A & C Black, Chatto & Windus, Hogarth Press, Mills & Boon, Ladybird, and Peter Owen. In addition to working closely with surviving documents, the course will also offer perspectives from archivists involved in the preservation of publishers’ records.

You can learn more about the course from the following podcast:  

Additional Information

Learning Outcomes

  • To introduce students to some of the common characteristics of publishers’ archives and to understand how to locate and access material.
  • To learn about the internal workings of the publishing process through examination of documents held in publishers’ archives.
  • To discover what archival sources can tell us about the practice of authorship and author/publisher relations, and the workings of the printing, publishing and bookselling industries across the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
  • To learn about the history and organisation of book trade archives in the UK and related matters of ownership, access, copyright, and digital preservation.
  • To provide the student with the opportunity to examine and work with first-hand evidence through extensive teaching and research in archival collections in London and Reading.
  • Briggs, Asa, A History of Longmans and their Books, 1724-1990: Longevity in Publishing (British Library/Oak Knoll Press, 2008).
  • Gettmann, R. A., A Victorian Publisher: A Study of the Bentley Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960).
  • James, Elizabeth (ed.) Macmillan: a Publishing Tradition (Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave, 2002).
  • McAleer, Joseph Passion’s Fortune: the Story of Mills & Boon (Oxford, 1999).
  • Nash, Andrew, ‘Publishers’ Archives, Authors’ Papers, and Literary Scholarship’, in David C. Sutton and Ann Livingstone (eds), The Future of Literary Archives: Diasporic and Dispersed Collections at Risk (Leeds: Arc Humanities Press, 2018), pp. 115-125
  • Unwin, Stanley The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1926).


Classes on Tuesday and Wednesday will take place at the Special Collections Department of the University of Reading

Reading is easily accessible from London via London Paddington Station (c.25 minutes) or direct from the University of London area on the Elizabeth Line. Return fares cost around £25. Further guidance and information on travelling to Reading will be provided in advance of the course. Students are responsible for the costs of travelling to Reading on the two days.

The classes on Thursday morning will take place at the British Library. All other classes will take place in Senate House Library. 

Course Tutor

Dr Andrew Nash

Reader in Book History and Director of the London Rare Books School