Focus on Societies

Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing

Established in 1992, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) is the premier scholarly organization for those investigating the history of the written word from its earliest incarnations to its latest digital forms. SHARP members study the composition, mediation, production, distribution, reception, survival, and transformation of written communication in material forms including marks on stone, script on parchment, printed books and periodicals, and new media. 

Highly interdisciplinary, the society supports a dynamic, international community of book historians and media scholars from a broad range of disciplines. Members are predominantly from the university academic community, but SHARP membership also includes independent scholars, cultural heritage and information professionals, and some editors and publishers. With more than one thousand members in over forty countries, SHARP works in concert with affiliated academic organizations around the world to support the study of manuscript, print, and digital cultures.

Whether exploring the social, cultural, and economic history of authorship, reading, and publishing; the history of the book trade, copyright, censorship, and underground publishing; the roles of ethnicity, gender, class, and colonialism in the development of print culture; the history of libraries, readers, and reading; the history of literacy, its changing definitions, and its patterns of development; the roles of printers, illustrators, reviewers, and more in the production and reception of works; the study of newspapers, periodicals, and ebooks; canon formation and the politics of literary criticism; media transformations and digital materiality; or the book as a material artifact, an aesthetic object, a conveyer of ideas, or a commodity, SHARPists are engaged in the fundamental humanities mission  of studying how texts and cultures interact. With the rapid media transformations our world is experiencing today, the topic of texts, technologies, and culture holds significant interest among those outside the academy as well. Thus, SHARP through its members affords a rich means for advancing the humanities and demonstrating its continued, crucial relevance not only within academic communities and institutions of higher education but also beyond to the public at large.

Conferences, Publications, Awards, and Collaborations

What began as an idea for a new society at a 1991 conference on "Masterpieces in the Marketplace: Victorian Publishing and the Circulation of Books" rapidly expanded beyond its Anglo-American roots in Victorian print culture to embrace a world-wide body of interdisciplinary scholars whose work focused on the history of written communication in all times and places. The spirit of exchange, collaboration, and collegiality that characterized SHARP’s founding moments has been a hallmark of its annual international conference and sponsored focused meetings. While its annual conferences have traditionally alternated between North America and Europe, its focused meetings have occurred around the globe including locations in Australia, Italy, India, and Brazil. No matter the locale, SHARP conferences have earned a reputation for their highly welcoming atmosphere and stimulating intellectual exchange. Since 2010 the annual conference has harnessed Twitter to draw in large numbers of participants from around the globe who could not otherwise attend.

SHARP publications maintain and extend this sense of strong community throughout the year. Its long-lasting and popular listserv SHARP-L—one of the pioneering online, interdisciplinary academic forums—has created a highly active, virtual community of exchange and fellowship. In addition, SHARP publishes a quarterly newsletter SHARP News (established in 1992) that has recently transitioned from print-only to PDF distribution and will soon be transformed yet again into a sustainable, flexible online-only platform that harnesses the interactive capabilities of the digital environment. SHARP hardcover annual Book History continues its tradition of publishing the quality and variety of articles that earned its designation of  “best new journal” by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals in 1999.  

Annually SHARP awards the George A. & Jean S. DeLong Book History Prize to the best monograph published in the field that year and a graduate student essay prize. As part of SHARP’s efforts to advance work in book history around the world, rare book schools in the U.S. and abroad and digital humanities institutes and workshops can vie for SHARP scholarships to support early career and independent scholars who are members of SHARP. As part of its international efforts, SHARP provides a number of travel grants to graduate students, academics from emerging nations, and independent scholars to attend the annual meeting. Finally, SHARP is involved in a serious of outreach and collaborative projects. For instance, in addition to translation projects, it is involved with Brill’s project Book History Online, a large-scale scholarly electronic resource that merges traditional scholarly publishing models with innovative online search, discovery, and distribution options.

For more information on the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing, visit