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2003-2004 Visiting Fellows

John B. Hench
American Antiquarian Society

The generous support of the Friends of the Princeton University Library enabled me to spend a highly productive month (mid-July to mid-August 2003) doing research in Mudd and Firestone libraries on my announced topic, "A D-Day for American Books in Europe: Overseas Editions, Inc., 1944-1946." In a nutshell, my project deals with a little- known program developed toward the end of World War II to put American books into the hands of civilians abroad as soon after liberation from the Nazis as possible. This undertaking--a joint venture by the Office of War Information, the US government's principal propaganda agency, and the Council on Books in Wartime, a not-for-profit organization established by the publishing industry-was designed to meet both important propaganda goals for the government and the desires of American publishers to expand substantially their sales of books and reprint and translation rights abroad in the postwar years. A series of specially published paperbound books called Overseas Editions (supplemented by a parallel series produced by the OWI office in London known as Transatlantic Editions) formed the core of the program, but books were procured in a variety of other ways as well. My research interest in the subject grew out of my collecting over the last several years.

In the work I had done prior to taking up my fellowship (reported in papers given at recent meetings of the American Studies Association and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing), my approach was to demonstrate how the program 1) answered the government's needs to provide solid reading material for the liberated populations to counteract years of Nazi censorship and propaganda (and, incidentally, to provide an alternative to Soviet propaganda), 2) helped make American book publishing a far greater force in the international marketplace than it had been before the war, and 3) represented a phase of the export of American culture in general in the twentieth century, which was, ironically, both eagerly received by the rest of the world and deeply resented. My month's work at Princeton bolstered my general findings, while, not surprisingly, introducing subtleties to my thesis. Happily, I ended my month feeling more confident that I actually had a book here. In fact much of my work at Princeton suggested several new chapters that I had not previously contemplated. The research has convinced me to broaden my coverage, both chronologically and geographically. Chronologically, the book I now envision will begin earlier in the war, around 1942, and end around 1948, in order to include an important US-Army sponsored mission of American book publishers to study the revitalized publishing industry in Occupied Germany. Geographically, it will expand to examine implementation of the books program in Asia and the Pacific, and subsequent American publishers' business relations with those regions, not just Europe.

I spent about one-third of my time working in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, the rest of it in the Rare Books and Special Collections department in Firestone Library. I had visited Mudd three or four times before my fellowship, but had never worked in RBSC. What had drawn me to Mudd over the last several years were its holdings of the papers of the Council on Books in Wartime, the nonprofit entity that the publishers and related trades had set up to give a focus to their efforts to help the nation win the war. At the request of OWI, the Council established a separate nonprofit organization, Overseas Editions, Inc., to publish a small series of books in English and several foreign languages to project a positive view of America for the liberated populations of Europe. I had read most of the documents pertaining to the Overseas Editions, but needed to finish that task as well as to explore contextual materials within the more general Council archives.

In contrast, the manuscript collections in RBSC were virgin territory for me. I spent my time there going through five collections of publishers' papers: Henry Holt and Company; William Sloane Associates; the John Day Company; Charles Scribner's Sons, and Publishers' Weekly. I needed to look at publishers' papers for two principal reasons: to try to glimpse the operations of putting books in the hands of liberated Europeans from the vantage point of individual publishers (as opposed to the perspective of the government through the OWI and that of the publishers through the Council on Books in Wartime) and to try to determine whether individual publishers' international trade, both through the export of physical books and the sale of rights for foreign editions in English and in translation, did in fact rise toward the end of the war and in the postwar world, and, if so, how dramatically. For the former objective, I found much useful information about publishers' relations with the Overseas Editions and related projects and determined that the publishers were not quite so united in their attitudes toward the program as the collective view represented by the Council might have suggested. For the latter, I was hoping to find financial records that would definitively show strong uptakes in the value of exported books and the sale of foreign rights. I did not find terribly useful records, unfortunately, largely because publishers tended to aggregate their income from subsidiary rights, for example merging revenues from sales to the Book-of-the-Month Club with the sale of translation rights, say, to Gallimard in Paris. I did find much useful information on many specific foreign rights transactions, though it is not highly susceptible to systematic quantification. On the other hand, I found much non-statistical evidence of a rather frenzied effort on the part of individual publishers to participate in what they universally hoped would be a lucrative postwar international trade.

The collections I studied each contributed to the more sophisticated understanding I believe I had acquired by the conclusion of my fellowship. Taken as a group, they provided a wonderful picture of the American publishing industry in the middle of the twentieth century as a clubbish industry still dominated by Ivy League-educated males who professed loftier goals than just the bottom line. Several of the collections were particularly helpful in challenging or extending my thinking about my subject. For example, the papers of Princeton graduate William Sloane were instrumental in suggesting the need to extend the boundaries of my project both back and forward in time. The John Day Company papers forced me to broaden my geographical view. This publishing house had long specialized in books about Asia-Pearl Buck was not only its most famous and highest-producing author but also the wife of the publisher, Richard Walsh-so it should not have been surprising that the Day papers would add a different point of view, one that saw future markets in Asia and the Pacific as being at least as important as those of Europe. The Publishers' Weekly papers were valuable in a very different way. These papers of the leading trade journal for the industry consist mainly of clippings of articles from PW during the war. Because they were arranged into topical folders (e.g., paper rationing, censorship, translations) they served almost as a synopsis or index to all of the various issues that book publishers had to confront in wartime. The occasional letter to or from PW's publisher, Frederic Melcher, also added value. Because the holdings of the Princeton libraries are so vast and rich, I did not finish all I had set out to do. I still need to do more work in the Day and Scribners papers and there are other collections I did not have time to examine at all. So I shall return some day.

I expect to make use of the work I did on my fellowship in various ways. For one thing, I am committed to contributing a piece on my general subject for publication in Volume 5 of A History of the Book in America, which the American Antiquarian Society is producing for publication by Cambridge University Press in association with the Society. I expect I will give additional papers at scholarly conferences and, perhaps, bring them out as journal articles. But, as I said, my month in Princeton was crucial to helping me sketch out the contours of a book. I have already had a couple of expressions of interest in the book from university presses. Working as a senior administrator within an independent research library as I do, I do not have large blocks of free time for additional research and writing. Thus, I cannot predict when I will finish the book, but I am fully committed to getting it done as soon as possible.

I am most grateful to the Friends for establishing this fellowship program and for having the confidence in me and my project to select me as a recipient. One of my most pleasant duties throughout my thirty years at the American Antiquarian Society has been to award research fellowships to hundreds of other scholars. I am happy to say how nice it was to be on the receiving end this time. Please extend my thanks to the officers of the Friends and to the fine staff at both Mudd and Firestone.


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