Bill Bell

Bill Bell founded the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh in 1995, of which he was Director until 2012. He has held visiting posts at the Australian National University, the University of Ottawa, and St John’s College, Oxford, Jadavpur University, and the University of Göttingen.

He is a member of the Council of The Bibliographical Society and from 2008 to 2014 was Editor of the its quarterly, The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society. He has served on the advisory boards of a number of organisations, including the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals (RSVP) and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP). He is one of three editors of Palgrave Studies in the History of Media and has served on the advisory boards of several publications, including the American annual Book History.


Bill specialises in 19th-century literature and culture and has written extensively on the sociology of the text, the history of the book, and theories of cultural production. He was for several years a member of the editorial team of the Duke–Edinburgh edition of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle (vols 19–24) and is general editor of the Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland (4 vols, Edinburgh University Press), of which he was also editor of volume 3, Industry and Ambition, 1800–1880 (2007). He is joint author of Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing and Publishing 1760–1860 (forthcoming from University of Chicago Press) and is completing Crusoe’s Books: Journeys through the Textual Imagination, a study of itinerant reading communities.

Bill would welcome enquiries from potential graduate students who intend to pursue research in the areas of bibliography, book history, and the history of reading, particularly relating to the nineteenth century. He also has ongoing interests in theories of cultural production, utopian writing, literature and religion, the history of English studies, and the works of Matthew Arnold.



  • Co-editor, The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, volumes 19–23 (Duke University Press, 1993–96).
  • Joint Editor, Across Boundaries: The Culture and Commerce of the Book (Oak Knoll, 1999).
  • Joint Editor, Nineteenth-Century Media and the Construction of Identities (Palgrave, 2000).
  • General Editor, The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, vol. 3: Industry and Ambition 1800–1880 (Edinburgh University Press, 2007).
  • General Editor, The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, vol. 4: Diversity and Professionalism 1880–2000 (Edinburgh University Press, November 2007).
  • General Editor, The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, vol. 2: Enlightenment and Expansion (Edinburgh University Press, 2012).
  • Co-author, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859 (Chicago University Press, 2015 forthcoming).

Articles and Essays

  • ‘Critical Opinion: The Function of Arnold at the Present Time’, Essays in Criticism (July 1997).
  • ‘Print Culture in Exile’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada (Spring 1999).
  • ‘Victorian Paratexts’, Victorian Literature and Culture (Spring 1999).
  • ‘Bound for Australia: Shipboard Reading in the Nineteenth Century’, Journeys through the Market, ed. by Robin Myers and Michael Harris (British Library, 1999).
  • ‘Beyond the Death of the Author’, Book History, 3 (2000).
  • ‘From Grub Street to Parnassus: Matthew Arnold and the House of Macmillan’, Macmillan: A Publishing Tradition, ed. by Elizabeth James (Palgrave, 2001).
  • ‘Bound for Botany Bay; or, What did the Nineteenth Century Convict Read?’, Against the Law, ed. by Robin Myers and Michael Harris (British Library, 2004).
  • ‘The Scottish Book Trade at Home and Abroad’, Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature, vol. 2 (Edinburgh University Press, 2006).
  • ‘Reading between the Lines: Literature on the Western Front 1914–1918’, Journal for the Study of British Cultures (2007).
  • ‘What was Book History?’ Modern Intellectual History (November 2007).
  • ‘A Place in the World: Britain and the International Book Trade’, Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 6 (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • ‘Crusoe’s Books: The Scottish Emigrant Reader in the Nineteenth Century’, The History of the Book in the West, volume 4: 1800–1914, ed. by S. Colclough and A. Weedon (Ashgate, 2010).
  • ‘One Great Confederation: English Tourists in Nineteenth-Century Europe’, in ‘Die Bienen fremder Literaturen’: Der literarische Transfer zwischen Großbritannien, Frankreich und dem deutschsprachigen Raum im Zeitalter der Weltliteratur, 1770–1850, ed. by Norbert Bachleitner and M. G. Hall (Harrassowitz, 2012).
  • ‘”Think on these things”: The Reading Subject in 19th-Century Missions’, in Construction of the Other, Identification of the Self: German Mission in India, Studien zur Orientalischen Kirchengeschichte, vol. 45 (LIT Verlag, 2012).
  • ‘Signs Taken for Wonders: An Anecdote Taken from History’, New Literary History, 43 (Spring 2012).
  • ‘Authors in an Industrial Economy: The Case of John Murray’s Travel Writers’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 21 (Winter 2013).