Poring over card catalogues? Check. Feeling oddly compelled by titles, cover copy or illustrations? Check. Scrutinising author photographs and biographies, publishers’ colophons and blurbs? – I’m just going to come right out and say it. Queer readers are closet book historians. For much of the last century and the early years of the present one, a necessarily partial, subjective canon of queer literature could only be strung together by tenacious readers willing to follow such tenous, coded “threads of connection”, which depend as much on material books and their paratexts as on their content. “Before love”, as Valerie Rohy puts it, “there was the library; before intimacy, before identity, before community, there were books”. But although the links between sexuality and textuality are well-rehearsed, the scholarly fields of book history and bibliography have been somewhat slower to accommodate queer theories, methods and pedagogies.
Discussions on how to decolonise academia are far from new. As scholars, we are keenly aware that the current privileged knowledge structures have co-built the world we live in with all its shortcomings. Besides the wider effects of these discourses and narratives, the way in which we have studied book history has also been affected. This was the larger topic that gave way to the panel on decolonising book history that took place during SHARP in Focus on 15 June 2020 organised by Melanie Ramdarshan Bold and Danielle Fuller. ☛ ☞