Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coffee Table History Books

Bookstores are rife with picturesque coffee table books these days.  When browsing I tend to do a cursory scan of the coffee table books related to history.  Some of the most common topics are built heritage, pictorial biographies of public figures, local history, and the history of everyday topics like beer.

I particularly enjoy the books that focus on built heritage.  Some of my favourites are a book on the construction of outhouses and another book on the architecture styles of barns in Ontario.  Both of these works are comprised mostly of pictures, with explanatory text as supplementary information. 

I recently discovered an old (1964) copy of The Ancestral Roof: Domestic Architecture in Upper Canada by Clarke Irwin on my bookshelf.  Unlike a lot of modern day coffee table books, Irwin's work is more text based with pictures as supplemental to his discussion of architectural styles. 

The text heavy style of Irwin's book made me consider the evolution of visual histories and popular publishing.  I'm willing to bet that the majority of the public are far more willing to buy a pictorial history of the CPR then they are a giant tome detailing the rise of rail transportation in Canada.  But perhaps, pictures can be used to inspire a more detailed discussion of a topic and can be integrated into traditional historical approaches to reach a greater audience.

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