Towards A Multimodal Ethnohistorical Approach: A Case Study of Bookplates

O'Hagan, Lauren (2019). Towards A Multimodal Ethnohistorical Approach: A Case Study of Bookplates. Social Semiotics, 29(5)


This study uses four examples of bookplates printed in Edwardian Britain (1901–1914) to demonstrate how the adoption of an ethnohistorical approach to social semiotics can vastly strengthen multimodal analysis. It argues that situating choices of image, colour, typography and materiality in archival research and the broader sociohistorical context of the Edwardian period can help to uncover the external motivations for a bookplate’s structure. The case study reveals that bookplate designs were primarily influenced by the social status and wealth of owners, as well as the specific, well-established norms of the bookplate genre. It also highlights the significance of connecting semiotic choices to the traditions of Edwardian society and the ways in which meanings can shift over time. The findings demonstrate the importance of grounding hypotheses concerning the function and form of artefacts in concrete historical documents, in addition to the vast potential of this methodology for exploring other texts within a particular historical period.

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