A pamphlet is an unbound booklet (that is, without a hard cover or binding). It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths (called a leaflet), or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book. In order to count as a pamphlet, UNESCO requires a publication (other than a periodical) to have "at least 5 but not more than 48 pages exclusive of the cover pages"; a longer item is a book.
The word pamphlet for a small work (opuscule) issued by itself without covers came into Middle English ca 1387 as pamphilet or panflet, generalized from a twelfth-century amatory comic poem with an old flavor, Pamphilus, seu de Amore ("Pamphilus: or, Concerning Love"), written in Latin. Pamphilus's name was derived from Greek, meaning "friend of everyone". The poem was popular and widely copied and circulated on its own, forming a slim codex.
Its modern connotations of a tract concerning a contemporary issue was a product of the heated arguments leading to the English Civil War; this sense appeared in 1642. In some European languages other than English, this secondary connotation, of a disputatious tract, has come to the fore: compare libelle, from the Latin libellus, denoting a "little book".
Pamphlets can contain anything from information on kitchen appliances to medical information and religious treatises. Pamphlets are very important in marketing as they are cheap to produce and can be distributed easily to customers. Pamphlets have also long been an important tool of political protest and political campaigning for similar reasons.
Ephemeral and to wide array of political or religious perspectives given voice by the format's ease of production, pamphlets are prized by many book collectors. Substantial accumulations have been amassed and transferred to ownership of academic research libraries around the world.
Particularly comprehensive collections of American political pamphlets are housed at New York Public Library, the Tamiment Library of New York University, and the Jo Labadie collection at the University of Michigan.
The pamphlet has been widely adopted in commerce, particularly as a format for marketing communications. There are numerous purposes for the pamphlets, such as product descriptions or instructions, corporate information, events promotions or tourism guides and are used in the same way as leaflets, brochures.
- UNESCO definition
- OED s.v. "pamphlet".
- On-line Etymology Dictionary.
- In German, French, and Italian pamphlet often has negative connotations of slanderous libel or religious propaganda; idiomatic neutral translations of English pamphlet include "Flugblatt" and "Broschüre" in German and "Fascicule" in French. In Russian and Romanian, the word "памфлет" in Russian Cyrillic, "pamflet" in Romanian also normally connotes a work of propaganda or satire, so it is best translated as "brochure" ("брошюра" in Russian, broşură in Romanian). (DEX online - Cautare: pamflet)
- Oakley C. Johnson, Marxism in United States History Before the Russian Revolution (1876-1917). New York: Humanities Press, 1974; pg. vii.
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- Randy Silverman, 1987. "Small, Not Insignificant: a Specification for a Conservation Pamphlet Binding Structure", The Book and Paper Group Annual 6. Historical overview focusing on pamphlet binding.
- 19th Century British Pamphlets Online. Information about a project that digitised 26,000 19th century pamphlets from UK research libraries.