AAS Summer Seminar in the History of the Book

dailycolorWhat do we think about when we think about the history of the book in the U.S. South (for those of us prone to think about such things, that is)? It is received wisdom that the South was much less industrialized than the North in the first half of the nineteenth century. And, if print was one of those areas of production that was subject to increasing industrialization, it must follow that there was less printed matter in the South: fewer books and newspapers, and consequently also fewer writers and readers.

Instead (so the story goes), the South was reliant on the expansion of distribution networks by northern publishing houses, particularly in Philadelphia and Cincinnati. The result is an image of a regional print culture that depended on a select set of texts produced in another region while it studiously shunned other texts (no abolitionist pamphlets, please—their prohibition was the goal of the 1835 Abolition Postal Campaign). The end result was a world of print that, by the time of the Civil War, was stunted in its growth.  In fact, Southern newspaper publishers were spurred by the paper shortages caused by the war to resort to such outlandish solutions as printing newspapers on the back of patterned wallpaper, as in this May 1863 issue of the Weekly Junior Register of Franklin, Louisiana in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.

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But is this actually true? Or, put more broadly, what happens when we view the imagined community of U.S. print culture from the vantage point of the South? This is the animating question behind this year’s American Antiquarian Society Summer Seminar in the History of the Book in American Culture, “The Global American South and Early American Print Culture,” to be held from June 14-18 at the AAS. While AAS is often thought of as a northeastern archive, our holdings—which are national in scope—offer tremendously rich resources for the study of print culture in the global South, including not just materials from the United States, but also from the Caribbean and Latin America. The seminar will rely in particular on the Society’s Edward Larocque Tinker Collection of Louisiana Literature and History.

This year’s seminar will explore how a reoriented book history that looks at U.S. print culture from the south might challenge and inform emerging transatlantic, transnational, and cosmopolitan histories of the United States. How did a region that asserted its “American-ness” while insisting on a distinctive sectional identity appear in the world of print, and how did it engage with the wider world through the realm of print culture? How did book distribution, authorship, reading, censorship, and copyright work to shape lived experience in the South? Throughout the week, we hope to use the riches of the AAS collections to uncover some of the ways that print culture in the South was different from that in the North—wallpaper newspapers!—as well as some of the things that they had in common (as shown in the two booksellers’ ads below).

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The seminar will be led by Jeannine DeLombard and Lloyd Pratt. DeLombard is Associate Professor of English and Acting Director of the Centre for the Study of the U.S. at the University of Toronto. Pratt is Assistant Professor of English and African-American Studies at Michigan State University. Advanced graduate students, college and university faculty, librarians, and independent scholars are encouraged to apply. The deadline for applications is March 12, 2010. Details and application forms are available here.

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Paul Erickson

Paul Erickson is the Director of Academic Programs at the American Antiquarian Society.

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