Something Old, Something New: Updates on the Program in the History of the Book

In his October 1983 report to the Council, former AAS President Marcus A. McCorison outlined the founding of the Program in the History of the Book (PHBAC), an ambitious initiative that set out to unite four areas of the Society’s work: collections, scholarship, fellowships, and publications. 

In the same 1983 report, John Hench, then assistant director for research and publication, listed a wide scope of activities under the new program, including an annual lecture series, new workshops and seminars, and a host of publications. Among these publications, Hench described,  “A newsletter [that] will keep scholars informed of activities of the Program and of similar work elsewhere . . .”  This newsletter was soon titled, The Book.

Published from 1983 to 2008, The Book served as the chief means by which PHBAC communicated with its various constituencies about the Society’s annual summer seminars, the annual James Russell Wiggins Lecture, and the progress of the five-volume series A History of the Book in America. It also served as a venue for the publication of essay reviews and substantive pieces on research collections and on research in progress. The collection is not only an important marker in the Society’s institutional history, it is also a valuable resource for the development of the History of the Book as a field of study.

This spring, The Book newsletter was digitized in its entirety.  Each issue is now available online in two formats: as a web-based flipbook and as a downloadable PDF. 

This collection is available here:

Virtual Book Talks

One of the latest activities of PHBAC is the Virtual Book Talk. This series showcases authors of recently published scholarly monographs, digital-equivalents, and creative works broadly related to print history and culture. During each installment, an author speaks about a recently published work and responds to audience questions. Programs can include an informal lecture around major points of the work, discussions of the archival research or creation and publication process, and readings from published texts. Programs typically last 45 minutes to one hour long. At the present, they will be streamed live on the Web and recorded for posterity. These programs are free but require advanced registration. 

Our first guest is Derrick R. Spires, Associate Professor of English and affiliate faculty in American Studies, Visual Studies, and Media Studies at Cornell University. Spires specializes in early African American and American print culture, citizenship studies, and African American intellectual history.  His first book, The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), won the 2020 Bibliographical Society/St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize and the 2019 M/MLA Book Prize. He is a General Editor for the Broadview Anthology of American Literature and serves on the editorial boards of American Literature and Early American Literature.

In The Practice of Citizenship, Spires examines the parallel development of early black print culture and legal and cultural understandings of U.S. citizenship, beginning in 1787, with the framing of the federal Constitution and the founding of the Free African Society by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and ending in 1861, with the onset of the Civil War. Reading black print culture as a space where citizenship was both theorized and practiced, Spires reveals the degree to which concepts of black citizenship emerged through a highly creative and diverse community of letters, not easily reducible to representative figures or genres.

Questions about the event may be directed to Kevin A. Wisniewski, Director of Book History and Digital Initiatives, at To register for this event or to find out more about similar online programs, please visit:



Published by

Kevin Wisniewski

Director of Book History and Digital Initiatives, American Antiquarian Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *