Book History and Antebellum American Literary Studies

 Cite this Paper 1

Douglass, Frederick. “Part II. Life as a Freeman,” My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)

In the past decade, book history and print culture have become common keywords in the broader field of American literature. The overlap between American literary studies, particularly the period of the nineteenth century, and that of book history (a field that broadly includes scholarship in textual bibliography, print culture studies, and new media studies) is not entirely new. Jerome McGann,2 for example, a pioneering figure in the study of the “textual condition” of scholarly editing, has offered researchers of both fields for the past two decades important insights into the literary, material, and rhetorical conditions of text as physical mediums of socially mediated and linguistically constituted meaning. Even earlier, Jane Tompkins3 employed a methodology akin to book history practices to contest the gendered, myopic framing of an Antebellum literary tradition that excluded women writers from the canon. Tompkins called for a more socially situated analysis of early American print culture to the markets of reception and the institutionalized knowledge forms that shape literary “opinion” in past and present contexts. More recently, scholars of African American literature, such as Leon Jackson,4 Eric Gardner,5 Lara Cohen and Jordan Stein,6 and Jeannine Marie DeLombard7 have called for a book history approach in the study of African-American print cultures of the nineteenth century to examine the diverse means by which African American writers, editors, printers, and activists enacted formations of community and the self through print and a range of textual transmission modes.

A recent trend, however, toward a broader adoption of book history can be attributed to the rising influence of transatlantic, postnational models taking hold in literary scholarship in and across the 1990s and early 2000s. This post-national turn reflects a concerted challenge to the role and rule of the nation-state as a governing framework through which to evaluate literature, on the one hand, and for enacting the field’s political formations, on the other. As a result, American literature scholars have begun to more broadly normalize, in a manner of speaking, a practices of critique first employed by feminist and African American literature scholars across the 1960s and 1980s to destabilize the monolithic account of an American literary history based on claims to a stable literary genealogy, a singular idea and ideal of Americanness,  and a boundaried and bounded national culture of print. Such an operation of critique aims to resituate within the scope of literary scholarship otherwise understudied or excluded texts, contexts, and concepts that posit a more diversified field of literary making and inquiry in the history of American literature. To counter the essentialist politics of literary nationalism and rewrite the character of Americanness itself, book history currently speaks to the “political struggle” that is the writing and reading of literature by attending to the power dynamics at work across all stages of production, dissemination, and interpretation of the textualized and aestheticized verbal encounter. It underscores a text’s dissemination into cultural markets as mediated and mediating embodiments of cultural value systems.

For contemporary book history scholars, the text functions as a demonstration of not just the physical and linguistic forms of culture in print but the societal processes of textualized cultural transmissions.  Moreover, exposing the problematic self-referentiality of both theories of text and practices of textual analysis in traditional book studies and literary scholarship, book history scholars emphasize the cultural contingencies that govern all forms of textual engagement. In response, they resist treatments of the text as a tractable artifact or employable “proof” for authenticating and authorizing stratifications of society or stabilizing and essentializing structures of value and meaning. Alternatively, they posit negotiated models of the text as a conditionally emergent, embodied, and distributed medium of cultural. The text and its message shape and are shaped by as much their “origins” and “destinations” as by the so called “intentionalities” that animate their transmission. As fluctuating and pliable expressive forms, texts are no more individuated or neutral than the various agents involved in their conceptions.  Therefore, textual study necessarily needs to be situated to the social, material, linguistic, and technological conditions of the many lives of texts.

In the following field, I will frame the role of book history in the current, more widely concerted turn toward a decentralized, de-essentialized, situated study of antebellum literature by first giving some background into book history studies and its sociality of text methodology. Then, I will examine how the field of Antebellum literature has been reshaped by scholars advocating a socially and materially conditioned study of text as a direct response to F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance, which, though not inclusive of the complex of antebellum print transmissions, largely remains the standard frame by which those in and outside the institution posit the meaning and meaningfulness of American literature. Finally, I will address the current work being done by scholars of African American literature, who are now experiencing a book history turn. More specifically, I want to consider not only the contributions of book history to antebellum literary scholarship but the contributions of African American literature scholars to the study of text and textuality, particularly the ways the concept of author, the text-circuit, and the role of the literary in worlding a socio-civic story space speak to McGann’s caution against reifying any one theory of textuality over what he proposes as a conditional study of embodied textual experience.  In short, the transformative moment in antebellum literary studies is currently defined by its investment in networked, distributed, decentralized, and de-essentialized evaluations of the text in its particularly embodied, socially realized relation to its historical and cultural practices of (re)writing and (re)reading, not as origin and destination but as (in) process.

| An Introduction: the “social turn” in Book History

In her overview of the present state of the fields of Book History and Textual Media studies,8 Jessica Pressman suggests both converge through a shared philosophy of text that addresses “the codex as a medium—as a material technology with physical properties and also as an object that mediates cultural process and practices.”[1] That culture is meaningfully mediated by the message’s medium[2] and that the text is always-already an unstable artifact of human verbal activity[3] currently provide the generative conceptual ground from which book history scholars enthusiastically study the language signs, knowledge systems, and social conditions of text and textuality. However, the idea that the text may refract as much as it reflects historically situated aesthetic meaning and the cultural significance of authoring, printing, and textual circulation constituted a troubling problematic for early iterations of the field. In charting the historical formation of book history studies, David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery examine how early practices in textual bibliography treated the mediated transmission of texts as something of a nuisance. “New Bibliographic” scholars of the first half of the twentieth century, as they explain, approached the study of print as a process through which to reclaim the authoritativeness of the text from the destabilizing effects of the text-circuit.[4] From conception to production to the reception and reconception by the marketplace, mediation was abound in the history of books—it was extra-textual, post-authorial, and for these early scholars, it was bad.

Weeding through the “errors” of a text’s transmission in search of the authoritative edition, early bibliographic scholars looked “to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ versions of works” by addressing books as “physical objects,” “determining differences in type, paper, ink, printing methods,” and appealing to an idealized horizon of acceptable meanings.[5] Where the formal character of texts (i.e., its “physique”–a combination of its physical properties and claims to its disembodied essence) was the evidence, the “precise textual intentions” of the author constituted the premise. And where printers, editors, publishers, distributors, and even readers—the company of agents incorporated in the processes of textual transmission, were seen as consequential to the study of books—it was only insofar as they were negatively esteemed as “‘corrupt[ing]’ original authorial intentions” through, for example, un-uniformed habits of setting type or editorially controlled orthographic interpretation.[6] Early book history’s reactionary effort to re-stabilize the text by distinguishing between reliable and “unreliable printed versions” of an author’s work and disassociating it from the social conditions of its emergence, however, helped introduce an important methodological condition for the future of the field: the “sociality” of texts.  

By the 1960’s, the idea of the “socialization of text” began to take hold and formally reorient the field’s evaluative claim on the book as a material object and socially mediated process of meaning-making. Rather than negate “the human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission, and consumption,” in favor of authorial intention or a quest for the authoritative text, textual scholars began to introduce “the full range of social realities which the medium of print had to serve.”[7] Around the same time, outside the field of Book History, ideas regarding the social and political determinisms of language, discourse, and textuality began to emerge in post-structuralist and deconstructionist schools of thought, ideas that were influencing media studies, literary studies, and book history. Marshall McLuhan, for example, complicated traditional frameworks for interpreting verbally, vocally, and visually authored forms of cultural expression when he argued for the deterministic function of the material conditions of their transmission. Impressing upon scholars of new media technology that “the medium is the message,” McLuhan posited that the de-formation of the message by its medium not not only made possible its modality but its cultural meaning and meaningfulness as well. Walter Ong, in his study into orality, literacy, textuality, and emerging computer technologies, “praised” the “artificiality” of writing as an important technology in human linguistic affairs. Writing forever “transformed human consciousness,” Ong suggested, “Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally when it is composing its thoughts in oral form.”[8]  Contesting the principles of textual authority and the stability of meaning in New Critic’s formalism, on the one hand, and responding to the treatment of written language as a derivative of orality (a secondary status) by structuralists, on the other, theorists such as Jacques Derrida and Paul De Man argued for both the significance of the textual sign and the negative possibility of grounding meaning in textual analysis due to the “metalinguistics” at work in the rhetorical operations of poetics.[9] Additionally, the priorly governing author function and idea of the text as an autonomous aesthetic artifact widely embraced by the broader field of humanistic practice were increasingly being scrutinized as reductive attempts to delimit the text in favor of an order or origin of discourse.[10] Roland Barthes, most notably, called for the “death of the author” and the birth of the reader in response. He posited that the “origins” (i.e., author) of the text cannot be authentically traced or authoritatively normalized, as language is merely a series of impersonal signs whose referent always remains a de-individuated abstraction (i.e., there are only “subjects” operating in the complex field of verbal activity). As an alternative framework, Barthes pointed to the text’s “destination” (i.e., its readers) as a more proper locus for encountering what one might claim as an event of textually unified meaning. Destination, however, also remains a dependant rather than independent variable — it necessitates a readerly subject, a certain someone somewhere, a subjectivity “who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted.”[11] 

As these theorists began to rethink the origin(s) of the text in relation to its transmissions and destinations—to reconsider the primary, secondary, and even tertiary modes of linguistic exchange and study the seeming impossibility of meaning in a world of infinitely possible readings—book history studies found theoretical grounds for more fully accounting for the social alongside the physical and aesthetic conditioning of texts. A leading figure during this transition in the field of textual bibliography was D.F. McKenzie, who strongly advocated for bibliographic research to change its “negative” attitudes toward the extra-textual conditions of the making of books. McKenzie called for the sociality of text as a necessary future of the field. “Physical bibliography–the study of the signs which constitute texts and the materials on which they are recorded–is of course the starting point,” he announced to his colleagues regarding the book as an “expressive form,” but the material object itself,  he explained, “has no adequate means of accounting for the processes, the technical and social dynamics, of transmission and reception, whether by one reader or a whole market of them.”[12] McKenzie was concerned with the field’s disavowing “the distracting complexities of linguistic interpretation and historical explanation” in favor of its so-called scientific method of examining “the non-symbolic values of the signs.”[13] 

In “Printer of the Mind: Some Notes on Bibliographic Theories and Printing-House Practices” (1969), McKenzie posited the meaning and meaningfulness of a text should be understood as resulting as much from the material conditions of its own history as the bibliographer’s and all prior agents involved in its “transmissions” (6). McKenzie outlined a “positive” theory in response to a deconstructionist concept of the “deformative” nature of texts. He wrote,

[O]nce we acknowledge that the physical book as a whole is a rich complex of signs, each of which has its own human history and all of which unite to create the ‘finished’ book as a palpably articulated ‘text’ (to form it, not de-form it), then we enter an entirely new, more positive and, for me at least, more exciting phase of textual criticism (190)

For McKenzie, the mediatory function of extra-/post-authorial agents of textual making shouldn’t be seen as corruptive, deformative result. Rather than treat the text’s always-already instability as a negative condition that either should be overcome (early bibliographers, structuralists, new critics in literary studies) or, alternatively, could never be outdone (post-structuralists, deconstructionists), he saw that the study of text, in the levels of “orality, literacy, and print,” afforded as much a window into the creative energies of authors as it did printers, editors, and all involved in the medium and mediation of text. Textual analysis became an opportunity to meditate on and theorize social history itself–to examine the reciprocal mediation of text and culture, textual culture. In short, he began to set the terms for book history studies to engage in a situated, or textured, study of print in culture where the social history of texts was no longer apart but a part and necessary point of textual analysis. The text’s destabilizing, deformative conditions — at once social, symbolic, physical — were perhaps the only “normal” (i.e., constant) aspect of textual studies (190).

McKenzie’s mark on the future of book history was to promote the idea that “[t]he book as physical object” is not “inert” matter, but an “expressive form,” “its so-called objectivity, its simple physicality, is really an illusion.”[14] Texts are very much “alive with the human judgements of its makers,” McKenzie wrote, where “each and everyone shared in a creative act, an expressive decision, within a definable historical context, to serve an author’s intention, a bookseller’s pocket, or an implied reader’s comprehension of the ‘text.’” McKenzie did express his concern with a total dismissal of the author, however, as it that would unnecessarily negate degrees of agency from one of a series of necessary agents in the full life of the text. His skepticism of traditional textual criticism rest more in its desire to ground or authorize evaluations of the text at any one stage of textual interaction–as he argued, a “book” is “not…in any sense ‘finished’ until it is read.”

Robert Darton extended McKenzie’s sociology of texts approach by attempting to model and analyze these stages as critical elements within what he termed the “communication circuit.” Adopting a “history from below” philosophy to writing history (“What is the history of books?” 496), Darton argued a history of print must account for all agents involved in the “full” social circulation of texts, from authors, publishers, printers, shippers, booksellers, and “the most difficult stage to study in the circuit that books follow,” readers (17-22). Darton wanted to emphasize the “process of communication” that made possible the “text” (9). He mapped ( by way of his oft-cited “The Communication Circuit” diagram) the structural organization or flow of the social life of the text from a “holistic view of the book as a means of communication” beyond a discipline specific framework (11). Darton’s model shows how the study of the history of book necessitates an analysis of the interactions between texts and the range of human agents involved in their circulation. He also emphasized the “economic, political, and intellectual conditions of the time” that directly “affected” the experience of the text at “all stages” in the circuit (17). And his interest in not just the text but the paratextual components, inter-textual networks, and associated comparative, multi-edition, cross-cultural book histories influenced such scholars as Gerard Genette (Paratext: Thresholds of Interpretation (1987) and Thomas R. Adams and Nicolas Barker (“A New Model for the Study of the Book.” A Potencie of Life: Books in Society; The Clark Lectures, 1986–1987).

Jerome McGann’s ongoing study into what he terms the “textual condition” extends in important ways a combined material and social history methodology of text studies that has had significant impact in both book history and literary studies fields. McGann argues that where textuality most significantly offers a window into “the study of human culture” is in its revealing how our textual “symbolic exchanges” are necessarily “material negotiations.”[15] Writing in the 1980s and 1990s, McGann saw a “poverty of criticism” at work in the scholarship of literary studies, which failed to situate their analysis of linguistic complexity to the material conditions of text, on the one hand, and in the operating theories of text that “lamented” the “intractability” of physical and meaningful experience of the text in this new world of post-authorial hermeneutics, on the other.[16] In offering a new model of textual reading to both audiences, McGann called for a positive “materialist hermeneutics.” As “another way of thinking about texts,” McGann proposed a positive “materialist hermeneutics” to better respond to what McGann argued was the “concrete” “phenomenal event” or “particular” physical embodiment that texts necessitate “on both sides of the text transaction: ‘in’ the text themselves, and ‘in’ the readers of text.” Although resistant to a totalizing theory of text and textuality, McGann’s “study” of text is informed by a governing principle that “change” is the “only immutable law” of the textual condition. Whether “in” the text or the reader, the “variables” that shape or call out a reader or a reading “appear (and multiply) over time.” Where “[v]arious readers and audiences are hidden in our texts,” McGann suggests, “[e]very text has variants of itself screaming to get out, or antithetical texts waiting to make themselves known.”  Because texts require “embodiment,” he argued, readers, through their “particular” readings, “actuate” (i.e., write) the texts anew according to the situated “determinate sociohistorical conditions . . . [that] establish the horizon within which the life histories of different texts can play themselves out.”[17] McGann points to poetry, in particular, as representative of “the inseparability of the medium and the message” and to underscore what he sees as the “autopoietic mechanisms” of texts that “operat[e] as self-generating feedback systems that cannot be separated from those who manipulate and use them.”[18] Creative works operate not as pure information “channels of transmission” but as as “forms of transmissive interaction,” perhaps we might add transgressive as well, that thrive in the “noise” of metaphor and that call attention to both the materiality of text, the sociality of reading, and the shifting conditions of meaning.

The inherent noise of poetic transmission, i.e., the “thickened text,” reveals another “coding network” at work in texts, McGann argues, that is simultaneously linguistic and bibliographic, conceptual and material, message and medium. If text signif[ies] the linguistic . . . from the most elementary forms of single letters and punctuation marks up to the most complex rhetorical structures that comprise the particular linguistic event,” the “physical presentation” of, and “production mechanisms” behind, texts likewise “serve aesthetic ends.” McGann notes, for example, the paratext had intentionality that wasn’t simply a matter of formatting the text but forming it. “The glosses” set in the margins of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” McGann calls out as an example, “make an important historical allusion” that at both linguistic and bibliographic levels “affect the work in the most profound ways” and reveal to textual scholarship the blurring of lines between informational history and the aesthetic meaning transmissions. In the context of modernist literature, McGann points to the debates among bibliographers over how to isolate an authoritative copy-text to emphasize not the intentionality of the author but the text is at work in the texts of Joyce’s Ulysses and Pound’s Cantos. “Intentionality” means something quite different here for McGann than it did for early textual scholars. Rather than the author as centralizing or stabilizing agent in the evaluation of multiple and varied editions, texts themselves express their own forms of intentionality that resist efforts to reign them, as incomplete witnesses, into subordinate relation to an authoritative copy-text. McGann argues, “the textual condition” is neither limited to “the creative expression of an individual’s quest for meaning and order” or the representative “copy-text” that attempts to “rescue the work from the chaos of conflicting and secondary authorities and agents–including the author’s own secondary thoughts” (71-72). From Shakespeare to Dickens to Rosetti to Joyce, McGann reminds us, the presence of various and varied editions of texts reveals each edition is less a “witness” than an agent, that authors and their texts reflect the material and cultural impacts of post-authorial agents in shaping and reshaping the text. In looking to Dickens, moreover, McGann demonstrates the “cooperative consultation” at work in book making between authors and editors and the impact of book market technologies and practices on the form of text. The serialization of texts in the nineteenth century was a common publication process that produced varied and various iterations of a text that had direct impact on the reading practice, sometimes even producing competing ideas of the aesthetic experience of a text. The Pickwick Papers, for example, when properly situated to the conditions of printing, reading, and the profession of writing in the nineteenth century, reflects less a “complete” work, or a book, but a process, a series of edited iterations composed across time, in response to editorial decisions and market tastes, and the aesthetic ambitions of both a writer writing to a historical moment and a reader reading in the moment.  

A Contemporary book history studies methodology situates texts in an always-already state of emergence, as expressive, embodied, and distributed phenomena in process. A key intervention of Book History studies has been, in fact, its attempt to highlight the text as an unstable medium of cultural expression and experience.  As an expressive form, the text is defined by its constant state of transmission, where all agents involved in the process of texts recombine and recondition the meaning and meaningfulness of texts. To study the text is to study conditions of transmission across an ever-expansive spectrum of influence (what McGann refers to as “intentionality”); as an experienced form, its pathways of meaning are conditional and contingent as well. Thus, texts, and therefore scholars of text, necessarily operate through the praxis of situated or particularized knowledge claims; where theory applies, it is at the complex intersection of aesthetics (sense and sense-ability), language (symbolic meaning), materiality (mediated meaningfulness), sociality (relational significance), and technology (distributed possibility). Text and textuality are not only embodied phenomenon, as McGann has innovatively outlined, but emergent and “distributed phenomenon,” as N. Katherine Hayles has more recently argued for in their digital contexts.[19] As writing and reading are necessarily socially situated language acts with equally situated social consequences and rhetorical contingencies, textual analysis involves a study into networks, the net/netted-works. One must attend to the anticipated or unanticipated physical properties, signifying structures, and metaphysical conditions that govern, produce, and reproduce verbal forms of human activity in non-oral formats alongside the paratextual, intertextual, and contextualized encounters they make possible.

| the American Renaissance and the de-Centralized Literary Marketplace

By elaborating on the social, material, and political conditions of cultures in print, book history contributes to the ongoing critique of literary nationalism in American literary studies.[20] The field of antebellum print culture in particular is a site of increased application of book history methodologies. Scholars such as Robert A. Gross, Meredith L. McGill, David D. Hall, Jerome McGann, J. Gerald Kennedy, Lara Langer Cohen, Ryan Cordell, Leon Jackson, and others have significantly shaped the way nineteenth-century American literary studies historicizes the “Age of Print”–  from the early efforts by the state to organize an “extensive republic” through governmental and political technologizing of print in the 1780’s to the period across the 1840’s to 1880’s when literary societies, individual authors, and a more expansive literary marketplace, oftentimes at odds with each other, sought to articulate and circulate a uniquely American culture of literary nationalism. Drawing our attention to the legal, philosophical, and social conditions of a more expanded U.S. print history, a book history approach attends to the “glocalized,” multi-networked flows of print that suggest less a unified culture in or of print than a complex of cultures employing multiple circuits of textual transmission, engaging a range of interested markets, and expressive of various and varied ideas about what constituted an ideal model of literary nationalism.[21]  Elaborating on the business of book, newspaper, and magazine markets, and a uniquely American “culture of reprinting,” they have demonstrated the ways marketplace tastes and sensibilities, the technologies of publishing and the politics of publishers, and social issues and historical events all impacted the form, function, and value of American literary making. From authoring, publishing, circulation, and interpretation, the transmission of texts was decentered. Underscoring the sociology of nineteenth-century literary production, they have also helped revise governing theories on print publics and the constitutive relation between the nation and the literary.

In the antebellum American sociocivic storyspace, the literary mode and markets of print were seen as viable means through which to shape a cohesive national ethos and culture in the response to the unfinished project of democracy. With the rise of print literacies and an emerging print industry in North America during the late 18th century came a broad vested interest in the early nineteenth century to assert the language, values, and sentiments of a newly post-colonial, civically minded public sphere through print.[22] For many antebellum writers, the desire to establish a formally unified and unifying literary tradition was great, for it was believed that to do so was a way to transition away from the lingering “dependence” on “foreign harvests” of thought and the cultural threat of extra-national influence.[23] Equally true, however, the role of print to unify the nation was mostly rhetorical, and access to both print technologies and a national audience was highly limited for many who, as F.O. Matthiessen said of Melville, sought to “rouse his country to its ‘contemporary grandeur'” (654) through a uniquely American literary marketplace. Arguably, the antebellum period (1820-1865) first acquired critical prominence in the historiography of American literature with the 1941 publication of Matthiessen’s American Renaissance: Art and Expression the Age of Emerson and Whitman. Matthiessen proposed (and the subsequent canonizing practices of the academy authorized) that an “idealized” American intellectual and literary tradition — with its characteristic aesthetic and political investment in autonomous authorial expression, self-reliance, universal humanism, and representative nationalism — had its roots in the literary work of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman. Embracing a similar spirit of a democratic, hopeful, unifying literary nationalism he saw expressed in the language of these select writers, Matthiessen argued for their cultural significance to his own contemporaries in an effort to compose a stable genealogy of American literature. These writers, more than any others, according to Matthiessen’s view of their exemplary “Americanness,” “felt that it was incumbent upon their generation to give fulfillment to the potentialities freed by the Revolution, to provide a culture commensurate with America’s political opportunity. Their Tones were sometimes optimistic, sometimes blatantly, even dangerously expansive, sometimes disillusioned, even despairing, but what emerges from the total pattern of their achievement–if we will make the effort to repossess it–is literature for our democracy” (xv).

For Matthiessen,  ”all five writers” constituted a uniquely American “representative practice” to contend with “the myth of the common man” and the function of the poetic mind in the face of an uncertain future.[24] He excluded the broader antebellum literary social landscape within which his “representative men” struggled to achieve cultural relevance and sway because, for Matthiessen, aesthetic merit and philosophical depth over historically situated and socially constituted cultural “influence” or market success of texts were what mattered.[25] Rather than looking to the “best sellers,” Matthiessen’s retrospective vision of an American renaissance hinged on a singular definition of “Americanness” and a treatment of the author and “his” work as autonomous (i.e., attentive to but not affected by the over-determinations of culture and materiality).[26] Matthiesen is not necessarily incorrect in his interpretation of these writer’s aesthetic work and political ideals. And though not interested in making excuses for his narrowed selection, he does deny the existence or importance of other writers, he just does not include them. The real problem, however, is in his approach being employed as the foundation from which future generations would institutionally solidify an “essential, idealized American character” of literary making[27] 

As early as the 1960s, however, scholars working at the intersections of literary studies and cultural studies began to contend with the myopics of Matthiessen’s proposed renaissance framework.[28] Many have offered their own alternative renaissance models that include the historical emergence of multiple print publics and markets across the nineteenth century. The aim has been to unsettle a singular history of American literature that favored a unified print culture nationalism and the autonomy of the aesthetic in exchange for a more situated analysis of the “social and literary environment”of the received and revised canon. David Reynolds’ Beneath The American Renaissance (1988) and Walter Benn Michaels and Donald E. Pease’ collection of essays, The American Renaissance Reconsidered (1989) both represent an early New Historicist interest in extending Matthiessen’s thesis by integrating social history and literary analysis in reading comparatively “major and minor writers” (Reynolds 4).[29]  In many cases, however, criticism of Matthiessen’s framework has made a more transformative shift by challenging the “major” corpus and received notions of “literariness.” There has been a concerted effort to shift attention toward understudied or excluded writers, particularly disenfranchised minority communities, to demonstrate the ways in which other print publics actively employed a diverse range of professional and intellectual practices to enter into and impact the broader antebellum literary market, positing their own varied and oftentimes competing visions of “Americanness” through political and aesthetic critiques of the future of the nation. Rather than bringing these understudied or excluded writers and their texts into harmonious relation to the received canon for establishing their comparative value, the goal has been to locate and define alternative aesthetic models of interpretation and experience at the level of both literary theory and historicized literary making. As Jane Tompkins explains in her critique of the all-male canon, “That tacit sense of what is ‘good’ cannot be used to determine the value of these novels [Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Warner’s The Wide, Wide World] because literary value is the point at issue” (187).

Tompkins and other scholars historicizing and theorizing concepts of femininity, domesticity, and publicity were confronting in full force the low cultural status applied to Antebellum era women’s writing by the academy. They argued that scholars had failed to explain the enormous cultural success of Sara Willis, Susan Warner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Maria Cummins, for example, not for a lack of historical evidence but as a result of their own gendered assumptions about the function of literature and role of literary criticism. The operating “judgements” of the academy of “sentimental writers” was that they “were sadly out of touch with reality.” Tompkins paraphrases this devaluation of women’s aesthetic practice when she notes, according to traditional criticism, “What they produced was a literature of ‘reassurance,’ calculated to soothe the anxieties of an economically troubled age . . . avoiding anything that might make the ‘undiscriminating mass’ of their middlebrow readers ‘uncomfortable.’”[30] In response, feminist scholars argued for the centrality of women’s writing in the American literary marketplace and reframed the value of these women’s own critiques and responses to the problematics of their sociohistorical moment.[31] Tompkins called for literary studies to more closely situate its analyses of historical and contemporary merit of authors and their texts to both their “cultural circumstances” of transmission and to “the social and institutional structures” that “shape literary opinion.”[32] Tompkins points to Hawthorne as an example of how male writers acquired sustained positions in the history of American literature even though such women writers as “Warner and Stowe, who, if anything, outdid him” in addressing the very same social and cultural issues–the “spiritual laws’ that know no nationality” and “the democratic way of life”–that made an antebellum work “American” according to contemporary scholarly opinion.

Claiming that Hawthorne’s literary career and position in the literary political regime of the nineteenth century has often been misunderstood by “modern commentators,” even by Hawthorne himself,  Tompkins underscored how notions of literary value cannot be divorced from the social and ideological conditioning of texts. “George Loring’s reply in 1850 to an attack on The Scarlet Letter,” in which he defends the novel’s accused moral ambiguity by religious critics, stood for her contemporaries as the intellectual statement on the value of Hawthorne’s novel. Tompkins response, however, aims at the way their claims on Hawthorne’s text were self-referential and socially conditioned, revealing less its “innate” literary merit as “a celebration of human individuality” and “the complex nature of moral problems,” were merely reflective of the concerns that they, too, were “preoccupied” with. The Scarlet Letter was positioned as a noteworthy work because it appealed directly to their aesthetic taste and political “point of view,” and their evidence to support such a reading was selectively isolated from the possible plurality of reactions to Hawthorne’s text by his own contemporaries. As the “struggle” over the meaning of a text and the meaningfulness of an author is always a political struggle, as Tompkins counters, one that necessarily includes multiple structures of influence and sites of contention, to study literature is as much about claims to taste as it is about the particular “circumstances” that structure and determine taste itself. “This is not simply because each critic looks at the text from a different point of view or with different purposes in mind,” Tompkins explains, “but because looking is not an activity that is performed outside of political struggles and institutional structures, but arises from them” (251). In the case of Hawthorne, she argues, he and his work have been canonized less for “intrinsic” literary value than the extra-textual social modes of textual and ideological transmission. She identifies “the machinery of publishing and reviewing” operating in the nineteenth century to argue “how … belonging to the right network was [and remains] a precondition for long-standing critical success.” “The conditions of dissemination,” Tompkins writes, “interpret the work for its readers in exactly the same way as definitions of poetry in that they flow from and support widely-held–if unspoken–assumptions about the methods of distribution proper to a serious (or non-serious) work.”

Book history scholars clarify that the print public sphere of the nineteenth-century U.S. was more fragmented than unified, and an American readership was oftentimes more disconnected than linked through print. Gross explains that rather than a centralized, nationally connected market of print production and distribution (i.e., something akin to the British book market, with London as “the print hub”), a U.S. culture of printing was decentralized and “multifarious, embracing a great variety of enterprises and agents on local, state, and national levels, serving diverse purposes by many means, and running on separate tracks of development that only occasionally overlapped.” Trish Loughran, for example, reconsiders the applicability of Benedict Anderson’s theory of print nationalism in a postcolonial U.S. context given the localization of print and reading. The ideal function of print, as Gross notes,  was “purported to embody the sovereignty of the people” and act as the expression of “public opinion.”[33] However, as Loughran and others have demonstrated, these expressive embodiments were highly regional and localized. Loughran casts doubt as to whether textual production was actually a mode through which the modern nation state came into being and out of which a print-public’s sense of national “belonging” emerged. Loughran emphasizes the “local” (networks, publics, knowledges) over the national to argue, “Any one theory of print threatens to reduce the plural possibilities of multiple cultures to one false meaning.” “Early national books,” she explains, “on the one hand, served as symbols of unity; on the other, they were actual objects with limited circulations. In the first guise, they have historically figured a coherent site of national origin, calling forth a unified audience to act the role of national public. In the second, this same ‘public’ emerges as a series of locally bound and locally defined communities—‘publics’ in the most plural, and fragmented, sense of the word.” Print as distributor of both private and public information was often occurring through micro and regional rather than macro and national processes.[34] Moreover, the necessary technologies of information distribution (e.g., the railroad, the telegraph) that would have made possible Anderson’s concept of “simultaneity” were not yet established; a coherent and connected national public may have been rhetorically proposed through print but it remained at most an imagined reality, at least until the “transportation revolution” of the latter half of the nineteenth century.[35] 

An example of the decentralized state of antebellum print culture can be seen in the printing practices and political interestedness of the American newspaper and magazine industries. From the early Republic up through the mid-nineteenth century, the most common mode of entering into print was through American periodicals. Printers and editors determined the content that would be published based on political affiliation and market interests rather than claims to aesthetic value. Charles Sellers writes in The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (1991), “[T]exts circulated freely and authors (as well as editors) often moved from place to place,” and periodicals “arose to target every specialized audience–literati and farmers, doctors and lawyers, women and children, Democrats and Whigs” (371). Literary “tales, essays, and poems,” too, were included within “the unimpeded circulation of ideas and information [that] served the ends of a democratic republic,” as J. Gerald Kennedy explains in Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture (2012), though such materials “followed a more leisurely and inconsistent pattern, one contingent upon unfilled page space” and “privileg[ing] popular appeal over profundity, and sentiment or sensation over subtlety.”

The free circulation and republication of textual material is a central characteristic of antebellum print culture. Showing how print distribution was often a transnational affair, Gross writes there was a steady and highly desired “transatlantic flow of culture” through U.S. print, where, for example, “[n]ewspapers gave pride of place to reports from abroad” and there was a “prominent and at times dominant place of British and European books in American reading.” Not only were British publications being reprinted in great number, but the U.S. was often the port through which printed materials were distributed to Canada and the Caribbean. While the unfettered circulation of pirated literatures helped to meet a growing consumer market’s taste for both American and European literatures, and the spread of American-born literatures through republication expanded the American author’s access to more diverse reading publics, there was a concern among antebellum writers about whether the continued circulation of “foreign books” would impede the project to establish a national literary culture. Poe, for example, who actively “used the diffusion of a culture of reprinting to indulge in brazen, sporadic mystifications of the reading public,”[36] believed the reprinting and reading of “monarchical or aristocratic sentiment” of British born texts would prove “fatal to democracy.”[37] Despite his own reservations about the current state of an American political imaginary, Poe employed the language of “Independence” in “a Declaration of War” against extra-national literatures entering the print marketplace.[38]  The business of print was not immediately profitable for most. Editors and printers of magazines, journals, newspapers were more secure than individual authors trying to make a living through print; very few writers were financially successful, and not until the latter half of the nineteenth century did a more robust profession around authorship emerge. Where the antebellum print market boomed it was through what scholars now refer to as a U.S. “culture of reprinting.” The possibility of reprinting was the result of lax international and national nineteenth-century copyright laws, which enabled newspapers, for example, to repurpose priorly published content to fill the empty spaces in their columns (McGill; Cordell; Kennedy). 

Born out of a resistance to old world, British models of property relation to text, the “publicity” or civicity of print and “widespread dissemination” and reuse were republican values embraced in an American print industry context.[39] Unpacking the legal and cultural debates over authorial ownership of texts in the antebellum period, McGill explains, “Under a republican definition of authorship,” it was widely believed “that Americans should abandon the ‘higher walks of authorship’ because the national literary vocation lay instead in the ‘great work of popularizing knowledge’” (Material Texts 93). A “democratization of knowledge” became a cornerstone philosophical ideal in antebellum print public sphere, “shift[ing the] work of authorship from origination to adaptation and distribution.”[40] Employing a digital methodology to examine such practices of Antebellum textual reprinting, Ryan Cordell theorizes a concept of the “networked author.”[41] The free circulation of printed content in American newspapers challenged the traditional function of authoring. The social and technological reality made possible a range of authorship modes (or nodes) “that were communal rather than individual, distributed rather than centralized.”  As Cordell explains, “Through the process of selection and republication, editors appropriated the collective authority of the newspaper system, positioning their publication as one node within larger political, social, denominational, or national networks, their content as drawn from and contributing to larger conversations across the medium.”[42] Due to the severed lives of texts from their “originators,”  Kennedy and McGann challenge traditional claims to autonomy of literary authors and texts from printing markets when they suggest the “print capitalism” at work was an “exploitative, inherently predatory system [that] performed the cultural work of articulating an imagined nation community.” “The free circulation of books and ideas” enabled “literary texts” to take on “a life of their own,” separate from the author(s)/agents involved in their initial composition, to now “mov[e] across the antebellum landscape from journal to journal, pragmatically re-edited to fit the local needs and available column space” (2).

Book history helps to clarify the historical contingencies of textuality and textual making that may either affirm, deny, or reposition our evaluative claims on culture through literature. A history of copyright law and an operating republican ideal of the publicity of print suggest that our contemporary ideas of intellectual property and literary autonomy don’t easily map onto the antebellum nineteenth century. The practice of reprinting, as well, which enabled the shared dissemination of information and ideas removed from their originating sources of publication or conception, importantly repositions the author as one node among many others in antebellum text networks. By emphasizing the material and social conditions of texts, print technologies, and  alongside  in their study of literature  introduces other narrative forms (newspaper, autobiography, recipes, scrapbooks, etc.), other locations (other than New England or the eastern seaboard), and other communities in/of print into our study of nineteenth-century textual transmission. Book history and print culture methodologies applied to nineteenth-century literary studies helps situate our analysis of the relationship between literature and culture to the actual physical, philosophical, and sociopolitical conditions shaping what was written, read, and valued of the period. They reveals the ways in which authors and their works were impacted as much by their relations to editors, printers, and markets as to notions of ideal or idealized qualities of aesthetic making. It reveals as well the presence of multiple, sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting markets of reception and communities of textual making. Rather than a single, unified circuit of textual transmission, texts were often produced and distributed according to local tastes, technologies, and interests. There were competing ideas about the form and function of literature and the politics of enacting culture in or through print. As such, the meaning and meaningfulness of claims to the alignment of culture to text and tradition depends greatly on the texts, subjects, and contexts selected. It also necessitates a healthy skepticism toward forms of textual analysis and literary histories that treat culture, and its knowledge structures and value systems, as a given, as monolithic rather than embodied, contingent, and negotiated abstractions of lived experience.

Focus | African American Antebellum Print Cultures

Scholars of nineteenth-century African American literature have also sought to challenge a singular history of American literature by more closely situating African American textual production to the material, social, and political conditions of authorship and textual transmission. Despite being denied unfettered access to print technologies and formal literacy education, African Americans across the eighteenth and nineteenth century were actively establishing their own printing houses, editing periodicals, and organizing “literary societies, circulating libraries, political conventions, and church organizations, all of which articulated themselves through print media.”[43] By the mid-nineteenth century, these authors, editors, typesetters, educators, activists, and orators were coordinating to cohere communities through print within which to enact discourses on racial equality, economic opportunity, spirituality, and aesthetic expression.[44]  Lara Cohen and Jordan Stein relate that this early era in American print history marks a key period for African American “print media” (2). For example, as they note, Jupiter Hammon’s “An Evening Thought” 1760 was “the first published poem by an African American”; Briton Hammon’s A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings 1760 was “the first published prose text”; “the first black publishing house, the African Methodist Episcopal Book Concern” was founded  in 1817, and “the first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal . . . in 1827.”  However, as they note, “Despite this historical convergence” between the formation of a broader national print industry and the active textual networks of African American writers in this period,  “print culture and African American literature have rarely been considered in relation to one another” within the field of book history scholars or among African American literature scholars. On the one hand, while book historians and print culture scholars have contributed to scholarly understanding of such concepts as “authorship, readership, intellectual property, textual integrity, literary professionalism, and indeed, literature itself,” they “have been slow to incorporate the evidence of African American literature into these theoretical interventions” (3). Cohen and Stein suggest, however, that African American textual practices and publication methods in the nineteenth century would compliment the field’s increased appreciation for the fluidity rather than fixity of such concepts historically. “African American texts,” they explain, commonly included “meandering plots, numerous plagiarisms, and multiple rewritings” that reflect the common transmission conditions of textuality in the nineteenth century. Moreover, African American writers and their texts during this period “defy nearly any notion of textual stability” and, therefore, contribute to ideas of textuality currently operating in book history scholarship. One reason for book history’s limited attention to African American print can be traced to the notable lack of archival material to support a broader analysis into the various social processes by which African Americans entered into print. On the other hand, “scholars of early African American texts have ignored much theoretical work in book history in favor of stable notions of identity and print.”  As texts historically operated as a critical mode through which to cohere and recompose African American identities and experiences in response to social, political, and economic processes of erasure, such scholars have been hesitant to adopt book history methodologies that destabilize the text, decenter the author, or acknowledge the unavoidable mediatory impacts of autopoietic expression by its medium. The critique of the author function in the context of nineteenth-century African American literature has been productive for traditional African American literature scholars insofar as it asks the field to resist canonizing authors as unproblematically representative of the complex operations of texts and discourse. Equally true, however, the absence or denial of the representativeness of African American writers and their texts by the broader politics of the American literature field asserts the importance of authors and the act of authoring in the life histories of texts. Such writers as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Wilson, David Walker, Martin Delany, Sojourner Truth, Solomon Northup, William Wells Brown, among many others, employed a wide range of rhetorical and literary strategies to call on contemporary audiences to witness the sustaining forms of unfreedom in the nineteenth century, to acknowledge their own complicitness in the institutionalizing of human enslavement, and to “reconsider the meaning of freedom” itself.  As “[t]he vexed relationship between the revolutionary tradition and slavery,” as Sundquist argues, “animated almost every single political and cultural issue of the antebellum years, often in fact providing the grounds on which politics and literature met” (“Literature of Expansion and Race” 244), such writers, as authors and agents, were central to the formation of representative intellectual and literary tradition, at least at the level of a political formation of radical resistance.

Work by Jean Fagan Yellin, John Sekora, Eric Gardner, and more recently, Leon Jackson, Lara Cohen, Jordan Stein, Jeannine Marie DeLombard, Michaël Roy, to name a few primary contributors, have demonstrated the importance of book history methodologies to nineteenth-century African-American print culture. Where Sekora details the complicated relationship between abolitionists and the formerly enslaved persons seeking to write themselves into being, Yellin and Gardner demonstrate the challenges African American writers faced in trying to reach a broader national market without the material and social support of traditional print mechanisms.[45] Gardner as well, in a more recent project, spatially reorients approaches to studying African-American literary and political activity in the nineteenth century away from the east coast centers of Rochester, Philadelphia, and Boston to the “unexpected locations” west in California, Indiana, Missouri.[46] Jackson has helped elaborate on the methodological conflicts between traditional approaches to book history and African American literary studies as well as exposed alternative print economies and markets of exchange that African American writers engaged and that counter current models of valuing acts of authoring and evaluating their textual products: “Borrowing, bartering, gifting, or selling a book an author had written,” Jackson argues, “created webs of connection that were no less important a part of transaction than any money that might have changed hands.”[47] DeLombard has looked beyond the genre of the slave narrative to explore alternative writing forms that African Americans used.[48] In a critique of the author function operating in African American literature in regard to Douglass, for example, DeLombard warns scholars of nineteenth-century African American print to “not allow Douglass’ monumental shadow to obscure other stories” and other modes of African American print cultures. DeLombard argues through a reading of the diaries of Amos Webber, a likewise active though currently less studied figure as Douglass, “In addition to the slave narrative, belles lettres, and the abolitionist press, the mid-nineteenth century saw African Americans participating in other kinds of manuscript and print production, ranging from pamphleteering to diary keeping and the circulation of friendship albums.”

 The majority of African American authors seeking to narrate their histories and put forward social critiques for public reception were limited to the mediation of white abolitionists, and those attempting to enter into print to appeal to interests and tastes that did not align with the abolitionist cause or a strictly anti-slavery purpose (e.g., to write to the economic, spiritual, or social interests of black communities) often had to do so without the financial and material support of abolitionists. A now oft cited case for the strained relationship between African American writers in the nineteenth century and abolitionists can be seen in the history of print surrounding Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who during his own historical moment acquired popularity at an international level, and had fashioned himself into not only an effective orator for the anti-slavery movement but an editor of his own history (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 1845; My Bondage, My Freedom, 1855), newspaper (The North Star, 1847-51), and novel (the Heroic Slave, 1853), was positioned, quite problematically as current scholarship demonstrates, then and now as a “representative man” of the African American slave narrative (see Aljoe, Creole Testimonies, 14-16). Douglass (as we will see below was the case for other black writers as well) had a difficult relationship with William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionist movement. Garrison is famously cited by Douglass in My Bondage as having demanded of him, “Give us the facts . . . we will take care of the philosophy” (cited in Sekora, par. 7). As John Sekora notes in “Mr. Editor, If You Please,” a study into the editorial revisions and remixes of Douglass’ second narrative, Garrisonian abolitionists “muffled [Douglass’] literary [and political] voice” (cited in Sekora, par. 7) and motivated him to self-publish a revised autobiography in My Bondage, going on to become his own editor. However, as Nicole N. Aljoe notes, in her critical discussion of the slave narrative genre as an Atlantic-Caribbean, not just North American, genre, “even the assumed ‘unmediated’ nature of self-written texts” (she identifies both versions of his narrative) “reveals the various rhetorical ‘suggestions’ and interventions by William Lloyd Garrison and the American Anti-slavery society” (Creole Testimonies, 16).

Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), published under the pseudonym “Linda Brent,” has more recently achieved canonical status as a key text in African American literary print history. As much as her narrative is important as a textual account of the sexual violence and familial alienation enacted against the female slave in southern plantation society, it also offers an alternative to the “masculine” model of the American slave narrative (“Jacobs must refashion the lone male paradigm to fit the shaded contours of her life experience as a woman and mother” (Aljoe 14-15) and reveals the challenges black writers, specifically black women writers, faced in locating a viable means for publishing their narratives. Until the 1980s, however, Jacobs’ narrative was treated as a work of possible fiction. Yet, in 1981, Jean Fagan Yellin’s scholarship on Jacobs asserts the authenticity of Jacobs’ account, representing an early effort within African American literary scholarship to engage the archive to uncover a fuller history of African American print history. Working from a collection of letters by Jacobs (acquired from the Post Family Papers) Yellin traces in “Written by Herself: Harriet Jacobs’ Slave Narrative the complex relationship between Jacobs and abolitionist publishers in the North, specifically citing a written exchange between Jacobs and Harriet Beecher Stowe. When having finally secured her own escape from enslavement in the south in 1842, Jacobs quickly became an active member of the anti-slavery work in the Northeast until her death in 1897. The years leading up to the publication of her narrative are of note here, as in addition to facing numerous attempts to have her recaptured into slavery, her attempts to appeal to the abolitionists of the north to assist in her publication were unsuccessful. Jacobs reached out to Stowe at first, hoping to gain backing for her own narrative. However, it is revealed in her personal letters to Amy Post (“a feminist abolitionist” and “her confidante” (481)) that, owing to the time and financial costs associated with composing her own manuscript, Jacobs had originally planned to offer a “dictated narrative” to Stowe. Following a series of attempts to engage Stowe in a discussion of Jacobs’ narrative, Stowe refused to help her publish her own narrative in a letter to the wife of N.P. Willis with whom Jacobs was employed in New York, asking instead that if the “sketch of Jacobs’ sensational life” that her friend, Post, had forwarded on her behalf could be verified as “true,” Stowe would publish it as part of The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (482). The following quote from a letter from Jacobs to Post after the fact reveals the negative impact of this brief encounter:

It embarrassed me at first, but I told her the truth; but we both thought it wrong in Mrs. Stowe to have sent your letter. She might have written to inquire if she liked.

Mrs. Willis wrote her a very kind letter begging that she would not use any of the facts in her Key, saying that I wished it to be a history of my life entirely by itself, which would do more good, and it needed no romance; but if she wanted some facts for her book, that I would be most happy to giver her some. She never answered the letter. Sh [Mrs. Willis] wrote again, and I wrote twice, with no better success . . .

I think she did not like my objection. I can’t help it. (482-3)

Eventually, Jacobs would go on to publish her own manuscript “with the help of black abolitionist writer William C. Nell and white abolitionist woman of letters L. Maria Child.”

Yellin’s research not only recovers an important narrative in the history of nineteenth-century African American letters; it adds to the history of black women’s writing as a profession by unpacking in great detail the economic, social, and racial conditions facing such writers hoping to secure entrance into the broader print public sphere.

Harriet Wilson’s 1859 Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is another important text for examining the history of black women’s writing in the nineteenth-century and the immeasurable importance of African American book history scholarship for the future of the field. In a lucid and highly insightful effort of scholarship, Eric Gardner’s 1993 “This Attempt of Their Sister” moves impressively between print history archival work to recover a complicated history of publication around Wilson’s formally lost narrative to a series of intervening claims about nineteenth-century print culture in New England and the historical significance of Wilson’s text to scholarship today in understanding the operations and attitudes of abolitionist discourse in the increasingly racialized northern territory. Published anonymously in September of 1859 by George C. Rand and Avery in Boston, Wilson’s Our Nig received almost no public attention, disappearing entirely from American literary history until it was recovered again by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1983 (226). The obscurity of Wilson’s narrative has “troubled” and “surprised” African American literary scholars, as Gardner notes Gates as stating in his introduction (see Gates xxx). Gardner suggests that when understood through the lens of its publication history, and a more careful assessment of the politics of race operating in the years leading up to the Civil War that shaped the business of print, it shouldn’t be “surprising” that Wilson’s text, to cite Gates’ own concern, “would remain unnoticed in Boston in 1859, a veritable center of abolitionist reform and passion” (Gardner 227; Gates xxx). Building on earlier work by Gates and his team of research assistants to locate records on Wilson and her text in the archive, Gardner offers a few possibilities as to why Wilson’s text didn’t achieve public recognition beyond a few traceable sales (Gardner was able to locate “thirty-four,” with only “eleven offer[ing] hints of ownership,” all of which were primarily located “in the small Hillsborough County of Nashua, New Hampshire or in other counties in Massachusetts, but none within Boston, which also counters Gates’ claim that Wilson resided in Boston (233-4)). Gardner notes that though Rand, her printer, was aligned to the abolitionist movement, there is no evidence that he helped to market her narrative or help her acquire a publisher to market her text, leaving it to her to find a buying audience. Gardner suggests that Rand, “as an act of charity” to either Wilson or someone on her behalf, printed her narrative “perhaps to launch the author’s career but, more probably, to help her overcome the immediate financial difficulties she alludes to in her preface” (232)  Gardner also notes the few remaining texts we have are printed rather cheaply, suggesting again this may have been understood as either a quick means for small income or the beginnings of what may have been imagined as a longer career. Wilson lived in Milford, new Hampshire, and through census data, Gardner notes, “Milford never had a sizable black community” who Wilson herself had called on in her narrative to help her find financial security through their purchase. Our Nig was most probably distributed and received, at least in part, as children’s book, as Gardner notes, as its central figure Frado’s “search for self and a God” and common themes of education, reading, and familial relations speak to topics of early childhood education in nineteenth-century America (237-9). However, the key reason, Gardner maintains, Wilson’s text may have met limited or anxious response by a broader reading audience in the North may have been the ways in which her narrative exposed “slavery’s shadows” in the North not the “promise of freedom” (242-3), as her narrative makes the case for strained national cohesion through the violent disharmony of the domestic household in the North.

A book history approach, as demonstrated by these scholars, reveals as much the politics at work in the sociocivic story space of texts as it does the politics behind the business of textual transmission.  In the context of the antebellum cause of abolition, the circulation of ideas and experiences through text was heavily mediated by existing print mechanisms and it was difficult to resist or circumvent such mechanisms without significant cost. And as Tompkins argues of the history of institutionalizing literature, inclusion or exclusion from professional and institutional markets of circulation often tends to be a condition of “belonging to the right network.” To close, I’d like to return to Cordell’s concept of the network author as a way to broadly introduce a few approaches I’d like to consider moving forward with a book history methodology in the study of nineteenth-century literature. Cordell proposes in response to the culture of reprinting and the distributed conditions of textuality in the nineteenth century that we revise  our understanding of the concept of author and textual authoring. Cordell writes, “As a frame, the network author allows us to speak of “textual clusters”—loose bibliographies of composition, recomposition, and even responses, like parodies—as distinct textual events that can be studied and compared without an author as the central organizing trope.” Borrowing from Dillon’s reading of Ranciere of the formation of political activity, where she proposes the  “principles of assemblage” as a counter to a unified public sphere of disinterested, disembodied public organized by its shared rather than contested (consensual rather than dissensual) vision of the future state of being and belonging, Cordell  focuses on how texts circulate and are used rather than on a model of originary creation. “The network-authored text, in short,” Cordell explains, “contains multitudes, comprising both traditional bibliographic witnesses and a host of “reception items” that speak to a given text’s social life and rhetorical power.” I’m interested in this concept of the network author for several reasons. In part, I think the net-work, or what we might think of as the function of author, or value structure applied to the meaningfulness of a text and/or originating author, remains an important concept. While book history has helped de-center the author to expose the circulation of text that involved more than a romantic idea of originating author, the ability for particular subjects to enter into print as writers and to acquire the cultural capital applied to author was often challenged. In short, the author function for particular social and cultural groups represents the formation rather than fragmentation of identity at the level of culture.  I’m also  interested in studying the networked author. That is, both as a text reworked and distributed (i.e., the many lives of a text) and the practice of authoring that is distributed across a social network of agents (printers, editors, readers, etc.). I’m also thinking of the network as reflecting communities of influence and audience. Here I mean those who participated in the production and mediation  of the text who are not just the publishers and recorders of the printed word, but the social, communal groups who influenced the formation and development of the writing and conceiving of a text ( familial, kinship, friend collectives). I’m also interested in the formation of publics as communities, or localized, materially contingent organizations of contested embodiments. Rather than talk about print in the nineteenth century as cultures of print, I’m interested in situating the function, distribution, and significance of text to particular communities. In part, this is because the conditions of textuality are not ahistorical but conditional and emergent. I’m interested in localizing my analysis not only because the conditions of entering into print were materially contingent but the reasons and motivations were as well. My hope is to isolate communities of practice in regards to the production and transmission of texts is to more carefully ground claims to operating concepts we use to discuss literature and its function and value in a nineteenth century context.  I also see the literature of the nineteenth century, in particular narratives of unfreedom, as demonstrating the politics of narrative, or that politics is narrative, a matter of account giving essential to the process of politics, a story unfolding, which necessitates the subject and other in discursive inter-action (the activity or demonstration . . . the elipses between what is given and what is “…not yet”) as an encounter–political process. I want to examine the ways, through a comparative textual approach (Pressman and Hayles), the concept of interface reflects current theories of political philosophy, in particular, Ranciere’s model of dissensual democracy. Ranciere argues, in contrast to a Habermasian theory of publics, that politics is not the division of the sensible from the insensible (public and private) but the overlay between the rational world of the given with that which has no reason for being a/-part. Ranciere contends that politics is not a sphere but a process, a demonstration of “part-taking” of rights denied. I see a correlation, at least at a theoretical level, between Ranciere and what McGann shows is text’s emergent, embodied, expressive, processed conditionings and what Drucker argues of interface as “an artifact of complex processes and protocols, a zone in which our behaviors and actions take place.   Interface is what we read and how we read, combined through engagement” (Drucker). In this way, I hope to argue that interface marks the activity between texts that is political in joining together two worlds in sustained negotiation over the meaningfulness of the encounter that is necessarily always in excess but necessitates embodiment, that until resolved (i.e., meaning is claimed), it involves a demonstration of subjectivization, a process of opacity and alterity between the named subject and a disarticulated not yet.

Works Cited

Amory, Hugh, and David D. Hall. The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, U.K:

Cambridge University Press, 2000

Baym, Nina. “Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude

Women Authors.” American Quarterly (print). (1981): 123-139.

Barker, Nicolas. A Potencie of Life: Books in Society. London: British Library, 2001.

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Editors David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery.

The Book History Reader. London: Routledge, 2002.

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The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. (360-373)

Cohen, Lara and Jordan Stein. Early African American Print Culture (2012)

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Places : Relocating Nineteenth-Century African American Literature. Jackson, MS, USA: University Press of Mississippi, 2009

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England Quarterly, 1993.

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Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford UP, 2012

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[1] “Old Media/New Media,” John Hopkins Guide to Digital Media. 2014. (2)

[2] Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. 1967.

[3] what Michael Witmore has more recently termed as “the massive addressability” of texts (“Text: A Massively Addressable Object” 2012)

[4] Book History Reader, 2-3

[5] “Theorizing the History of the Book,” 7-9

[6] Book History Reader, 9; see also, Fredson Bowers, who argued “The recovery of the initial purity of an author’s text and of any revision (insofar as this is possible from the preserved documents), and the preservation of this purity despite the usual corrupting process of reprint transmission, is the aim of textual criticism” (“Textual Criticism.” The Aims and Methods of Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures, ed. James Thorpe (New York: Modern Language Association, 1970). 30.); even those who acknowledged the practical limitations of looking to authorial intentionality as a principle aim maintained this aim by suggesting the practice itself had intellectual value: G. Thomas Tanselle argued, “One can never fully attain such a goal (or know that one has attained it), but at least one can move toward it by applying informed judgement to the available evidence” (“Recent Editorial Discussion and the Central Question of Editing.” Studies in Bibliography. 1981. (34); see also Peter L. Shillingsburg’s Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice, in which he offers a careful reading of the role of the author and the concept of intentionality in textual studies that both details the irrecoverability of authorial intention at the level of textual “meaning,” but suggests, as an alternative, “the intention to do [i.e., the act of writing/printing itself] is … more immediately recoverable from the signs written” (34-5).

[7] McKenzie, D.F. “The Book as an Expressive Form.” Editors David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery. The Book History Reader. London: Routledge, 2002. (30)

[8] “Orality and Literacy: Writing Restructures Consciousness” (105); Ong also was an important figure in theorizing and advocating the relation between emergent digital technologies and the functions of language and communication. As a “secondary orality” and new technology, Ong noted how computers were being treated in much the same negative way Plato had responded to writing “as an external, alien technology.” However,  in foreshadowing the future relationship between writing, computers, and language, Ong explained that one shouldn’t ignore how humans had interiorized, personalized, in a sense, “naturalized” the technology of writing to the point of forgetting that by  “contrast with natural, oral speech, writing is completely artificial. There is no way to write ‘naturally,.” He underscored that the transformative role that computational systems would play in mediating linguistic forms and conceptual frameworks had yet to be witnessed and may soon be forgotten.

[9] see Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, (1967) 1976; De, Man P. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979; De, Man P. The Resistance to Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

[10] Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” Editors David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery. The Book History Reader. London: Routledge, 2002. I’m borrowing the term “author function” from Foucault, though it was actually coined a bit later in response to these shifts.

[11] Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Editors David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery. The Book History Reader. London: Routledge, 2002. (224)

[12] McKenzie, ”The Book as an Expressive Form.” (31)

[13] “The Book as an Expressive Form.” (30-1)

[14] “The Book as an Expressive Form.” (31)

[15] “Texts and Textualities.” The Textual Condition, Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. 1991. (3) 

[16] G. Thomas Tanselle (A Rationale of Textual Criticism. 1989) saw a negative condition of textuality, where ideal forms of expression are corrupted by the material conditions of their textual reformation: “in writing down a message, one brings down an abstraction to the concrete, where it is an alien, damaged here and there through the intractability of the physical.”

[17] “Texts and Textuality” (9); McGann explains that “texts do not simply vary over time. Texts vary from themselves (as it were) immediately, as soon as they engage with the readers they anticipate” (9-10).

[18] “Texts and Textuality” (15)

[19] McGann’s materialist, socially situated methodology has held prominence for textual scholarship across fields in very important ways for more than twenty years. However, with the rise of digital technologies for archiving, editing, sharing, and analyzing the printed word, scholars have begun to revise and extend McGann’s study. As we have seen above, book history and language scholars, Ong and McKenzie in particular, anticipated the future impact of computers and code in mediating the codex. As well, McGann’s concept of “de-formative” textual practice in Radiant Textuality: Literature After the World Wide Web and Peter L. Shillingsburg’s critique of the medium-message framework he claims computer technologies reveals in Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice, both address, albeit in competing ways, the transition and translation of the text and textual experience into the world and code of the hypertext. For McGann, early humanities computing, in the mid to late 1990s, not only afforded textual scholars new ways for preserving the text (i.e., the archive), but for editing and analyzing texts according to “the textual situation.” As an early model of digital scholarly environments that might ostensibly place into comparative focus “the critical edition” with “the facsimile edition,” The Rossetti Archive emphasized by interfacing two important ideas of textuality, that bibliographic and linguistic codes both contribute to the signifying operations of texts and that “the social intercourse of texts–the context of their relations–must be conceived as an essential part of ‘the text itself.’” The digital displaced, in generative and revealing ways, the text from notions of fixed or centralized referents. Moreover, he believed the digital could help scholars to engage in a necessary practice of deformation that fractured the text and meaning. More recently, however, Hayles has elaborated on the idea of text in its digital context by noting the ways the digital reveals text and textuality as more process than object. Suggesting that McGann unnecessarily places print as a primary or dominant mode of textuality, in “Translating Media: Why We Should Rethink Textuality” (2003), Hayles proposes that textual scholarship “rethink[s] materiality by noting that it is impossible to specify precisely what a book—or any other text—is as a physical object, for there are an infinite number of ways its physical characteristics can be described.”  “The specter haunting textual criticism” in the digital era, she argues, is “the nightmare that one cannot … define a “text” at all, for every manifestation will qualify as a different text” (276). The William Blake Archive sets “the gold standard for literary Websites” and digital scholarly editing that seek to reproduce the physicality of the book and to support an analysis of what McGann’s identified as the bibliographic and linguistic codings of the codex. Hayles argues, however, that while the site editors, “insisting that even small differences in materiality potentially affect meaning,…have gone to a great deal of trouble to compile not only different works but extant copies of the same work,” there is a “cybernetic difference” that must be attended to in digital editions. For example, Hayles notes that the site’s “navigational functionalities” that allow users to “compare different copies and versions of a work” are not neutral technologies. Rather, as “part of a work’s signifying structure,” from navigation to even the “slight[est] color variations,” these components of the reading interface “anticipate and structure different reading patterns.” As McGann and McKenzie have demonstrated elsewhere, “form affects meaning” (McKenzie “Book as Expressive Form”).

[20] The following scholars have been central to the broader field’s post-national, transatlantic reframing: Where Gilroy’s (The Black Atlantic, 1993) and Joseph Roach’s (Cities of the Dead, 1996) foundational texts in transatlantic studies emphasize “circum-atlantic” flows of culture (Roach) and the limitations of a western conception of modernity in any attempt to narrate and theorize the political subjectivity of the Atlantic black diaspora (Gilroy), William Spengemann (“The Earliest American Novel,” 1984), Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse (The Imaginary Puritan, 1992), Robert Gross (“The Transnational Turn: Rediscovering American Studies in a Wider World” 2000), Paul Giles (Transatlantic Insurrections, 2001), Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (“The Original American Novel or the American Origin of the Novel,” 2005), and the work by book history scholars (see Amory, Hugh, and David D. Hall. The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press, 2000; Hall, David D, Robert A. Gross, and Mary Kelley. A History of the Book in America: Vol. 2. Chapel Hill, N.C: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) have all contributed to the field’s evolving understanding of both the “creole” origins of print in America and the extra- and intra-national material and cultural flows of the Atlantic world. More recently, Sibylle Fischer (Modernity Disavowed, 2004), Ian Baucom (Specters of the Atlantic, 2005), Cathy Davidson (“Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself,” 2007), Sean Goudie (Creole America, 2006), Colleen Boggs (Transnationalism and American Literature: Literary Translation 1773-1892 2007), and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (“The Secret History of the Early American Novel,” 2007) have continued to draw the field’s attention hemispherically to the Caribbean to underscore the pre- and post-colonial economic, political, and cultural ties between North America and the Caribbean.

[21] I’m borrowing this term from current theories on transnational/cultural language systems from within Rhetoric and Composition studies. See, for example, Horner, Bruce and Min-Zhan Lu, “Transnational English(es) and U.S. Composition: from Global to Glocal.”

[22] see Davidson Revolution is the Word for a discussion of the rise of reading publics and print literacies; see also History of the Book in America Vol II: Richard D. Brown’s “The Revolution’s Legacy for the History of the Book” details the foundations of a republic in print, a “free press,” and the role of print in organizing civic discourse, showing how political rather than literary, aesthetic works were the forebearers to a later emerging C19 literary marketplace. The “extensive republic” through and in print that characterized the early decades of the nineteenth-century was preceded by a culture and market of textual production that was defined by its political rather than literary interests. In the new republic, print was a mode through which to cohere a national citizenry, as Brown explains. The rise of revolutionary discourse and its legacy “not only sanctioned but also directly promoted the dramatic multiplication in the number of printing offices and booksellers in the decades after 1783” (58).

[23] see Emerson, “The American Scholar”; A speech to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Cambridge, MA, in 1837, Emerson’s “American Scholar” reflects this energy to establish a differentiated American culture through a distinctly American creative, intellectual practice defined by the “self-reliant,” individuated “man thinking.” (Sacks, Kenneth. Understanding Emerson: “the American Scholar” and His Struggle for Self-Reliance. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2003. Print.; Reynolds, David S. Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville. New York: Knopf, 1988. Print.) Emerson wanted to inspire a nation of “thinkers” through a rhetoric of American exceptionalism and an emphasis on the American author as originator of an idealized future and fulfillment of a longer tradition of humanistic practice founded upon a short list of “representative men” (“Representative Men” 1850). Emerson posited the role of the American intellectual of the early nineteenth century as the “man thinking” in/through nature, the  “active soul” no longer bound to the material conditions (of politics, economics, even print) and traditions that might degrade or dissuade the practice of what Emerson’s contemporary, Whitman, 9 would term “man in the open air” (Whitman, Walt, and Edward F. Grier. “For Criticism L of Grass,” Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts. New York: New York University Press, 1984. (1536). Emerson’s concern with the material vs. the philosophical, with the ostensibly valueless object of the book and the invaluable influence of the “man thinking” is of note here as it reflects a particular animosity among Matthiessen’s five toward the print marketplace and their attitudes about the value of thought and poetics removed from mass market tastes. For Emerson, heroes had been replaced by “statues,” the poetic mind by the mechanics of its “chant,” “Man Thinking” had become “subdued by his instruments.”

[24]  (xii-iv)

[25] (ix-xi) He notes, Emerson had more success as lecturer, Whitman “gave away more copies than were bought” of Leaves of Grass, and Hawthorne blamed the “damned mob of scribbling women” for his failure to appeal to “the public taste” (xi).

[26] see American Renaissance, footnote 3, page xii, where Matthiessen defends his exclusion of Poe from his selection based on a formalized aesthetics approach. There was a much larger literary marketplace in nineteenth-century America — dominated primarily by women writers (see Bell, “Women’s Fiction and the Literary Marketplace in the 1850s” (74-124)) — and what was perhaps a more notable emerging renaissance taking place earlier in the 1820’s in the careers of Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, and James Fenimore Cooper and their popularizing the “tale” and novel for a nineteenth-century audience (see Bell “Beginnings of Professionalism” 9-73). Susan Warner, The Wide, Wide World (1850); Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); Maria Cummins, The Lamplighter (1853); Shay Arthur, Ten Nights in a Bar Room (1854) were notably successful authors (see Bell, “Women’s Fiction and the Literary Marketplace in the 1850s”).

[27]  Confronting the gendered determinisms of literary theory and criticism that have historically positioned women outside the category of “good” literature despite the widespread publishing successes of antebellum women writers, the traditional function of the literary critic, as Baym argued in 1985, has been to write a nationalistic “romance, a story free to catch an essential, idealized American character, to intensify his essence and convey his experience in a way that ignores details of an actual social milieu” (“Melodramas of Beset Manhood, 13). Baym exposes the ethical and logical limits to the literary nationalism of her contemporaries. She writes, “an idea of what is American is no more than an idea, needing demonstration. The critic all too frequently ends up using his chosen authors as demonstrations of Americanness, arguing through them to his definition” (126).  

[28] See Cohen, Ralph. New Directions in Literary History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.; “A Note on New Literary History,” Cohen in 1969 called for literary scholars to more closely situate their “sociological, economic, stylistic, phenomenological, mimetic, or other assumptions” to the socio-historical conditions and conditionings of literature, 4-5. It is also worth mentioning that scholars have reconsidered the ferocity with which they critique Matthiessen’s narrowed focus. See particularly Samuel Otter’s “American Renaissance and Us” (J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 3.2 (2015): 228-235.) who discusses revised approaches to Matthiessen’s role as a critic, focusing particularly on his position as a gay intellectual in 1940s American academy. “[T]he intricacy of closeted expression in the 1940s, and the importance of Christianity in his effort to imagine alternatives to mid-twentieth-century liberalism and capitalism,” have helped scholars to more thoughtfully engage rather than dismiss Matthiessen’s scholarly aims.

[29] Though problematic in perhaps what was unintentionally shoring up a high vs. low cultural system of value, Reynolds explains the intellectual and aesthetic influences from below: “To study the cross-influences and dynamics between the major and minor writers is to participate in the democratic spirit of the major authors themselves, all of whom in various ways expressed their profound debt to lesser writers” (4). Reynolds shows the social connections between Emerson, for example, and the broader religious reformist movements and dedicates a significant amount of discussion to “The American Women’s Renaissance.” However, Reynolds; analysis remains far too invested in a model of literary assessment that favors “expression[s] of universal themes” and ignores the “literariness” of political discourse (394), which, in effect, limits other kinds from serious treatment in his study (particularly writing by or about African Americans, about whom he only dedicates a handful of pages, giving over the bulk of “subversive” literature in the context of anti-slavery to Stowe.)

[30] Here tompkins is referencing Henry Nash Smith (Democracy and the Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 12) who represented a field consensus that the “truly great writers” of the antebellum period were male writers “Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Thoreau,” who, while not financially successful, “dared . . . to ‘explore the dark underside of the psyche,’ and … tackle ‘ultimate social and intellectual issues’” (Sensational Designs 147-8)

[31] See Tompkins (Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction (1790-1860), 1985), Nina Baym (Women’s Fiction, 1978; “Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors” 1985), Cathy Davidson (Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America, 1986), Nancy Armstrong (Desire and Domestic Fiction: a Political History of the Novel, 1987), Gillian Brown (Domestic Individualism, 1992). Where Ann Douglass (The Feminization of American Culture, 1977), rather dismissively, argues for the prominence of “sentimental” culture and the domestic novel by women writers in the historical emergence of antebellum “modern mass culture” (5), Tompkins treats the sentimental tradition as not only having had widespread politically significance but was the product of the cultural work of Christian “revivalist” movements of the Evangelical United Front. Historicizing the “Other American Renaissance,” Tompkins looks the mass printing by the American Tract Society, which she suggest informed the cultural aims of Warner and the broader sentimentalist literary tradition and help these authors to shape “a critique of American society far more devastating than any delivered by better-known critics such as Hawthorne and Melville” (124). Brown extends the ideological import of the domestic and women’s writing to suggest that nineteenth-century gendered relations and identity of male writers (Hawthorne and Melville) were greatly shaped by the literary and cultural position of women. Davidson as well participates in this critical tradition by demonstrating how both men and women writers alike employed the language of sentiment, sympathy, and fellow-feeling to confront domestic and nationalistic (dis)harmony, a practice inspired by the political philosophies of the Revolution and informing the literary making since the period of the New Republic.

[32] “Masterpiece Theater: the Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation.” Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction (1790-1860), 1985.

[33] “An Extensive Republic,” 9

[34] An example of these “micro-processes” includes the notes in the margins of newspapers people would write to be sent through the mail system (the primary distributor of non-book print materials)

[35] In An Extensive Republic, Gross lists the following innovations as forever changing the speed with which Americans acquired information in print in the nineteenth century, and, therefore, began to experience Anderson’s concept of simultaneity: Erie Canal (1825) created a navigation route from Great Lake to Atlantic; the American Railroad (1830s-60s boom); Steamboats began ocean travel (1840); telegraph (1844) According to Gross, eighteen days was the average time it took for news to travel from D.C to Boston in 1790; six days by 1817; and only a single day by the time the telegraph became standard.

[36] Kennedy, 6; notable examples here include Poe’s “hoax” publications: “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” (January 1837, Southern Literary Magazine), published anonymously by Poe as a true account of an expedition to the Antarctic; “The Journal of Julius Rodman” (Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine) “an account of the first passage across the Rocky Mountains of North America by a civilized man”; “Balloon Hoax” (April 1, 1844)

[37] see Godey’s Lady’s Book, September 1845; cited in Kennedy, 4-5

[38] see Broadway Journal, October 4, 1845; cited in Kennedy, 5

[39] The “Lockean notion that an author, like any other workman, has a natural right to the product of his labor” was a particularly British concept (see Mark Rose); the Statute of Anne (1710), in Britain, was a new copyright law that limited copyright protection to 14 years to unseat the monopoly of book trade/market. A distinctly American concept of copyright-culture and law, “going-into-print” marked not the claiming of individual (property) rights, but the temporary suspension of private rights/ownership in favor of public interest and knowledge. The text as text was always-already public, already property of the polis. Where arguments for author-rights emerged, they were not a reclaiming of natural right, but a claim on public property.

[40] see also Ellen Gruber Garvey’s. Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Though historically later, Garvey reveals the continued craft of repurposing printed material

[41] See also McGann, Jerome J. A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction. 2014.

[42] Cordell, Ryan. “Reprinting, Circulation, and the Network Author in Antebellum Newspapers.” American Literary History. 27.3 (2015): 417-445.

[43] (2) Cohen, Lara and Jordan Stein. Early African American Print Culture (2012); see also Elizabeth McHenry, Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (2002).

[44] For key works addressing the historical formation and aesthetic frameworks of an African American literary tradition, see Houston A. Baker (“Figurations for a New American Literary History.” 1984), Paul Gilroy (The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness 1993), Eric J. Sundquist (To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature 1993), Hortense J. Spillers (“Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” 1987), Lauren Berlant (“The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Harriet Jacobs, Frances Harper, Anita Hill” 1995), Michelle Burnham (Captivity and Sentiment: Cultural Exchange in American Literature, 1882-1861 1997), Saidiya V. Hartman (Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America 1997).

[45] Sekora, John. “”Mr. Editor, If You Please”: Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, and the End of the Abolitionist Imprint.” Callaloo. 17.2 (1994): 608-626. ; Yellin, Jean F. “Written by Herself: Harriet Jacobs’ Slave Narrative.” American Literature (print). (1981): 479-486.; Gardner, Eric, and Harriet E. Wilson. “this Attempt of Their Sisters: Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig from Printer to Reader. Boston: New England Quarterly, 1993.

[46] Gardner, Eric. Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies : Unexpected Places : Relocating Nineteenth-Century African American Literature. Jackson, MS, USA: University Press of Mississippi, 2009

[47] Jackson, Leon. The Business of Letters: Authorial Economies in Antebellum America. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2008.

[48] “African American Cultures of Print.” History of the Book in America. Vol 3. Chapel Hill, US: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. (360-373)

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