Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880

By Phillip H. Round | Go to book overview
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Introduction
TOWARD AN INDIAN BIBLIOGRAPHY

IN THE OPENING PAGES OF The Experiences of Five Christian Indians, Pequot author and activist William Apess (1798–1838) informed readers that he would soon be “publishing a book of 300 pages, 18 mo. in size, and there the reader will find particulars respecting my life.” The resulting work, A Son of the Forest (1831), became a classic “first” in American Indian autobiography a selfauthored, copyrighted text.1

Apess’s conception of his life story in terms of bibliographic/print culture detail (“a book of 300 pages, 18 mo. [octodecimo] in size”) would be shared by several generations of Native American writers for whom the material properties of texts, as well as the manner in which they were produced and consumed, would become an important component of their creative and expressive efforts. Removable Type explores the ways in which print provided these Native authors and their communities with a much- needed weapon in their battles against relocation, allotment, and cultural erasure. It traces the interaction of Native Americans and print culture over the period from 1663 to 1880 by surveying the emerging semiotic practices that inflected print in the many tribal societies that comprised “Indian Country” during this period.

The historical scope of Removable Type (1663–1880) is determined by the interplay of two timelines in North American political and cultural history. The first follows the development of print culture. In 1663, Puritan missionary John Eliot, with the help of a Nipmuck convert whom the English called James Printer, produced the first Bible printed in North America. It was also one of the first books printed in a Native language.2 Thus, the trajectory of print history in America has been from the beginning intimately tied to the indigenous cultures of this continent, even if it was another hundred years before a Native author published a work of his own here.

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