The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World

The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World

The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World

The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World

Synopsis

The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World carries the interrelated stories of publishing, writing, and reading from the beginning of the colonial period in America up to 1790. Three major themes run through the volume: the persisting connections between the book trade in the Old World and the New, evidenced in modes of intellectual and cultural exchange and the dominance of imported, chiefly English books; the gradual emergence of a competitive book trade in which newspapers were the largest form of production; and the institution of a "culture of the Word," organized around an essentially theological understanding of print, authorship, and reading, complemented by other frameworks of meaning that included the culture of republicanism. The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World also traces the histories of literary and learned culture, censorship and "freedom of the press," and literacy and orality.

Excerpt

The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World deserves to reach an ever widening readership in its new guise as a paperback. Newcomers as well as those who have already found their way to its pages should know that the “history of the book” remains a field in the making. Any history organized along national lines is also situated amid uncertainties, especially since the modern nation-state is not an adequate framework for enclosing the traffic in books, people, and ideas during the colonial period of American history. Hence the phrase “Atlantic world” in our title. Nonetheless, the history of the book as it is manifested in The Colonial Book has an explicit center, the book trades, and two secondary centers in the history of reading and the making of literary culture. the editors and contributors were all too aware, themselves, of other themes and information that did not make their way into the book’s pages, and in retrospect the list grows longer. Should we have said more about the book trades in Louisiana and Florida or about the eighteenthcentury missions to the Native Americans and how they responded? of course. Should we have provided a fuller account of political controversies during the run-up to the Declaration of Independence as these were mediated through the book trades? Yes. and should our narrative as a whole have been more engaged with “theory” of the kind that loomed so large in literary studies of the 1970s and 1980s? Yes, although the tide of theory seems to be receding and, with it, the importance of arguments such as Foucault’s about the function of the author, itself a statement that was never aligned with the historical evidence. More recently, other themes have emerged within literary studies that are much more closely linked with the substance of book history — for example, the “materiality” of the text and the role of prefaces and other aspects of the “para-text.” Nowhere in these pages is it argued that the material form of a text affects its meaning; and only at a few moments (as in Chapters 12 and 13) do we tell the story of the transmission of texts and the collaborations — the forms of “social authorship,” as it were — that occur during that process. Yet The Colonial Book accomplishes far more than Hugh Amory and I thought was possible when we set this project in motion. the chapters on the book trades remain authoritative, and the statistical tables and sheet counts, a mere fraction of the many that were compiled, retain their value as guides to what was being produced and . . .

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