Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

States of Inquiry: Social Investigations and Print Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain and the United States

Academic journal article Journal of the Early Republic

States of Inquiry: Social Investigations and Print Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain and the United States

Article excerpt

States of Inquiry: Social Investigations and Print Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain and the United States. By Oz Frankel. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Pp. 384. Illustrations. Cloth, $48.00.)

Reviewed by Thomas Augst

How was the emergence of modern nation-states mediated by the development of print culture? Oz Frankel's States of Inquiry explores what it terms "print statism," the "field of communication between the state and its constituencies," in which governments sought to manage and influence public opinion throughout the nineteenth century through the production and dissemination of formal inquiries, social surveys, and official reports on a host of issues. Frankel demonstrates how Great Britain and the United States developed a new kind of politics, by which "official reportage facilitated the representation of the centralized, modern state to its publics and, in turn, the representation of the nation by (and to) the government itself" (2). In the extraordinary detail and breadth of its research, States of Inquiry offers important arguments about the state's role in the transformation of the public sphere and print's role in the imagination of national communities. In its acute discussion of particular cases of social inquiry, it offers a sophisticated model of book-history research.

Through nuanced and complex analysis of the material and social dimensions of the government trade in information, Frankel demonstrates how the liberal politics of representation functioned as an aesthetic project. The first part of the book takes up the role of government as a publisher, and examines the physical nature of factual documents through their lifecycle, from printing and binding to promotion and circulation. Houses of Parliament issued a barrage of often unwieldy compendia of investigations called "blue books," which they eventually sought to sell to the public. The United States Congress published similarly bulky but elaborately engraved accounts of western explorations, distributing them to congressional district constituents as a form of patronage. Whether establishing "archives in print" to document parliamentary or investigative processes, or "monuments in print" to celebrate the ambitions of imperial nationalism, legislatures debated and instituted knowledge policy in ways that brought the value and utility of governmentsponsored information-an emerging concept identified with transparency and objectivity-into conflict with attributes that gave books value in the print marketplace: noncorporate, individual authorship, issued in formats that facilitated reading by citizens. Deploying personal journals, statistics, testimonials, illustrations, and social maps, statesponsored reports materialized the social world in printed evidence of "authenticity," a body of facts that predated and coexisted with professional norms of social science, corporate authorship, and bureaucratic consolidation that would dominate government inquiry by the turn of the twentieth century.

If, in the early part of the twentieth century, the accumulation of social facts was left to the volunteer efforts of doctors, clergy, and reformers, social inquiry would become the institutional business of commissions, committees, and a host of other official bodies. The second and third parts of Frankel's book examine how the state institutionalized the gathering of facts in ways that collapsed the meanings of political and aesthetic representation, and that in subtle ways gave objects of inquiry-the working poor, freed slaves, native Americans-voice and agency within an exchange of knowledge. …

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