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

By Phillip H. Round | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
Seven
THE CULTURE OF REPRINTING

PROPRIETARY AUTHORSHIP, though an essential tool for American Indian writers seeking intellectual sovereignty, was itself not a foundational structure in nineteenth- century American print culture. That honor went to the ad hoc local publishing practices of reprinting. Print historian Meredith McGill argues that such practices were fundamentally shaped by an “antebellum commitment to the circulation of unauthorized reprints” embodied in a decentralized system of publishing.1 This culture of unauthorized reprints served as a counterweight to property- based paradigms of authorship (like those we examined in the previous chapter) and provided American literary culture with a republican model of textual dissemination. At the level of local publishing, reprinting books was viewed as the circulation of public property for the pubic good. Thus, the trends we observed in chapter 3 concerning missionary and tract society publication, in which mass- produced works emanated from centralized distribution centers, were counterbalanced by local, ad hoc publishing practices, especially reprints of already established works.

As I have argued in earlier chapters, books functioned as objects in Indian Country. As such, they flowed along the same imperial mercantile circuits as other material goods. As material objects imbued with intellectual property rights, they were subject to copyright, and thus a kind of legal protection as well as a form of social visibility. When Indian books were reprinted by nonIndians, however, it raised important questions about cultural sovereignty. These questions would remain largely unanswered during the nineteenth century. In fact, they continued to be unresolved until the late twentieth century, when Congress passed the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act, in 1992. In this legislation, Euro- American collectors and archaeologists were forced to confront a question that had basically been ig-

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