Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940

By Carl F. Kaestle; Janice A. Radway | Go to book overview

Prologue

Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway

.  .  .

Broad, synthetic histories are notoriously difficult to write no matter what the focus of the narrative. They are even more of a challenge, however, when they are largely unprecedented—as this one is. To our knowledge, there is only one attempt at a comprehensive history of book publishing in the United States during the pivotal period of 1880–1940, and its treatment is more descriptive than analytical.1 Despite laudable work on different aspects of publishing history,2 there is no consensus about how to frame a comprehensive history of the book in this period. If such a history is to be attempted, decisions that must be justified intellectually have to be made about what counts as an instance of book history. It is also crucial to offer, at the outset, certain formulations about the relationship between the history of the book and its surrounding social context because those understandings will continually affect how far afield one looks for factors that influenced, affected, or even “caused” key events in the narrative. When the narrative is to be crafted collaboratively and is only one part of a larger project, the difficulty is multiplied exponentially. Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880–1940 is the result of a sustained effort to meet these many challenges. Our introduction is designed both to explain how we approached those challenges and to describe the key terms and conceptual frameworks that have guided our efforts.

It is important to note first that, although our volume appears in a series entitled A History of the Book in America, we have broadened our focus in order to look at the production, circulation, and use of print in a general sense, that is, to include magazines, newspapers, and other forms. While the essays in this volume do address key developments in the history of book publishing in the period 1880–1940, they also attend to the changing and complex relationships across different print forms. Additionally, some of the essays consider the relation between print and institutions like schools, government bureaucracies, and corporate businesses. Our canvas is further broadened by our interest not only in the production and distribution of print but also in its reception by readers and uses by readers. Thus, several of the essays look at the use of print forms in everyday lives. Although evidence about the history of reading is hard to

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