Print Culture

Heidi Morse

in African American Studies

Published online June 2016 | | DOI:

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Print culture—or cultures of print, a designation some scholars prefer for its evocation of multiple and varying practices of print production and use—is the key term for an interdisciplinary field of study that has emerged from traditional book history scholarship to encompass a wide range of printed materials and the social, political, material, and economic processes of their production, circulation, and reception. Scholars of print culture, who primarily hail from the fields of bibliography, literature, and history, analyze books and other printed texts as material objects and study their role in shaping cultural relations. African American print culture refers to the contributions of African Americans to printed texts (and their circulation) as authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, printers, typesetters, binders, distributors, and readers. It also includes study of the ways that print processes have impacted sociopolitical circumstances and cultural movements integral to African American history. Major topics include the history of African American newspapers and periodicals, beginning in 1827 with Freedom’s Journal, and the history of African American publishers, which began a decade earlier with the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Book Concern in 1817. Since the late 19th century, African American bibliographers and archivists have been leaders in the project of documenting and preserving collections of early African American newspapers, books, and printed ephemera in collections such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. African Americanist literary critics and editors of scholarly editions have also played a crucial role in the study of African American print culture, especially during the recovery and reprinting efforts of the 1980s and beyond, and in recent scholarship on representations of race in print and on the circulation and reception of African American printed texts from the colonial era to the present. It was not until the turn of the 21st century that scholars and institutions predominantly identified with American print culture or book history broadly conceived began theorizing and offering substantive resources in support of African American print culture studies in particular. While this shift supported an increasingly diverse array of theoretical and material approaches to African American print culture, it also precipitated debates about leadership and best practices that are still ongoing. African American print culture as a field, then, is still in the process of defining itself, and it will likely see a continuing wave of new publications over the next decade.

Article.  7797 words. 

Subjects: African American History

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