Print Culture in the British Atlantic

Eve T. Bannet

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online April 2016 | | DOI:
Print Culture in the British Atlantic

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
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This article focuses on the different ways in which a shared language and highly flexible print culture across the British Atlantic promoted the transatlantic movement and local reappropriation of texts. The term “print culture” represents a growing interdisciplinary field, initially envisioned by historians of the book, in which the traditional concerns of book history—such as bibliographical print histories, the practices and economics of the book trade, and the physical production, appearance, and distribution of printed matter—are joined with concerns and methods borrowed from social, cultural, political, literary, and reception history. Historians in these fields are more immediately interested in the contents of periodicals and books, the ideas they disseminated, the diverse forms they were given, and the circumstances in which they were written, published, and read. Book history conjoined with a cultural and historical understanding of reception have also produced histories of reading that seek to reconstruct the reading practices of different social groups and to understand the personal, intellectual, social, communal, institutional, and/or commercial exchanges mediated by oral forms of delivery, letter and manuscript exchanges, and printed periodicals or books. Especially in the British Atlantic, where culture and practices also traveled with migrating people, the lives, movements, engagements, and personal, commercial, and transatlantic connections of authors, printers, and publishers form an essential part of picture. Most current approaches to the subject assume a British Atlantic that was permeated by the Black, Red, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Portuguese Atlantics and that was constituted by the overlapping Atlantic worlds of mariners, pirates, privateers, natural philosophers, government officials, merchants, captives, slaves, convicts, women, and indentured servants, as well as by the transatlantic intercourse of a variety of ethnic, political, and religious communities. Because the lines between fact and fiction, or true and fictional “histories,” were blurred during this period, scholars work with both literary and nonliterary texts. A few entries below (see under London Exports of Books to America, Copyright, and Transatlantic People and Connections) assume the older center/periphery model of the British Empire, which made America, the West Indies, Scotland, and Ireland the cultural peripheries of the metropolis. This focused scholarship on the London book trade’s export of books to the American colonies and early Republic and on the important (and, whenever possible, canonical) London books that genteel Americans had on their bookshelves or acquired for their subscription libraries. In this model, “print capitalism”—issuing from London and backed by new copyright law—united the empire by ensuring that everyone was reading the same news and the same hegemonic works. Though discredited in many ways, this model is not entirely canceled out by the other; books and periodicals were both exported from London and repeatedly reprinted, often in altered forms, elsewhere. However, the first more decentered, multicultural and multidirectional model described above offers more openings for research.

Article.  10393 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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