Early African American Print Culture

Early African American Print Culture

Lara Langer Cohen
Jordan Alexander Stein
Series: Material Texts
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Early African American Print Culture
    Book Description:

    The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw both the consolidation of American print culture and the establishment of an African American literary tradition, yet the two are too rarely considered in tandem. In this landmark volume, a stellar group of established and emerging scholars ranges over periods, locations, and media to explore African Americans' diverse contributions to early American print culture, both on the page and off. The book's seventeen chapters consider domestic novels and gallows narratives, Francophone poetry and engravings of Liberia, transatlantic lyrics and San Francisco newspapers. Together, they consider how close attention to the archive can expand the study of African American literature well beyond matters of authorship to include issues of editing, illustration, circulation, and reading-and how this expansion can enrich and transform the study of print culture more generally. Published in cooperation with the Library Company of Philadelphia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0629-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION: Early African American Print Culture
    (pp. 1-16)

    The present volume takes its cue from a historical convergence. The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed the consolidation of what historians have come to know as “print culture” in the United States. Spurred by technological improvements to the printing press, innovations in papermaking and binding, increasing divisions of labor and automation, and the expansion of distribution networks enabled by railroad and steamship, print shops turned out a huge variety of printed goods in unprecedented quantities. These goods included recognizably literary items such as books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and broadsides, as well as nonliterary items such as stationery, lottery tickets,...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Print Atlantic: Phillis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, and the Cultural Significance of the Book
      (pp. 19-39)

      These advertisements are drawn from the print archives of two institutions that shaped the culture of the Anglophone Atlantic: the trade in enslaved Africans and the trade in books. The first advertisement, fairly typical of its time, indicates a number of that culture’s defining features. These include tensions within commercial networks defined both by local knowledge (“enquire of John Avery, at his House”) and a wide transatlantic reach; the use of multiple devices for the exchange of goods (cash, credit, exchange); and the radical contradictions of the slave economy, apparent in this advertisement’s description of Africans in both the stark...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Unfortunates: What the Life Spans of Early Black Books Tell Us About Book History
      (pp. 40-52)

      These lines from Herman Melville’s classic short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener” capture for me the feeling of sorrow-tinged wonder I take away from studies of early African American writing. For just as the dead letter office comes to represent for Melville’s narrator the power of randomness, loss, accident, anonymity, failure, and error in shaping human experience, every early black text I encounter raises questions of how many such books never made it to print or survived into contemporary memory. Even as new scholarship represented in this volume of essays discloses vital new information about how black print culture worked, much...

    • CHAPTER 3 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Circuits of Abolitionist Poetry
      (pp. 53-74)

      Can attention to the format of printed works change how we think about the history of literary genres, in particular, the history of poetic genres? Judging by the paucity of book history scholarship devoted to American poetry (despite its cultural prestige), and the lack of attention given to print culture by scholars of American poetry (outside of that which is lavished on our great printer-poet, Walt Whitman), one is tempted to conclude that the materiality of the printed poem is largely immaterial to how we understand its significance. Over the past thirty years or so, book history has done much...

    • CHAPTER 4 Early African American Print Culture and the American West
      (pp. 75-90)

      A handful of recovery efforts have begun to alert scholars to black textual presences outside of the urban Northeast, but the lively black print culture in the American West has often remained absent from consideration. This essay begins to treat crucial pieces of that print culture—specifically three nineteenth-century black San Francisco newspapers—to introduce scholars to the intrinsic richness of these texts (and their contexts) and to offer a case study that highlights key issues in the study of the black West as a location of early black print culture.

      First, though, as absences and supposedly representative presences are...

    • CHAPTER 5 Apprehending Early African American Literary History
      (pp. 93-106)

      The publication of Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993) set the African American canon’s clock back almost a full century. Previously, following the institutionalization of black studies in the 1960s and 1970s, the tradition was widely assumed to have commenced in political and aesthetic earnest—following fits and starts in the poetry of Lucy Terry, Phillis Wheatley, and Jupiter Hammon—with the antebellum slave narrative, specifically the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). Featuring extended readings of Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Richard Wright, the Black Atlantic followed the canon’s established timeline. But...

    • CHAPTER 6 Black Voices, White Print: Racial Practice, Print Publicity, and Order in the Early American Republic
      (pp. 107-126)

      On or about July 14, 1816, a broadside titled Invitation, Addressed to the Marshals of the “Africum Shocietee,” at the Commemoration of the “Abolition of the Slave Trade” appeared in the Boston vicinity. Invitation simultaneously announced and satirized the commemoration of the end of the trade, which was organized and led by Bostonians of African descent but included white Bostonians who actively watched the processions, sometimes gave sermons, and even extended the celebration through complimentary newspaper announcements and reportage (Figure 6.1).¹ It was printed on rough paper measuring approximately eleven by eighteen inches, probably produced in a large run, sold...

    • CHAPTER 7 Slavery, Imprinted: The Life and Narrative of William Grimes
      (pp. 127-139)

      In 1824, in a fury over the injustices of slavery, racism in the North, and exploitation of the workingman, William Grimes wrote the story of his life. The Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave (1825) ends with a visceral and violent image of literary sacrifice: Grimes offers to skin himself in order to authorize the national story of the United States:

      If it were not for the stripes on my back which were made while I was a slave, I would in my will leave my skin as a legacy to the gover[n]ment, desiring that it might be taken...

    • CHAPTER 8 Bottles of Ink and Reams of Paper: Clotel, Racialization, and the Material Culture of Print
      (pp. 140-158)

      William Wells Brown carried stereotypes with him. So we learn in an 1849 letter from William Lloyd Garrison to a British abolitionist who had inquired about the American Anti-Slavery Society’s role in Brown’s English lecture circuit. Brown carried letters of introduction and other credentials from influential Americans, but he went to England a free agent, relying on the generosity of friends and book sales to pay his way. “Mr. Brown does not go out officially from any anti-slavery society, simply because he prefers to stand alone responsible for what he may say and do,” Garrison replied. “Nor does he go...

    • CHAPTER 9 Notes from the State of Saint Domingue: The Practice of Citation in Clotel
      (pp. 161-177)

      The primary claim to fame of William Wells Brown’s 1853 novel Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter lies in its priority: it is routinely hailed as the first African American novel. Yet as numerous readers have discovered, this claim, which honors originality and authenticity, has little in common with the literary mode of Clotel itself, which traffics in citation and iteration. Beginning with William Farrison’s 1969 biography of Brown, scholars have shown that he raided countless sources, including John Relly Beard’s biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Lydia Maria Child’s short story “The Quadroons,” Grace Greenwood’s poem “The Leap from the Long Bridge,”...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Canon in Front of Them: African American Deployments of “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
      (pp. 178-191)

      In a 1990 episode of the television sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air wittily titled “Def Poets’ Society,” Will Smith joins the school poetry club. Commending this newfound interest in poetry (which of course is really an interest in girls), Geoffrey, the family’s excruciatingly proper Afro-British butler, informs Will that he too loves poetry and in fact received first prize at the All-Devonshire Poetry Recital of 1963. Reliving his triumph, he begins to recite:

      Cannon to the right of them,

      Cannon to the left of them,

      Cannon in front of them

      Volleyed and thundered.

      The choice of “The Charge...

    • CHAPTER 11 Another Long Bridge: Reproduction and Reversion in Hagar’s Daughter
      (pp. 192-202)

      A woman escapes at dusk from a slave pen in Washington, D.C., sprints across the Long Bridge toward the woods on the other side of the Potomac, finds herself caught between approaching captors on both sides, clasps her hands, lifts her eyes to heaven, and leaps into the river to her death in view of the White House and the Capitol building. This narrative was written by Seth M. Gates, a congressman from New York, and published under the headline “Slavery in the District” in the New York Evangelist on September 8, 1842.¹ The author presented it as an eyewitness...

    • CHAPTER 12 “Photographs to Answer Our Purposes”: Representations of the Liberian Landscape in Colonization Print Culture
      (pp. 203-230)

      Perched on a lighthouse, Augustus Washington cast his gaze over the landscape of his newly founded and recently adopted country. Standing high above Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, Washington took a picture, capturing his point of view in a daguerreotype. This image remains only in the form of a wood engraving based on the photograph (Figure 12.1). The daguerreotype itself is unlocated. The print shows a vegetated landscape stretching into the horizon. The foreground is marked by palm tree fronds, which interrupt the sweeping vista of the town below. A cleared pathway winds along the center of the composition, drawing attention...

    • CHAPTER 13 Networking Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Hyper Stowe in Early African American Print Culture
      (pp. 231-250)

      What’s in a network? For many who tout the new knowledge that will be unleashed by going or better yet being born digital, the past is an already discovered country. We can improve our access and have better recovery but the outer limits of that known world are fixed. Moreover, the supposed historical redundancy of the idea of “networks” stems from the mistaken ways this term is applied only to digital versions of earlier texts, especially those firmly anchored in the print culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The general view is that new digital media will revolutionize the...

    • CHAPTER 14 The Lyric Public of Les Cenelles
      (pp. 253-273)

      The acknowledged first anthology of African American literature is a collection of Francophone poetry titled Les Cenelles: Choix de poésies indigènes. It was published in New Orleans in 1845. Over the course of its history, a single recurring question has pursued this collection: what are its politics? The revision of the African American literary canon during the 1980s and 1990s offers a concentrated example of this approach to literary history conceived of as political connoisseurship. The perceived assimilatory stance of the Les Cenelles poets, all of whom were free men of color, troubled many of the canon makers of these...

    • CHAPTER 15 Imagining a State of Fellow Citizens: Early African American Politics of Publicity in the Black State Conventions
      (pp. 274-289)

      This essay examines the Proceedings of the Black State Conventions of the 1840s as political documents central to our understanding of early African American print culture and the role of print circulation, as metaphor and as medium, for defining participatory politics more generally in the early United States.¹ Just as the struggle against slavery and kidnapping generated the national conventions of the 1830s, activism for political rights, especially the suffrage, fueled the state conventions in the 1840s. The very acts of organizing and holding conventions to petition for voting and other rights created a public black civic presence, demonstrating that...

    • CHAPTER 16 “Keep It Before the People”: The Pictorialization of American Abolitionism
      (pp. 290-317)

      Historians of early nineteenth-century American visual culture are hard-pressed to identify a phenomenon as iconographic as the promotional efforts of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s (AASS) pamphlet campaign of 1835. Within two years after its December 4, 1833, debut, the AASS attempted to nationally distribute (by way of the federal postal system and a network of northern colporteurs) an unprecedented 1,100,000 pieces of antislavery tracts and ephemera, of which over half would be illustrated.¹ Consequently, not only does the AASS’s archive include a superabundance of graphic prints that detail the sordid horrors of the peculiar institution, but many of the society’s...

    • CHAPTER 17 John Marrant Blows the French Horn: Print, Performance, and the Making of Publics in Early African American Literature
      (pp. 318-340)

      Sometime late in the year of 1769, John Marrant walked into an evangelical meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, where the famous Reverend George Whitefield was holding forth: Marrant’s intention was to blow his French horn in the midst of the meeting in order to disrupt the sermon of the controversial Methodist preacher. Marrant, then fourteen years old, was a free black young man of tremendous musical talents who had been incited to this prank by a companion. However, as he lifted the French horn off of his shoulder, jostling for room among the throng of bodies gathered to hear Whitefield,...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 341-404)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 405-408)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 409-420)
    (pp. 421-422)