H-135. The History of the Book in Antebellum America

James N. Green Michael Winship

This course will focus on the emergence of a national trade publishing system in the United States by examining the production, distribution, and reception of books and other printed materials during the years from 1800 to 1860, with particular emphasis on the crucial transition period of 1819 to 1837. Among the themes that will be explored are how the publishing and book trades established and developed themselves over this period; the introduction of new production and distribution technologies; changes in the economics of publishing and how they affected the price of books and the practice of discounting; the development of different markets for books and the various ways books reached readers as the nation expanded westward.

The Rare Book School teaching collection is rich in printed materials from this period, and students will have an opportunity to study many examples that illustrate important features of the history of the American antebellum book. Using digital copies of manuscript sources they will also study the business practices of printers and publishers, and material practices of authorship and reading. Several trips to UVA Special Collections will allow students to examine copies of scarce or rare material, including works by African Americans and cheap print aimed at urban and working-class readers. Students will also be introduced to important reference works and other resources for the study of American book history. The class will be run as a seminar, so students will be encouraged to discuss their own interests and research projects with the group as a whole.

This course is aimed at scholars, librarians, collectors, and others who are already familiar with the broad outlines of American book history but who wish to focus on what is specific to the book culture of the antebellum period. While there are no prerequisites, the course is designed to complement James N. Green’s History of the Book in America, c.1700–1830 (H-70) and Michael Winship’s The American Book in the Industrial Era, 1820–1940 (H-50) by focusing specifically on the shift from the colonial to the industrial book; the course supplements at a more advanced level the broad overview of the introductory course The History of the Book in America: A Survey from Colonial to Modern (H-15). In their personal statement, applicants are requested to summarize briefly their background in the field, current research projects, and topics or issues that they would particularly like the course to address.

Course History

James N. Green & Michael Winship co-teach this course.


  • James N. Green
  • Michael Winship

James N. Green

James Green is Librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia, where he has worked for more than thirty years. He contributed three long essays on American printing and publishing to the first two volumes of the collaborative History of the Book in America published under the auspices of the American Antiquarian Society, and he is the author, with Peter Stallybrass, of Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer (Oak Knoll, 2006).

Full Bio »

Michael Winship

Michael Winship, Iris Howard Regents Professor of English II at the University of Texas at Austin, edited the final three volumes of the nine-volume Bibliography of American Literature. He is the author of American Literary Publishing in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Business of Ticknor and Fields (1995) and has published widely on the nineteenth-century American book and publishing trades. He is an editor and contributor to The Industrial Book, 1840–1880 (volume 3 in the History of the Book in America series) and served on that series’ editorial board. He has taught annually at RBS since 1983.

Full Bio »