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H-70. The History of the Book in America, c. 1700-1830

James N. Green

This course will focus on the production, distribution, and reception of books, newspapers, and other printed materials in colonial and early national America up to the 1820s. Among the specific topics to be considered are: the role of imported books,  the factors limiting the spread of printing, the proliferation of newspapers and circulating libraries, the press in the Revolutionary era, the shift from printing to publishing in the 1790s, the reprint trade, copyright legislation and practice, author-publisher relations, the decentralized nature of the book trade, the rise of cooperative interregional book distribution systems, the structural flaws in the book trade, its near-collapse during the War of 1812, and its recovery and reorganization in the 1820s.  

Using the resources of the Rare Book School teaching collection, students will study hands-on every aspect of the materiality of early American books; and using copies of manuscript sources they will also study the business practices of printers and publishers, and material practices of authorship and reading. Students will also be introduced to important reference works and other resources for the study of early American book history, and have the opportunity to discuss their own research projects with the instructor and class members.      

This course is aimed at scholars, librarians, collectors, and others who are already familiar with the broad outlines of early modern book history but who wish to focus on what is specific to American book culture in the colonial and early national periods. Its chronological sequel is Michael Winship’s “The American Book in the Industrial Era, 1820-1940” (H50); and it supplements at a more advanced level the broad overview offered in his “History of the Book in America” (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. Students will be asked to bring a laptop with them to some sessions of the course.

Course Resources

Course History


James N. Green teaches this course for the first time.