H-15. The History of the Book in America: A Survey from Colonial to Modern

Scott E. Casper Jeffrey D. Groves

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 31 July–5 August 2022
Format: in person, University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA
Fee: $1,395

An inclusive survey of the roles of books and other technologies related to literacy in American society and culture. We will first examine the early trans-Atlantic trade in books, the beginning and early years of local print production, and the place of books, almanacs, and other printed documents in colonial British North America. Our focus will then shift to the establishment of a national book trade in an expanding United States during the industrial era, as well to various alternatives to that trade. We will investigate the industrialization and mechanization of book production, methods of bookselling and distribution inside and outside the trade, control of the trade and barriers to entry, and reading patterns in the United States, including among African Americans and recent immigrants from eastern Europe and Asia. In the second half of the course, we will transition to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and discuss such developments as alternative and oppositional forms of publishing, the introduction of book clubs, mass-trade paperbacks, and the internet. We will close with a brief and necessarily speculative discussion of what the developments and trends we have traced mean for the future of books, publishing, and reading.

This course is intended for individuals broadly interested in the history of the book in America, but who have little formal training or exposure to the subject. The course will feature numerous hands-on sessions, such as working with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers and printing on hand presses. Participants will end the course with a firm grasp of technologies related to literacy, how they developed over time, and how publications were produced, distributed, and consumed. In their personal statements, applicants are encouraged to describe the nature of their developing interest in the history of the book and (if relevant) explain briefly the causes of this interest and the purposes to which they propose to put the knowledge gained from the course.

Course History

2017–
Scott E. Casper and Jeffrey D. Groves co-teach this course.
2003–2012
Michael Winship teaches this course.
1987–1988
Michael Winship and Edwin Wolf 2d. co-teach a precursor course, "History of the American Book."

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses

Faculty

  • Scott E. Casper
  • Jeffrey D. Groves

Scott E. Casper

Scott Casper is president of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), a national research library of American history and culture before 1900. He is the author of Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) and Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine (Hill and Wang, 2008); and the co-editor of Perspectives on American Book History: Artifacts and Commentary (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002, with Joanne D. Chaison and Jeffrey D. Groves), A History of the Book in America, Volume III: The Industrial Book, 1840–1880 (University of North Carolina Press, 2007, with Jeffrey D. Groves, Stephen Nissenbaum, and Michael Winship), and The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History (Oxford University Press, 2013, with Joan Shelley Rubin). Before joining AAS, he was dean of the college of arts, humanities, and social sciences and professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Foundation Professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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Jeffrey D. Groves

Jeff Groves is the Louisa and Robert Miller Professor of Humanities at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, where he also served as Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He is a contributor to and co-editor of Perspectives on American Book History: Artifacts and Commentary (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002, with Scott E. Casper and Joanne D. Chaison) and A History of the Book in America, Volume III: The Industrial Book, 1840–1880 (University of North Carolina Press, 2007, with Scott E. Casper, Stephen Nissenbaum, and Michael Winship).  He is the founder of The First-Floor Press, a letterpress teaching studio at the Claremont Colleges Library.

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