Texts and Textiles: Commercial Poetics and Material Economies in the Early Atlantic


Reading eighteenth-century Atlantic media with an eye to the material conditions of production, circulation, and consumption provides new ways of understanding how the circulation of goods—in this case, texts and textiles—fosters new forms of expression as well as new kinds of subjects. Textiles were central to the rise of eighteenth-century print culture and public prints have more to tell us than the words inked on the page: printed on rag paper and stitched together with a variety of different threads, texts bear the mark of men and women laboring in flax fields and as spinners, weavers, seamstresses, and laundresses and as rag pickers and papermakers. In this sense, literature and commerce—discourse and economy—collide to produce new forms of expression that, in turn, foster consuming publics of both words and goods. By approaching the texts and objects that facilitate commercial exchange with an eye to their poetic or formalistic qualities, we can see how the formal elements of the writing reflect and comment on manufacturing processes and commercial exchanges. That is, we can see how words might have a material presence, as well as how goods might participate in the discursive production of culture.