We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Early African American Print Culture

Edited by Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Material Texts


pdf iconDownload PDF (196.8 KB)

read more

Introduction: Early African American Print Culture

pdf iconDownload PDF (143.4 KB)
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...

Part I: Vectors of Movement

read more

1. The Print Atlantic: Phillis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, and the Cultural Significance of the Book

pdf iconDownload PDF (483.6 KB)
pp. 19-39

TO BE SOLD. A Parcel of likely NEGROES, imported from Africa, cheap for Cash, or short Credit with Interest; enquire of John Avery, at his House next Door to the White-Horse, or at a Store adjoining to said Avery’s Distill- House, at the South End, near the South Market: – Also if any Persons have any Negro Men, strong and...

read more

2. The Unfortunates: What the Life Spans of Early Black Books Tell Us About Book History

pdf iconDownload PDF (121.9 KB)
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...

read more

3. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Circuits of Abolitionist Poetry

pdf iconDownload PDF (700.5 KB)
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...

read more

4. Early African American Print Culture and the American West

pdf iconDownload PDF (157.3 KB)
pp. 75-89

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...

Part II. Racialization and Identity Production

read more

5. Apprehending Early African American Literary History

pdf iconDownload PDF (134.0 KB)
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...

read more

6. Black Voices, White Print: Racial Practice, Print Publicity, and Order in the Early American Republic

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
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...

read more

7. Slavery, Imprinted: The Life and Narrative of William Grimes

pdf iconDownload PDF (332.1 KB)
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...

read more

8. Bottles of Ink and Reams of Paper: Clotel, Racialization, and the Material Culture of Print

pdf iconDownload PDF (372.4 KB)
pp. 140-158

William Wells Brown carried stereo types 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...

Part III: Adaptation, Citation, Deployment

read more

9. Notes from the State of Saint Domingue: The Practice of Citation in Clotel

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.5 KB)
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...

read more

10. The Canon in Front of Them: African American Deployments of “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

pdf iconDownload PDF (119.8 KB)
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...

read more

11. Another Long Bridge: Reproduction and Reversion in Hagar’s Daughter

pdf iconDownload PDF (109.8 KB)
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...

read more

12. “Photographs to Answer Our Purposes”: Representations of the Liberian Landscape in Colonization Print Culture

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 203-230

Perched on a light house, 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...

read more

13. Networking Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Hyper Stowe in Early African American Print Culture

pdf iconDownload PDF (178.0 KB)
pp. 231-249

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...

Part IV: Public Performances

read more

14. The Lyric Public of Les Cenelles

pdf iconDownload PDF (165.4 KB)
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...

read more

15. Imagining a State of Fellow Citizens: Early African American Politics of Publicity in the Black State Conventions

pdf iconDownload PDF (141.8 KB)
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. Just as the struggle against slavery...

read more

16. “Keep It Before the People”: The Pictorialization of American Abolitionism

pdf iconDownload PDF (839.1 KB)
pp. 290-317

Engravings are employed to enforce arguments [against slavery], to illustrate facts, to give an energy to language, and life to the form of words, to bring before the “mind’s eye” more vividly than the arbitrary signs of the Alphabet can, the reality of things of which we speak.— They are used to bring home...

read more

17. John Marrant Blows the French Horn: Print, Performance, and the Making of Publics in Early African American Literature

pdf iconDownload PDF (192.8 KB)
pp. 318-339

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...


pdf iconDownload PDF (530.6 KB)
pp. 341-404

List of Contributors

pdf iconDownload PDF (77.3 KB)
pp. 405-407


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 409-419

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (36.3 KB)
pp. 421-422

Our ideas for this volume were galvanized by the conference “Early African American Print Culture in Theory and Practice,” held in Philadelphia in 2010. We are incredibly grateful to John Van Horne of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Daniel Richter of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and Diane Turner of the...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206296
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244250

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Material Texts

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Literature publishing -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Literature publishing -- United States -- History -- 19th century
  • Authors and publishers -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Authors and publishers -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access