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The Art of Prestige

The Formative Years at Knopf, 1915-1929

Amy Root Clements

In the American book trade, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and its inimitable logo featuring a borzoi wolfhound have come to signify the pinnacle of prestigious publishing. Launched in 1915 by a dynamic twenty-two-year-old and his refined fiancée, Blanche Wolf, the firm soon developed a reputation for excellence, quickly overcoming outsider status to forge a unique identity that has endured well past its founders’ lifetimes. Capturing the little-known early history of Knopf, The Art of Prestige explores the origins of the company’s rise to success during the Jazz Age, when Alfred and Blanche established themselves as literary impresarios on both sides of the Atlantic. Drawing on key archival documents from all phases of the publishing process, Amy Root Clements reconstructs the turning points and rhetorical exchanges that made Knopf’s initial books noteworthy, from the acquisitions process to design, consumer marketing, and bookselling. Lasting cornerstones of the young firm include alliances with pivotal figures in the world of graphic arts and book production and with European publishers who brought numerous Nobel Prize winners to the Borzoi list during the company’s first fifteen years. Other featured luminaries include the American authors Willa Cather, Dashiell Hammett, and Langston Hughes. The Art of Prestige also examines Alfred Knopf’s ancestry, up-bringing, and formal education at Columbia, as well as his apprenticeships with Frank Nelson Doubleday and Mitchell Kennerley—factors that would influence his business decisions for years to come. The result is a portrait of innovative branding that seamlessly merged book production with book promotion in a literary landscape that was ripe for transformation.

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Beyond the White Negro

Empathy and Anti-Racist Reading

Kimberly Chabot Davis

Critics often characterize white consumption of African American culture as a form of theft that echoes the fantasies of 1950s-era bohemians, or "White Negroes," who romanticized black culture as anarchic and sexually potent. In Beyond the White Negro, Kimberly Chabot Davis claims such a view fails to describe the varied politics of racial crossover in the past fifteen years.Davis analyzes how white engagement with African American novels, film narratives, and hip-hop can help form anti-racist attitudes that may catalyze social change and racial justice. Though acknowledging past failures to establish cross-racial empathy, she focuses on examples that show avenues for future progress and change. Her study of ethnographic data from book clubs and college classrooms shows how engagement with African American culture and pedagogical support can lead to the kinds of white self-examination that make empathy possible. The result is a groundbreaking text that challenges the trend of focusing on society's failures in achieving cross-racial empathy and instead explores possible avenues for change.

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Bibliography and the Book Trades

Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England

Hugh Amory. Edited by David D. Hall

Hugh Amory (1930-2001) was at once the most rigorous and the most methodologically sophisticated historian of the book in early America. Gathered here are his essays, articles, and lectures on the subject, two of them printed for the first time. An introduction by David D. Hall sets this work in context and indicates its significance; Hall has also provided headnotes for each of the essays.

Amory used his training as a bibliographer to reexamine every major question about printing, bookmaking, and reading in early New England. Who owned Bibles, and in what formats? Did the colonial book trade consist of books imported from Europe or of local production? Can we go behind the iconic status of the Bay Psalm Book to recover its actual history? Was Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom really a bestseller? And why did an Indian gravesite contain a scrap of Psalm 98 in a medicine bundle buried with a young Pequot girl?

In answering these and other questions, Amory writes broadly about the social and economic history of printing, bookselling and book ownership. At the heart of his work is a determination to connect the materialities of printed books with the workings of the book trades and, in turn, with how printed books were put to use. This is a collection of great methodological importance for anyone interested in literature and history who wants to make those same connections.

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Book History

Vol. 1 (1998) through current issue

Book History is devoted to every aspect of the history of the book, broadly defined as the history of the creation, dissemination, and reception of script and print. It publishes research on the social, economic, and cultural history of authorship, editing, printing, the book arts, publishing, the book trade, periodicals, newspapers, ephemera, copyright, censorship, literary agents, libraries, literary criticism, canon formation, literacy, literary education, reading habits, and reader response. Book History is the official publication of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, Inc. (SHARP).

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Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Ira D. Gruber

This manuscript is an outgrowth of a presentation Gruber made to the Society of the Cincinnati (as part of the Society’s George Rogers Clark Lecture series) in 2002. It is a hybrid reference book and monograph. The work consists of a substantial introduction, a bibliography of books the officers preferred, a bibliography of books on war that do not appear in any of the inventories (termed books not taken), a set of biographies of the 42 officers on which the study rests, and various appendixes and tables that back up the earlier material.

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Books, Maps, and Politics

A Cultural History of the Library of Congress, 1783-1861

Carl Ostrowski

Delving into the origins and development of the Library of Congress, this volume ranges from the first attempt to establish a national legislative library in 1783 to the advent of the Civil War. Carl Ostrowski shows how the growing and changing Library was influenced by—and in turn affected—major intellectual, social, historical, and political trends that occupied the sphere of public discourse in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America. The author explores the relationship between the Library and the period's expanding print culture. He identifies the books that legislators required to be placed in the Library and establishes how these volumes were used. His analysis of the earliest printed catalogs of the Library reveals that law, politics, economics, geography, and history were the subjects most assiduously collected. These books provided government officials with practical guidance in domestic legislation and foreign affairs, including disputes with European powers over territorial boundaries. Ostrowski also discusses a number of secondary functions of the Library, one of which was to provide reading material for the entertainment and instruction of government officials and their families. As a result, the richness of America's burgeoning literary culture from the 1830s to the 1860s was amply represented on the Library's shelves. For those with access to its Capitol rooms, the Library served an important social function, providing a space for interaction and the display and appreciation of American works of art. Ostrowski skillfully demonstrates that the history of the Library of Congress offers a lens through which we can view changing American attitudes toward books, literature, and the relationship between the federal government and the world of arts and letters.

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Bound to Read

Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Renaissance Literature

By Jeffrey Todd Knight

Concealed in rows of carefully restored volumes in rare book libraries is a history of the patterns of book collecting and compilation that shaped the literature of the English Renaissance. In this early period of print, before the introduction of commercial binding, most published literary texts did not stand on shelves in discrete, standardized units. They were issued in loose sheets or temporarily stitched—leaving it to the purchaser or retailer to collect, configure, and bind them. In Bound to Read, Jeffrey Todd Knight excavates this culture of compilation—of binding and mixing texts, authors, and genres into single volumes—and sheds light on a practice that not only was pervasive but also defined the period's very ways of writing and thinking.

Through a combination of archival research and literary criticism, Knight shows how Renaissance conceptions of imaginative writing were inextricable from the material assembly of texts. While scholars have long identified an early modern tendency to borrow and redeploy texts, Bound to Read reveals that these strategies of imitation and appropriation were rooted in concrete ways of engaging with books. Knight uncovers surprising juxtapositions such as handwritten sonnets collected with established poetry in print and literary masterpieces bound with liturgical texts and pamphlets. By examining works by Shakespeare, Spenser, Montaigne, and others, he dispels the notion of literary texts as static or closed, and instead demonstrates how the unsettled conventions of early print culture fostered an idea of books as interactive and malleable.

Though firmly rooted in Renaissance culture, Knight's carefully calibrated arguments also push forward to the digital present—engaging with the modern library archives where these works were rebound and remade, and showing how the custodianship of literary artifacts shapes our canons, chronologies, and contemporary interpretative practices.

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Building Their Own Waldos

Emerson’s First Biographers and the Politics of Life-Writing in the Gilded Age

Robert D. Habich

By the end of the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson was well on his way to becoming the “Wisest American” and the “Sage of Concord,” a literary celebrity and a national icon. With that fame came what Robert Habich describes as a blandly sanctified version of Emerson held widely by the reading public. Building Their Own Waldos sets out to understand the dilemma faced by Emerson’s early biographers: how to represent a figure whose subversive individualism had been eclipsed by his celebrity, making him less a representative of his age than a caricature of it.
 
Drawing on never-before-published letters, diaries, drafts, business records, and private documents, Habich explores the making of a cultural hero through the stories of Emerson’s first biographers— George Willis Cooke, a minister most recently from Indianapolis who considered himself a disciple; the English reformer and newspaper mogul Alexander Ireland, a friend for half a century; Moncure D. Conway, a Southern abolitionist then residing in London, who called Emerson his “spiritual father and intellectual teacher”; the poet and medical professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, with Emerson a member of Boston’s gathering of literary elite, the Saturday Club; James Elliot Cabot, the family’s authorized biographer, an architect and amateur philosopher with unlimited access to Emerson’s unpublished papers; and Emerson’s son Edward, a physician and painter whose father had passed over him as literary executor in favor of Cabot.
 
Just as their biographies reveal a complex, socially engaged Emerson, so too do the biographers’ own stories illustrate the real-world perils, challenges, and motives of life-writing in the late nineteenth century, when biographers were routinely vilified as ghoulish and disreputable and biography as a genre underwent a profound redefinition. Building Their Own Waldos is at once a revealing look at Emerson’s constructed reputation, a case study in the rewards and dangers of Victorian life-writing, and the story of six authors struggling amidst personal misfortunes and shifting expectations to capture the elusive character of America’s “representative man,” as they knew him and as they needed him to be.

 

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Burdens of Proof

Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography

Autobiographical impostures, once they come to light, appear to us as outrageous, scandalous. They confuse lived and textual identity (the person in the world and the character in the text) and call into question what we believe, what we doubt, and how we receive information. In the process, they tell us a lot about cultural norms and anxieties. Burdens of Proof: Faith, Doubt, and Identity in Autobiography examines a broad range of impostures in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and asks about each one: Why this particular imposture? Why here and now?

Susanna Egan’s historical survey of texts from early Christendom to the nineteenth century provides an understanding of the author in relation to the text and shows how plagiarism and other false claims have not always been regarded as the frauds we consider them today. She then explores the role of the media in the creation of much contemporary imposture, examining in particular the cases of Jumana Hanna, Norma Khouri, and James Frey. The book also addresses ethnic imposture, deliberate fictions, plagiarism, and ghostwriting, all of which raise moral, legal, historical, and cultural issues. Egan concludes the volume with an examination of how historiography and law failed to support the identities of European Jews during World War II, creating sufficient instability in Jewish identity and doubt about Jewish wartime experience that the impostor could step in. This textual erasure of the Jews of Europe and the refashioning of their experiences in fraudulent texts are examples of imposture as an outcrop of extreme identity crisis.

The first to examine these issues in North America and Europe, Burdens of Proof will be of interest to scholars of life writing and cultural studies. </p

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The Call to Read

Reginald Pecock's Books and Textual Communities

Kirsty Campbell

The Call to Read is the first full-length study to situate the surviving oeuvre of Reginald Pecock in the context of current scholarship on English vernacular theology of the late medieval period. Kirsty Campbell examines the important and innovative contribution Pecock made to late medieval debates about the roles of the Bible, the Church, the faculty of reason, and practices of devotion in fostering a vital, productive, and stable Christian community. Campbell argues that Pecock’s fascinating attempt to educate the laity is more than an effort to supply religious reading material: it is an attempt to establish and unite a community of readers around his books, to influence and thus change the ways they understand their faith, the world, and their place in it. The aim of Pecock’s educational project is to harness the power of texts to effect religious change. Combining traditional approaches with innovative thinking on moral philosophy, devotional exercises, and theological doctrine, Pecock’s works of religious instruction are his attempt to reform a Christian community threatened by heresy through reshaping meaningful Christian practices and forms of belief. Campbell’s book will be of interest to scholars and students of medieval literature and culture, especially those interested in fifteenth-century religious history and culture.

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