- The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Volume Six: US Popular Print Culture 1860–1920 by Christine Bold
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In this new anthology from Oxford University Press, nearly thirty international scholars explore the complex world of popular print culture in the United States between 1860 and 1920, making reference to western primary sources in their national surveys and occasionally probing western topics more closely. Like other recent studies in the field alternatively called book history or the history of print culture, US Popular Print Culture 1860–1920 shimmers with primary sources as compelling today as a century ago (though not always for the same reasons). It offers many authoritative and delightful points of entry for research in its capacious field.
Organized into three sections, the volume begins with ten chapters on the “Forms and Technologies of Cultural Production,” addressing dime novels, story papers, magazines, and the poetry of advertising, as well as postcard culture, early motion pictures, and the international networks of US publishers. The nine “Popular Genres” of part 2 include the print forms associated with labor and woman’s suffrage, as well as juvenile and religious books, Westerns and science fiction, popular poetry, the humor “industry,” and “sensationalism.” In ten chapters, part 3 explores “Sites of Difference and Power” chiefly in the form of case studies, such as the print sensation surrounding Stanley’s search for Livingstone.
In addition to its twenty-nine chapters and an introduction that seamlessly blends the study of popular forms with the study of print culture, the volume offers a chronology of events; a section of micro-essays and micro-bibliographies on topics left out of the main volume (“Literacy,” “Scrapbooks,” “Advice Manuals and Self-Help Books,” “Sports and Popular Print Culture,” etc.); and an annotated bibliography of related print and digital collections. Like the best chapters, the micro-essays succinctly identify key texts and debates in the field, making Bold’s anthology an excellent starting point for numerous inquiries.
Among the best essays in the volume are several whose extensive primary research includes printed matter from the West as well as other regions, supporting broad national conclusions. In a delightful chapter on the poetry (not just jingles) of American advertising, Cary Nelson and Mike Chasar feature writers and companies from Illinois, Ohio, and [End Page 403] California, as well as New York. Mary Chapman and Victoria Lamont reference woman’s suffrage periodicals from Oregon and Colorado in their illuminating study of the “periodicals, pamphlets, creative literature, and print cultural publicity stunts of the [suffrage] campaign” (254). Coleman Hutchison considers regional poetry collections among the anthologies he surveys in “Popular Poetry in Circulation.” With dizzying brevity, Kirsten Silva Gruesz surveys the history of the Spanish-language press in the US-Mexican borderlands and analyzes the complex political allegiances of particular editors negotiating political battles in both nations.
In clear and engaging prose, US Popular Print Culture 1860–1920 offers a satisfying balance of state-of-the-field summaries and new perspectives, or breadth and specificity. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the editor’s own chapter, simply called “Westerns.” Christine Bold acknowledges scholarly truisms about genre Westerns only long enough to sniff out “the complexities and contradictions” in the archive of primary sources with which she is so familiar (318). Sharing a glimpse of her unique research on Owen Wister’s associates, she argues that Wister’s “frontier club” “clos[ed] down … the democratic accents and boundary-crossing possibilities opened up by dime westerns” (327). She closes with the dissenting regional visions of the likes of Nat Love, Pauline Hopkins, and Zitkala-Ša.
Other case studies with interesting primary archives for westernists include John Kuo Wei Tchen’s recovery of the “Yellow Claw” motif in texts and illustrations, Susan Scheckel’s study of...