- The History of Popular Print Culture, Volume Six: U.S. Popular Print Culture, 1860-1920 ed. by Christine Bold
Oxford's sixth volume of The History of Popular Print Culture takes as its subject matter English language script and imagery between the American Civil War and the First World War. It is a valuable contribution to book history that is diverse in disciplinary backgrounds, theoretical assumptions, and methodological approaches. Despite the range of methods inevitable in such an ambitious history, the Oxford volume maintains a sense of cohesion, with a materialist theoretical grounding that concerns itself with inquiries into the processes of production, the specificity of forms, and the influence of the popular on readers and reading practices. The collected essays seek to resituate popular texts within the wider economic, cultural, and political contexts in which they were produced and received, and to reconstitute popular readers as active agents who held a variety of positions in relation to mass culture. Moving beyond the mere descriptive histories and single author or title studies that have been symptomatic of popular print inquiry in recent years, the essays in this volume answer larger questions about the operation of power through the analysis of print "networks and movements" (13). Its contributors make a convincing argument for continuing critical "questions about how cultural hierarchy was constructed, in whose interests, and with what ideological effects" (5). The relationship between print and ideology is, for the Oxford volume, non-homogenous and non-linear, a process of struggle between warring economic, political, cultural, racial, ethnic, class, and gender divisions that were played out within and upon the publishing industries. Politics and culture—even individual identities and pathways of representation—both shaped and were shaped by the "profuse, diverse, and powerful" popular print networks of the era (1).
Christine Bold's introductory chapter identifies the central assumptions of this volume as an acknowledgement of the ideological diversity of the "popular," which "contains within itself antithetical meanings" that "merge and compete" (3); an acknowledgement of "culture" as a diverse set of practices by which meaning and value is (re)produced; an insistence on unsettling the traditionally constructed boundaries between forms and genres that eschews hierarchies between textual and visual culture, high and low culture, fiction [End Page 188] and literature, public and private media, and print and new media; and, finally, a recognition of the blurring between national, linguistic, regional, and temporal borders that confront the scholar of the "popular." The diversity of the era's print network is reflected in the volume's structure; each section exceeds its spatial boundaries, communicating with those that come before and after. The volume is organized into three major sections: the first establishes the specific practices and patterns of the market, the second provides a generic organizing mechanism for the period's prolific body of texts, and the third deconstructs these organizing principles by attending to the ways in which particular texts and readers circumvented the ideological aims of production, as well as the ways in which ideologies crossed the boundaries between regional, national, and transatlantic presses, raced and gendered audiences, and visual and textual formats.
While it is impossible to give adequate attention to all of the contributions in a volume this large, none of which are without their merits, these collected essays together speak to the boundlessness of their subject matter and offer an array of useful histories, as well as some fresh perspectives. Mark Simpson's chapter explores "postcard culture" in America (169); Lydia Cushman Schurman provides a history of reprint libraries; Keith Gandal excavates the era's photojournalism to explore "cross-class encounters between the photographer . . . and the 'slum' dwellers" of the urban poor (573). More directly focused on periodical culture in particular are Richard Abel and Amy Rodger's "Early Motion Pictures and Popular Print Culture: A Web of Ephemera," which includes fan magazines in its discussion of the importance of "intermedial relations" between film and print in creating and sustaining an industry of...