- Libraries in the Atlantic World
This conference was the first in a series of three events organized under the auspices of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and titled Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World, 1650–1850. Two days in Liverpool provided a richly stimulating environment allowing for a number of different approaches and methodologies, with a variety of disciplines represented including literary studies, gender studies, history, library science, and computing science. Indeed, one valuable aspect of the conference was the sense that those in attendance were able to share their research across traditional disciplinary boundaries. This made for fruitful and lively discussion. Many papers took a comparative approach, analyzing libraries on both sides of the Atlantic. Others used a case-study method to focus in depth on a single library or community. Particularly welcome were the numerous papers that challenged the traditional Anglo-American bias of Atlantic studies, presenting work on Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Mexico, and the Pacific.
The conference began with a welcome from Mark Towsey (University of Liverpool), who outlined the aims and objectives of the research network behind the three conferences (the most recent took place in Chicago in May 2014, with the final coming up in London in January 2015). Chief among these is to bring together scholars working on eighteenth-century libraries on both sides of the Atlantic in order to facilitate future projects and collaborations. The first panel, “Transatlantic Investments 1: The British Atlantic,” consisted of two papers that foregrounded the importance of economic and personal networks in early American libraries. Sean Moore (University of New Hampshire) discussed the relationship between the slave trade and libraries in mid-eighteenth-century America. Such [End Page 835] libraries were often founded (and funded) by those most involved in the slave trade, and functioned in practice, though not necessarily in theory, as exclusive clubs for the slave-owning classes. Moore’s paper raised one of the questions that were to reappear as a motif throughout the conference: the extent to which eighteenth-century libraries were democratic or antidemocratic institutions. On the same panel, Louisiane Ferlier (University of Oxford) presented a paper on Quaker and Anglican transatlantic libraries of the mid-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Her research highlighted the role of the London Meeting House in this period. The London Meeting House both funded and censored all work produced by Quaker authors in Britain and America. Economic and cultural dependence on this institution further strengthened the tight networks produced by religious affiliation and kinship in the Quaker community.
The three papers of the following panel, “Collections and Cultural Identities,” dealt with how communities use books. Cheryl Knott (University of Arizona) discussed the communities surrounding Pennsylvania’s social (or subscription) libraries. Matthew Sangster (independent scholar) introduced the audience to the lively and delightfully vituperative undergraduate community of St. Andrews in the eighteenth century, making the excellent point that the study of library records and marginal annotations helps scholars get beyond what people thought they ought to be reading toward a history of what they actually read. Elizabeth Neiman (University of Maine) explored the ways in which the Minerva Press helped to shape and define Romantic-period notions about authorship. As a whole, this panel nicely demonstrated the many ways in which communities can be created, sustained, and perpetuated through their involvement with books.
The final panel session of the day was entitled “Atlantic Revolutions.” David Gary (Yale University), Cristina Soriano (Villanova University), and Junia Furtado (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil) all gave papers about the links between reading and revolution in the early American Republic, Venezuela, and Brazil respectively. Both Soriano and Furtado discussed clandestine and censored reading practices, and their papers conclusively demonstrated the importance of shared reading to revolutionary thought. For example, Furtado showed that in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Inconfidencia Mineira revolutionary movement developed entirely out of a “society of thought” based on sharing books. All three papers illustrated the relevance of library history [End Page 836] to...