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Reviewed by:
  • Print Technology in Scotland and America, 1740–1800 by Louis Kirk McAuley
  • Molly O’Hagan Hardy (bio)
Print Technology in Scotland and America, 1740–1800 louis kirk mcauley Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2013 327 pp.

In Print Technology in Scotland and America, 1740–1800, Louis Kirk McAuley traces how central Enlightenment figures formed “national consciousness” through strategic uses of print (242). Moving nimbly between the Scottish Highlands, New England, and Virginia, McAuley “provide[s] a content-based analysis of how not merely time … but also place” determine print media’s value and meaning (22). This value is measured, for McAuley, by its ability to cause or quell noise, which, based on the French theorist Jacques Attali’s work on the political economy of music, serves as metaphor for the political tensions from the Great Awakening through the end of the eighteenth century.

The book is less about “print technology” and more about print’s cultural function. It responds to Michael Warner and Benedict Anderson’s work, at times in ways that are rather tired, and at others, quite illuminating. The transatlantic through lines in the book offer fresh readings of some of the period’s most-studied figures (save George Whitefield, who largely drops out of the discussion after the first chapter). The strength of the argument lies in productive alignment of James Macpherson and Thomas Jefferson and their strategic uses of print—poetry and newspapers, specifically—to further their professional agendas. A reader expecting meaningful interventions in the field of book history will be disappointed, however, especially when McAuley places undue weight on the end of the 1695 Licensing Act’s termination of censorship in England, relying heavily on Jürgen Habermas as his source for this assertion (5). Far from eliminating censorship, the end of the Licensing Act is when debates around literary [End Page 941] property—who owns it and who is responsible for it—get really exciting, as the work of Jody Greene, Joseph Loewenstein, and Mark Rose attests. For all matters related to book history, McAuley relies on Rosalyn Remer and Richard Sher, both trustworthy sources to be sure, but with the exception of the discussion of Jefferson’s use of the polygraph to produce copies, there is little here that the book historian cannot find elsewhere.

McAuley positions his work as challenging “contemporary critical entrenchments of empire and print, including the field’s dominant yet overly optimistic assumption that an eighteenth-century revolution in printing democratized the culture of writing.” He argues: “tensions (ethnic, racial, political, economic, aesthetic and religious) within these contact zones rendered the emergence of a so-called rational public sphere practically impossible at this time” (49). McAuley succeeds in this very mission in his reading of MacPherson’s Ossian (1760) and in his adept comparisons of Macpherson’s experience with both Jefferson’s and Charles Brockden Brown’s in the early Republic. In a book organized around the work of prominent white male authors, his reading of ethnic and racial tensions is less convincing, though he does provide some fresh contexts in which we might read a few important figures’ racialized experiences in the transatlantic eighteenth century.

Each chapter in the book, save the first—which serves more to introduce the study’s theoretical underpinnings—centers around a prominent figure who used print either to stir up or abate political tension (or “noise,” to use McAuley’s framing): Whitefield, Macpherson, Jefferson, and Brown. Attali is the theoretical framework to tie these transatlantic figures together, though at times McAuley wants to read noise as a metaphor and other times he seems more invested in the actual sounds being made at Whitefield’s sermons or being described in Macpherson’s poetry. At the former moments, the reader might expect McAuley to be in conversation with the work of Christopher Looby (though he is not mentioned until the penultimate page of the book). At the latter moments, the reader realizes that perhaps Attali is weighing McAuley down. Throughout his chapters, McAuley frequently examines how Enlightenment ideas of sympathy relate to copying, to imitating, and, in the final chapter on Brown, to mimicry. These moments are some of best in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-147X
Print ISSN
0012-8163
Pages
pp. 941-944
Launched on MUSE
2015-11-18
Open Access
No
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