space, cities, towns, New York, publishers, publishing, neighborhoods, residential paterns, geographical information systems, historical GIS, urban history, spatial analysis, David Bruce
Questions about space and geography have long informed studies in the materiality of texts. In their now-classic 1958 book, L’apparition du livre, Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin describe what they call “the Geography of the Book.” In a series of remarkable maps—which have since inspired the Atlas of Early Printing project at the University of Iowa—Febvre and Martin plot when, and where, printers established presses in Europe, a stunning visualization of just how rapidly the trade expanded after Gutenberg invented and popularized movable type.1 Febvre and Martin show that by the dawn of the sixteenth century, printing presses had appeared in more than 230 towns in central Europe, whereas several larger commercial cities such as Venice, Paris, Lyons, and Leipzig boasted multiple presses.2 Book historians in the last ten years or so have begun revisiting “Geography of the Book,” taking seriously the suggestion by Fiona Black, Malcolm Black, and Bertrum MacDonald that “print culture cannot be fully understood without incorporating the spatial dimension into the picture.”3 Miles Ogborn and Charles W. J. Withers, both geographers by training, [End Page 764] point out in the introduction to their aptly titled 2010 anthology, Geographies of the Book, that space and geography are essential to understanding the “production, distribution and consumption of books.” “Book history, combining concerns with ‘contextualization’ and ‘dissemination’—the local and the far flung—is necessarily geographical,” they argue, suggesting rather provocatively that “books cannot be understood outside their geographies.”4
Building on the work of Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau, historians and literary scholars alike have begun to reexamine the spatial dynamics of human behavior left behind in the archive. “(Social) space,” Lefebvre argues in his seminal La production de l’espace, “is a (social) product.” Lefebvre suggests that an aggregated kind of social space is often “indistinguishable from mental space” and “physical space.”5 Building on Lefebvre’s theory of mental and physical space, de Certeau discusses “space” as part of the fabric of everyday life. “Spatial practices concern everyday tactics,” he writes, and he then observes that “in short, space is a practiced place.” City streets that are “geometrically defined by urban planning” are “completely transformed into a space by walkers.” De Certeau relates this transformation of cities, done almost entirely by people moving about, to the act of reading. “In the same way, an act of reading is the space produced by the practice of a particular place,” such as material texts.6
Book historians and material texts scholars have begun to explore the physical and imagined spaces in the early American archive. In tracing the emergence of what she calls “black counterpublics,” Joanna Brooks examines how cultural institutions such as black churches provided physical and intellectual spaces for black writers in the early republic. Brooks reveals for us how Olaudah Equiano, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones, among many others, advocated for the formation of black cultural spaces, a movement that so often manifested itself in public parades. In his work on the Friendly Club in late eighteenth-century Manhattan, Bryan Waterman looks at how a group of leading litterateurs led a smear campaign against the Bavarian Illuminati and the perceived grave public threat that this secret society [End Page 765] posed to the health of the early American republic. Beyond counterpublics and literary societies, scholars such as Thomas Augst, Kenneth Carpenter, and Abigail Van Slyck explore the roles that libraries and reading societies played in nineteenth-century American cities, and James Raven reveals for us the various geographies of print in early modern London. Further, the historian David Henkin examines the ways in which mid-nineteenth-century New York City became a “city of print” and how the debris of everyday life created for urban denizens a city built by layers of material texts.7
Renewed interest in the “geography of the book” has occurred alongside what the historian Donald A. DeBats has called the “GIS turn.”8 As the historical geographer Anne Knowles points out, geographic information [End...