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Reviewed by:
  • Print Culture Histories beyond the Metropolis ed. by James J. Connolly et al.
  • Cheryl Knott (bio)
James J. Connolly, Patrick Collier, Frank Felsenstein, Kenneth R. Hall, and Robert G. Hall, eds. Print Culture Histories beyond the Metropolis. University of Toronto Press. vii, 437. $67.50

Print culture presents the historian with the challenge of making sense of books, periodicals, and paper ephemera found in unexpected places where readers interpret them in unexpected ways. The authors in the anthology Print Culture Histories beyond the Metropolis take on the challenge, and the result is a fascinating survey of practices surrounding the distribution and use of printed material far from the recognized centres of print production. A substantive introduction by two of the editors, James J. Connolly and Patrick Collier, offers a convincing argument that, because print has not been and cannot be contained within metropolitan boundaries, a fuller understanding of print culture "histories" requires attention to "provincial locales and imperial peripheries."

The book is divided into two broad thematic parts – circulation and place – with seven chapters in each section. The authors in the first section discuss the British and Irish printing business in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, the sharing of books among Protestants who dissented from the Church of England in the eighteenth century, the development of knowledge networks in Calcutta and Madras in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, informal distribution methods, such as "print in envelopes" mailed to family members and the looting of home libraries, that kept reading material flowing during the American Civil War, a newspaperman's lifetime of work in rural and urban areas, a transatlantic craze for artistic little magazines, and the production, distribution, and consumption of newspapers by people of colour between the two world wars.

The second section comprises chapters on the spaces where early nineteenth-century workers did their reading in a small industrial town, the methods a British emigrant to rural New Zealand employed to maintain his sense of himself as highly literate, the books borrowed from a library in a small mining community in Australia, and the ways in which organizations [End Page 134] shaped individuals' production and consumption of reading matter. Also in this section are three chapters based on the What Middletown Read digital collection of Muncie Public Library records from the 1890s through 1902 (with some gaps). One explores the popularity of German novels translated into English, while another discusses the evidence indicating that books intended for boys reached other readers as well. The third chapter, by Frank Felsenstein (who with James Connolly created the What Middletown Read database), documents the library's influence on small-town residents who read more widely and more deeply than they otherwise could have.

Some of the authors supply illustrations and graphics that augment their prose. In their respective chapters, Lynne Tatlock and Julieanne Lamond provide innovative data visualizations depicting connections among readers and books. The photographs of periodical ephemera that accompany Brad Evans's text represent a more traditional approach; nevertheless, the well-selected examples illustrate the connections and circulations of the little magazines at the core of the chapter.

Individual authors do a good job of pointing out links between their work and that of others in the anthology, within and across the two sections. Together with the book's introduction, these intertextual references add to the coherence of the volume as a whole. But coherence is not really the point. Looking "beyond the metropolis" shows us where and how print culture exhibits specific and idiosyncratic forms. What do George Chandler Bragdon, the "restless reader" and New York State newspaperman whose mobile career Joan Shelley Rubin describes, and Clara Steen, the Iowa farmwoman embedded in local institutions of reading and writing, documented by Christine Pawley, have in common other than their presence within the covers of this volume? For both, reading and writing were essentials of everyday life. And for historians of the book writ large, that is the very stuff of print culture. By bringing together these micro-histories and case studies in one volume, the editors underscore the complexities of print culture and its adherents and establish a scholarly foundation on which to continue building...


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pp. 134-135
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