Early American Print Culture

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on January 29, 2010

Recently added to caa.reviews:

Trish Loughran, The Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age of U.S. Nation Building, 1770–1870 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 568 pages, $24.50 (9780231139090)

Reviewed by Jennifer Roberts, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University; posted 14 January 2010

. . . Standard accounts of print culture in the early national period stress the role of print as a telecommunication device; print networks connected people in time and space, forged communities out of disparate groups of disconnected citizens, and permitted something like a coordinated nation-state to develop and persist. Loughran’s brilliant and counterintuitive argument overturns this assumption. She argues instead that the illusion of national unification (the “virtual nation,” as she puts it) could take hold in reality only because the actual capacities of print dissemination networks were severely limited. . . .

What can art historians take from Loughran’s study? While the book devotes considerable attention to visual culture (more on which in a moment), its most profound potential as an art-historical contribution lies in its broad realignment of traditional ways of thinking about media and materiality. First: Loughran persistently redirects the definition of “print media” from their typical scope—ink, paper, etc.—to the broader geographical field through which print artifacts had to move. She emphasizes this in order to overturn persistent models of telecommunicative print culture that tend to ignore the actual heft of printed texts, imagining that they disseminate themselves weightlessly and simultaneously through space. . . .

Second: Loughran elegantly probes the relationship between the virtual spaces evoked by printed texts and the real spaces that they occupied and through which they were hauled and handled. She demonstrates that much of the historical power of these texts as both representations and performances emerged precisely in the cleavage between their “two bodies”: “On one hand, they served as symbols of unity; on the other, they were actual objects with limited circulations” (22). . .

For the full review, click here»

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