Why Study Black Self-Publishing?
Many nineteenth century authors were self-published. Rather than going through an established commercial publisher, the author made arrangements with a printer (often the local newspaper office) to print their pamphlet or sermon or work of history. Black self-publishing in the nineteenth century is a particularly fascinating phenomenon to study because it sits at the intersection of studies of race and book history. The lives of people of color and the practical logistics of publishing can both be challenging to study due to a relative scarcity of sources preserved in archives. This means studying black authors' access to print is doubly difficult and it is all the more important to capture each piece of evidence.
An inventory of self-published works by black authors is a necessary prerequisite to encourage more collaborative scholarship about these imprints, authors, and print networks. The American Antiquarian Society holds an excellent collection of works published by black authors in early North America, and thus is an excellent place to host such a collaborative list.
Provided here is a list of more than 575 imprints by over 250 black individuals that are known to have been or may have been self-published in the U.S. between 1760 and 1927. The list started with the holdings at the American Antiquarian Society, and its initial scope was defined by the chronological limits of AAS's collection (i.e. about individuals born before 1851 or publications printed before 1876). However, the list has been greatly expanded so that currently more than half of the titles are held at other institutions. Further information is available about the methodology used to generate this list and the statistical findings thus far. For additional context there is also the briefest of overviews of printing and publishing over the long nineteenth century.
Research Questions This Site Can Help Answer
Did black authors tend to go to certain printers to get their works published? Were they more likely to employ printers of color? Did they rely on abolition networks to get their works published? How often did black authors first self-publish and then issue later editions with a commercial publisher? Did they ever do the reverse? Did certain genres tend to be self-published by black authors?
Things to Note about This Site
It is a work-in-progress and nothing written here is intended as a definitive statement. As our knowledge increases the content will change.
It is intended to promote collaborative scholarship, particularly between communities of color, librarians/archivists, and scholars.
It is deliberately expansive in its definitions and methodology, going beyond the slave narrative, beyond the limitations of one archive, and beyond just books.
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