Disappearing Medium: Poetry and Print in the Antebellum United States


American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

Book historians have for the most part told the story of the rise of a mass-market for literature with reference to short fiction and the novel, leaving poetry curiously out of the picture until the arrival of America’s great printer-poet, Walt Whitman. And yet poetry thrived in the antebellum marketplace, circulating across a wide range of popular and elite print formats. Moreover, poetry was understood as a test case for the viability of American literature itself; many writers and readers assumed that the very possibility of a democratic culture depended on the fate of American verse. In this talk, Professor McGill will ask how we might understand the explosion of mass print as formative event in the history of American poetry, and how we might look to antebellum poetry as a primary means for taking the measure of the cultural impact of print.


Meredith McGill is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University. An elected member of the Society, she is the author of American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853 and the editor of The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange