Encountering Revolution: Print Culture, Politics, and the British American Loyalists


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

Led by Ed Larkin and Phil Gould

The 2011 Summer Seminar in the History of the Book in American Culture at the American Antiquarian Society will offer an alternative account of the print culture and literary history of the American Revolution. Over the past few decades the Revolution, traditionally the purview of early American historiography, has become a crucial period in American literary and cultural studies. Yet in spite of these important shifts, contemporary scholarship continues to characterize "Revolutionary America" as essentially Patriot writing and printed media. Our approach to the AAS seminar directly intervenes in this critical narrative whereby the Patriot movement becomes a synecdoche for "American" culture; we offer an alternative history of writing and printing that accounts seriously for the British American Loyalists.

What happens, in other words, to the dominant critical models in Revolutionary history—those that govern the way we conceptualize the meanings of print, the nature of authorship, the rhetorical forms of expression, and the very notion of "public" culture—when we reinsert the Loyalist presence into Revolutionary American Studies?

The seminar will employ transatlantic methods and contexts to interrogate the "Americanness" of American political writing. We will consider printed and manuscript materials in the holdings of the AAS (as well as others that are available in digitized form), and focus particularly on those genres where literature and politics most pointedly converge .Our goals for those participating in the seminar are to: (1) trace generic and thematic continuities between British and British American print; (2) articulate the importance of extensive reprinting of texts on both sides of the Atlantic; and (3) demonstrate the alterations in meaning that such reprinting often produces.

The role of the printer in Revolutionary America is important to the seminar's particular inquiries, especially those who published both Patriot and Loyalist works during the initial phases of the crisis. In light of the crucial role that printers played in disseminating Loyalist writing during the 1760s and 1770s, the seminar will address the shifting economic and political forces colonial American printers contended with, as well as the instability Revolutionary politics lent to traditional notions of the "freedom of the press."

Another focus of the seminar will be to reconsider the significance of arguably the most important single work of the Patriot movement: Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1776). Indeed it is the canonical stature of Common Sense that invites our reconsideration of the importance of the history of its publication and reception. By accounting seriously for Loyalist responses to Paine, we will address the larger question of what it means to be an "author" in Revolutionary America.

By accounting for Loyalist writing in a revisionary history of Revolutionary print culture, we hope the seminar will interrogate current models of the "public sphere" and of the historical/theoretical models informing public and private life in late eighteenth-century British America. One way we intend to proceed is to consider the multiple, transatlantic audiences that Loyalist writing imagines for itself—and the larger issues about British American identity and identification that such imagined communities of readers raise for us today. Another approach will be to consider the writings of Black Loyalists (such as John Marrant, Boston King, and David Green), whose works offer unique vantage points from which to further consider the relations among publication, race and slavery, and Revolutionary-era politics.

The seminar will be of interest to graduate students, librarians, and college and university faculty interested in the fields of book history and print culture, literary history, British studies, the history of the Revolutionary era, political history, and the history of the Atlantic World.

The seminar will be led by Philip Gould and Ed Larkin. Gould is Professor of English at Brown University. Larkin is Associate Professor of English at the University of Delaware.

Seminar Leader
Seminar Leader