Program in the History of the Book  in American Culture


Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites
with Adam Gordon

Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 2:00 pm EDT

Approx. 45 minutes

The American Antiquarian Society is hosting a virtual book talk with Adam Gordon, author of Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites: Antebellum Print Culture and the Rise of the Critic.

Print culture expanded significantly in the nineteenth century due to new print technologies and more efficient distribution methods, providing literary critics, who were alternately celebrated and reviled, with an ever-increasing number of venues to publish their work. Adam Gordon embraces the multiplicity of critique in the period from 1830 to 1860 by exploring the critical forms that emerged. Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites is organized around these sometimes chaotic and often generative forms and their most famous practitioners: Edgar Allan Poe and the magazine review; Ralph Waldo Emerson and the quarterly essay; Rufus Wilmot Griswold and the literary anthology; Margaret Fuller and the newspaper book review; and Frederick Douglass’s editorial repurposing of criticism from other sources. Revealing the many and frequently competing uses of criticism beyond evaluation and aesthetics, this insightful study offers a new vision of antebellum criticism, a new model of critical history, and a powerful argument for the centrality of literary criticism to modern life.

Adam Gordon is Associate Professor of English at Whitman College, specializing in early and nineteenth-century American literature, print culture, and the history of American literary criticism. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from UCLA. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the John B. Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society, the Greenfield Dissertation Fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia, and William K. Peck and Mellon Foundation Fellowships at the Huntington Library. His articles have appeared in journals such as American Literature, Arizona Quarterly, The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, and Early American Literature. His book-length study, Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites: Antebellum Print Culture and the Rise of the Critic, was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in February 2020. At Whitman, his regular courses include surveys of early American literature, seminars on Poe, Melville, and the literature of slavery, as well as introductory courses on poetry and fiction.

Order this book directly from the publisher at

Adam Gordon


Prophets, Publicists, and Parasites





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