Program in the History of the Book  in American Culture

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The Transatlantic Materials of American Literature: Publishing US Writing in Britain, 1830–1860

Katie McGettigan

Thursday, May 25, 2023, at 2pm ET

Approximately 60 minutes.

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During the antebellum period, British publishers increasingly brought out their own authorized and unauthorized editions of American literary works as the popularity of print exploded and literacy rates grew. American fiction, poetry, essays, and autobiographies appeared in a wide variety of material forms and print genres, from prestigious three-volume novels, to illustrated Christmas books, and weekly periodicals. The Transatlantic Materials of American Literature argues these publications and the British book trade played a formative role in the shaping of American literature, as they championed the work of US writers, and intervened in debates about the future of American literature, authorship, and print culture.

Katie McGettigan’s talk will explore how relations between individual authors and publishers intersected with developments in copyright law and print technology, to produce material texts that valorized American literature as a distinct and culturally valuable field, while also offering competing visions of that field and of American nationhood. Taking as a case study the publication of US writers in cheap series and libraries, she will examine how British publishers used the series format and its material architectures to sketch geographies for American literary nationhood and to situate writers like James Fenimore Cooper, Catherine Maria Sedgewick, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as national figures. Yet, at the same time, those series imagined American nationhood as fluid and relational, amplifying debates over how and where America, and its literatures might emerge within the US texts they reprinted.

Katie McGettigan is Senior Lecturer in American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of two books: Herman Melville: Modernity and the Material Text (New Hampshire, 2017) and The Transatlantic Materials of American Literature: Publishing US Writing in Britain, 1830-1860 (Massachusetts, 2023). Her essays have appeared in American Literature, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, and Journal of Victorian Culture, and she is co-editor of Journal of American Studies. Her research focuses on transatlantic print cultures and the relationships between textual materiality and literary aesthetics in the long nineteenth century. She is currently in the early stages of a new project about textual materiality and plantation ecologies in the Atlantic World.

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