Logo for the Program in the History of the Book  in American Culture

Logo for the virtual book talkThe Virtual Book Talk showcases authors of recently published scholarly monographs, digital-equivalents, and creative works broadly related to book history and print culture. Each installment includes an informal presentation from the author and a Q&A with the audience.

These talks are streamed live for registered participants and are recorded for posterity. All previous virtual book talks are available to view on the AAS YouTube channel. Talks typically last 45 minutes to one hour. For more information, contact Kevin Wisniewski, Director of Book History and Digital Initiatives at kwisniewski@mwa.org.

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Star Territory: Printing the Universe in Nineteenth-Century America
with Gordon Fraser

Thursday, September 30, 2021, 2 pm EDT

Approx. 45 minutes


This program is free but requires advanced registration.

The United States has been a space power since its founding, Gordon Fraser writes. The white stars on its flag reveal the dream of continental elites that the former colonies might constitute a "new constellation" in the firmament of nations. The streets and avenues of its capital city were mapped in reference to celestial observations. And as the nineteenth century unfolded, all efforts to colonize the North American continent depended upon the science of surveying, or mapping with reference to celestial movement. Through its built environment, cultural mythology, and exercise of military power, the United States has always treated the cosmos as a territory available for exploitation.

In Star Territory Fraser explores how from its beginning, agents of the state, including President John Adams, Admiral Charles Henry Davis, and astronomer Maria Mitchell, participated in large-scale efforts to map the nation onto cosmic space. Through almanacs, maps, and star charts, practical information and exceptionalist mythologies were transmitted to the nation's soldiers, scientists, and citizens.

This is, however, only one part of the story Fraser tells. From the country's first Black surveyors, seamen, and publishers to the elected officials of the Cherokee Nation and Hawaiian resistance leaders, other actors established alternative cosmic communities. These Black and indigenous astronomers, prophets, and printers offered ways of understanding the heavens that broke from the work of the U.S. officials for whom the universe was merely measurable and exploitable.

Gordon Fraser is a lecturer and presidential fellow in American Studies at the University of Manchester, and his scholarship has appeared in journals such as PMLA and American Quarterly. His writing has also appeared in the Washington Post, the National Post of Canada, and the Lapham's Quarterly. He is a past winner of the Modern Language Association's William Riley Parker Prize and the American Literature Society's 1921 Award. Finally, in 2013 and 2018, he held short-term fellowships at here at the American Antiquarian Society.

Order this book directly from the publisher at upenn.edu/pennpress




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