In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Print Culture in the British Atlantic

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Databases
  • Journals
  • London Exports of Books to America
  • Transatlantic People and Connections
  • Freedoms of Reprint Culture
  • Reading Practices

Atlantic History Print Culture in the British Atlantic
Eve T. Bannet
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0265


This article focuses on the different ways in which a shared language and highly flexible print culture across the British Atlantic promoted the transatlantic movement and local reappropriation of texts. The term “print culture” represents a growing interdisciplinary field, initially envisioned by historians of the book, in which the traditional concerns of book history—such as bibliographical print histories, the practices and economics of the book trade, and the physical production, appearance, and distribution of printed matter—are joined with concerns and methods borrowed from social, cultural, political, literary, and reception history. Historians in these fields are more immediately interested in the contents of periodicals and books, the ideas they disseminated, the diverse forms they were given, and the circumstances in which they were written, published, and read. Book history conjoined with a cultural and historical understanding of reception have also produced histories of reading that seek to reconstruct the reading practices of different social groups and to understand the personal, intellectual, social, communal, institutional, and/or commercial exchanges mediated by oral forms of delivery, letter and manuscript exchanges, and printed periodicals or books. Especially in the British Atlantic, where culture and practices also traveled with migrating people, the lives, movements, engagements, and personal, commercial, and transatlantic connections of authors, printers, and publishers form an essential part of picture. Most current approaches to the subject assume a British Atlantic that was permeated by the Black, Red, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Portuguese Atlantics and that was constituted by the overlapping Atlantic worlds of mariners, pirates, privateers, natural philosophers, government officials, merchants, captives, slaves, convicts, women, and indentured servants, as well as by the transatlantic intercourse of a variety of ethnic, political, and religious communities. Because the lines between fact and fiction, or true and fictional “histories,” were blurred during this period, scholars work with both literary and nonliterary texts. A few entries below (see under London Exports of Books to America, Copyright, and Transatlantic People and Connections) assume the older center/periphery model of the British Empire, which made America, the West Indies, Scotland, and Ireland the cultural peripheries of the metropolis. This focused scholarship on the London book trade’s export of books to the American colonies and early Republic and on the important (and, whenever possible, canonical) London books that genteel Americans had on their bookshelves or acquired for their subscription libraries. In this model, “print capitalism”—issuing from London and backed by new copyright law—united the empire by ensuring that everyone was reading the same news and the same hegemonic works. Though discredited in many ways, this model is not entirely canceled out by the other; books and periodicals were both exported from London and repeatedly reprinted, often in altered forms, elsewhere. However, the first more decentered, multicultural and multidirectional model described above offers more openings for research.

General Overviews

Amory and Hall 2000, Suarez and Turner 2009, Gross and Kelley 2010, and Gillespie and Hadfield 2006 are collections of survey-summaries by notable scholars of what was known at the date of publication about the economics and mechanics of the book trade in different parts of the British Atlantic. They also contain essays on the character, development, and distribution of new print genres, such as newspapers, periodicals, reviews, novels, schoolbooks, scholarly editions, and children’s literature. Most contain, in addition, chapters attaching reading practices to particular genres (for instance, schoolbooks or devotional materials) or chapters about the choices and practices of particular segments of the reading public. These surveys still reflect the impact on transatlantic studies of traditional English, Scottish, Irish, and American national histories, with their divergent nation-centered perspectives on the Atlantic world. Focusing more narrowly on literary and poetic genres, the essays in Bannet and Manning 2012 bring Canadian and European perspectives into dialogue with English, Scottish, and American ones. Two annotated hardcopy bibliographies (Heilman 1937 and Bissell 1925) provide useful but incomplete lists of English literary works containing American and Amerindian characters and scenes, a starting point for thinking about the impact of America on British literature.

  • Amory, Hugh, and David D. Hall, eds. A History of the Book in America. Vol. 1, The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Essays surveying transatlantic book imports, the activities of printers, and scribal publication in each of the American colonies from the 17th century to the Revolution, as known in 2000. Includes chapters on reading practices related to schoolbooks, libraries, the learned, and the market, as well as a useful bibliography.

  • Bannet, Eve Tavor, and Susan Manning, eds. Transatlantic Literary Studies, 1660–1830. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    Essays by international scholars, tracing a variety of literary and poetic genres back and forth across the Atlantic between the 17th and early 19th centuries and demonstrating a variety of methodological approaches. Includes a select bibliography.

  • Bissell, Benjamin. The American Indian in English Literature of the Eighteenth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1925.

    Contains an extensive bibliography of English representations of American Indians. A good starting point for studies of the way in which Indians were viewed and/or used in British writings and of the effects of successive visits by Indians to London.

  • Gillespie, Raymond and Andrew Hadfield. The Irish Book in English, 1550–1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    Contains chapters on Irish print culture, the Irish printing trade and Irish libraries, as well as on various types of publication (political, historical, literary, scientific, theatrical), and source material for further research.

  • Gross, Robert A., and Mary Kelley, eds. A History of the Book in America. Vol. 2, An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790–1840. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

    The thesis overall is that print was successfully used in the early Republic to create a united and informed citizenry. Includes chapters on the dominant print genres in America during this period and on diverse reading communities (Anglo, German, African American, Indian, religious, in schools, in universities, etc.).

  • Heilman, Robert. America in English Fiction, 1760–1800. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1937.

    An extensive, but not complete, bibliography of English novels treating American or West Indian characters, scenes, and issues before and after the American Revolution. A good starting point for studies of how (and how much!) transatlantic stories and materials were represented in England.

  • Pollard, M. Dublin’s Trade in Books, 1550–1800. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1989.

    Still the best study of Dublin’s reprint trade, its complex relationship with London, and printers such as John Smith who specialized in republican works. Many Scottish-American printers learned their trade in Dublin, and Dublin books were a prime source for imports and reprints after the Revolution.

  • Sher, Richard. The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

    Studies networks of Scottish and Irish printers and reprinters who disseminated Enlightenment works by 115 Scottish authors across the Atlantic between 1746 and 1800. Also gives valuable information about the transatlantic culture of reprinting and about individual printers, their migrations, and their effects on English and American print culture. Useful and extensive notes.

  • Suarez, Michael F., and Michael L. Turner, eds. The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol. 5, 1695–1830. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Despite its title, contains chapters addressing the international book market (including imports to Britain) and the reprint trade. Other chapters usefully focus on print genres such as periodical publication, religious publication, reviewing, children’s books, schoolbooks, and scholarly editing. Includes a substantial bibliography.

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