Representative topics

These are NOT "prescribed" topics. These are just examples of the sorts of things you might write about, in a variety of different areas.

  1. Look at two(?) magazines (c19 vs. c20) in order to compare and contrast how they construct themselves and their audiences. Consider, e.g., a one- or a two-year period in each periodical (you will need to read some of this stuff) and look at a similar period of time fifty or a hundred years later in another periodical (or the same periodical); or look at an American vs. a UK (or French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, etc.) periodical of the same period of time . . . and see what differences you can determine in these (or other) areas of interest.

  2. How did a "mainstream" nineteenth-century author (e.g., Dickens or Thackeray) earn a living? How did a "popular" nineteenth-century author (e.g., Ouida [what is her name?] or Wilkie Collins) earn a living? (By the way, what's the difference between these categories? is it a contemporary distinction, or one that was later imposed on these writers? and, if the latter, what function might such an imposition have?) How did an "experimental" twentieth-century writer (e.g., Joyce or Stein) earn a living? How does a contemporary writer earn a living (or does s/he?)?

  3. What can you gauge of the impact of spreading literacy rates on the sales of textbooks, or religious instructional materials, or cookbooks)? How do you account for whatever shifts you encounter? A recent (as of 1996) article on Bible sales in The New York Times may suprise you and is therefore worth consulting.

  4. Manuscript materials to be found in Philadelphia libraries (e.g., at Penn, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, or the Library Company) provide primary evidence for the lives and business careers of publishers or printers. Penn has parts of the diary of Mathew Carey, for instance. What do these materials tell you?

  5. The output of the private or special press (e.g., the Kelmscott Press, or the [local] Bird & Bull Press, the Perishable Press, or any of the many other private presses that abound) can be studied at several libraries in the area. Penn and Byrn Mawr both have a good deal of Kelmscott; Bird & Bull is well represented at the Free Library and Temple, and much of its archive is at Delaware; work from other presses can be found in smaller bits and snippets at Swarthmore, Temple, and elsewhere. Not only their publications but also--even?--private printers can be found on the hoof, so to speak, and might be willing, if asked politely, to speak with you about their work. What can you say about the aims of such a single private printer as you have worked with, whether "live" or only with his/her publications? What can you say about the way s/he earned--or did not earn--a living doing this sort of work?

  6. What happens to type design in the twentieth century, and why?--under the pressures of what events, technological changes, economic pressures, and people?

  7. Ditto for papermaking.

  8. Dickens waxes near-apoplectic on the deficiencies of international copyright that permitted American piracy of his works. Where does he do this, how correct is he, and what sorts of "corrections" were made over the course of the nineteenth century to remedy the faults he saw?

  9. The whole concept of "copyright" is at once old (legally) and yet a relatively recent (and artificial?) development. Look at some of the materials that deal with such concerns. Terry Belanger, for instance, writes about c18 copyright vis-à-vis Shakespeare in The Library, ca. 1977/8, and in the festschrift issued by the Oxford Bibliographical Society, Studies in the book trade in honour of Graham Pollard (Oxford 1975). James J. Barnes and, more recently, Martha Woodmansee and Mark Rose, also need your attention. See what sorts of changes have characterized copyright law and what motivations have undergirded these changes. The matter is by no means dead: in part, the existence of the Internet as well as other technological changes have again called the often-twinned concepts of "authorship" and "ownership" apart for further inquiry. Indeed, that development might make a nice (if slightly complex!) paper topic.

  10. The economics of what Whiteside once called "blockbuster" publishing have changed the nature of c20 publishing in the US. Combined, since Whiteside first wrote, with the development of megastores for the sales of books (Dalton, Walden, Barnes and Noble/Bookstar, Borders, etc.) and with the impact of Thor Power Tool (huh? say wha'?), American book publishing in the nineties is an altogether different scene from the publishing world of the twenties (or even of the fifities/sixties). Examine, comment, criticize, expand.

  11. Several publishers or private printers or typographers or book designers or papermakers have written memoirs. Examine and discuss two (or more?) of these books (in the same or closely allied fields). They need not all come from an English-speaking background: Count Harry Kessler's memoirs, for example, or Siegfried Unseld's work on German publishers and their authors, would both repay attention for anyone interested in the German scene.

  12. Perhaps the most influential c20 typographer in the English-speaking world was Stanley Morison. Examine his writings, his career, and his impact.

  13. What pressures have worked against the spread of literacy in c20 America? with what impact on what groups?

  14. Conversely, during the earlier nineteenth century, what pressures promoted the spread of literacy; among what groups and with what impact?

  15. Consider the rise of the daily paper and (e.g.) its influence on the electoral process in the United States. Consider the changes in that impact consequent upon the development of competition from, first, radio and, later, television. Richard Rubin has written a history of this matter (1981); Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Dean of the Annenberg School) is a current Hot Writer on this topic.

  16. Can you chart the impact of the aggrandizement of the massively popular author on the economic and literary fortunes of "journeymen" writers?--i.e., those who are "merely" ordinary, good, productive writers, but who lack the fanatic following of a Michael Crichton, John Grisham, of Danielle Steel, for example? Who might such a writer be, and can you find evidence of what has happened to her/him? Is this only an economic matter or has it consequences in other areas, as well? (What is "it"?--if anything?)

  17. A huge collection of publications by the American Sunday-School Union can be found in Philadelphia (and Penn has some of these books, too). What can they tell you about mid-c19 religious publishing in America--audiences, economics, etc.?

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    Last update: 27 December 1996.