Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

American Books/Books in America

ENGL 2604.401
also offered as: HIST 2104
Thursday 1:45-4:44pm

How did Benjamin Franklin strike it rich in the printing business? Did Common Sense really start the American Revolution? What does it mean to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin on a deck of playing cards? This course will investigate book histories, and the worlds of readers, writers, printers, publishers, and libraries in the Americas. It focuses on the colonial period through the nineteenth century, with a concluding look at the modern era. Each week we will look at books, newspapers, pamphlets, pictures, broadsides, or manuscripts—big and small, famous and forgotten. We will think about how books work, not just as texts but as cultural artifacts, and we learn to decode their languages, from title pages to typography to bindings. Our area of study is sometimes referred to as “book history,” and we will try to define this field together. We will examine sources now considered to be “literature” and those that tend to be more studied in “history,” and we won’t be particularly finicky about the differences. Our strategy is to introduce, each week, a range of topics and questions, including: * Colonization, missionization, and printing * Writing and revolution, printing and politics * Black and Indigenous print cultures * Gender, reading, and book history * Technology and change * Bookselling and marketing. The seminar will be held at the Kislak Center in Van Pelt Library and feature its rare book and manuscript collections. A number of seminar meetings will also be held at the Library Company of Philadelphia (1314 Locust Street), an extraordinary research library founded by Franklin in 1731. Assignments include weekly seminar discussion and posts; brief primary source exercises; and a final research project based upon special collections. 


English Major Requirements
  • Literature Seminar pre-1900 (AEB9)
  • Sector 4 Long 18th Century (AE18)
  • Sector 5 19th Century (AE19)
English Concentration Attributes
  • Literature, Journalism, & Print Culture Concentration (AELJ)
College Attributes