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  • Monday, March 25, 2019 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

We will be welcoming Matthew Brown for a talk entitled: “A Poetics of Colportage: Pamphlets and Chapbooks in Revolutionary-Era British America.” Matt writes: 

Colportage—the vending of chapbooks—is an undervalued phenomenon in pre-1800 British America. Surveying issues of format, distribution, and circulation, my talk will examine the cheap print literature of the period first by contrasting chapbooks to pamphlets. Beginning with the enumerative bibliographies of Thomas Adams and onward to the cultural histories dependent on such listings, the reception history of the era’s pamphlet literature has obscured the cultural work of the chapbook. Each mode shares a format: minimal sheets, stab-sewn, without boards or covers. But from here their histories have diverged, with attention to pamphlets as “the literature of debate,” “the literature of revolution,” or “the literature of the imperial crisis” defining what the format means. For the less investigated chapbook, material questions such as those of binding, collation, imprint history, and reader marks intersect with questions of literary content (wonder tales, ballads, pious lives, and folk stories) and questions of economic exchange (the peddler and the consumer). These combine into what I call a poetics of colportage, a framework for interpreting the mode. One such instance of the chapbook mode—The Lost and Undone Son of Perdition, a telling of the Judas legend as prequel to his time in Bethlehem—will illustrate this poetics. From 1763 to 1808, John Thompson’s recasting of a medieval source went through eighteen editions across print shops in New England and the mid-Atlantic. One part Mosaic myth to three parts Oedipal fantasy, the sensational Judas legend will, along with evidence from copies of colportage in the Library Company of Philadelphia and the American Antiquarian Society, help us rethink issues of value, meaning, and cultural politics in revolutionary-era British America.

Matthew P. Brown is a scholar and teacher specializing in early American literature and book studies. He is the author of The Pilgrim and the Bee: Reading Rituals and Book Culture in Early New England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) and of articles that have appeared in American Literary HistoryAmerican QuarterlyCultural StudiesPapers of the Bibliographical Society of AmericaEarly American Literature, and PMLA. Matt holds a joint appointment at the University of Iowa as an Associate Professor in the English department and the Center for the Book, which he directed from 2006 to 2012. Offering an MFA degree, a Graduate Certificate, a joint MFA with Art and Art History, and a joint MA with the School of Library Sciences, the Center combines the study of book history with the production of book art. He also edits a monograph series for the University of Iowa Press on the art, culture, and future of books.

All are welcome! Those who do not hold University of Pennsylvania ID cards should bring another form of photo identification in order to enter the library building.