The Author’s Corner with Kevin J. Hayes

GW BooksKevin J. Hayes, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma, now lives and writes in Toledo, Ohio. This interview is based on his new book, George Washington, A Life in Books (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write George Washington, A Life in Books?

KJH: After finishing The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, I began searching for a similar project, that is, another intellectual life of a major figure in early American history. Once I started researching Washington’s life of the mind, other historians tried to discourage me, asserting that Washington had little intellectual life. My preliminary research told me different. The more I researched the more I realized I could tell a story of Washington’s life unlike any previous biography.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of George Washington, A Life in Books?

KJH: My book presents a biography of Washington that concentrates on how the books he owned and read shaped the man he became. Organized chronologically and thematically, George Washington, A Life in Books examines many different subject areas Washington studied — devotional literature, histories, travel writing, political pamphlets, agricultural manuals — and situates them within the context of his public and private life.

JF: Why do we need to read George Washington, A Life in Books?

KJH: Though there are numerous Washington biographies available, mine presents a fresh look at Washington, portraying him as both a reader and a writer. It provides a unique view of Washington’s life and adds a completely new dimension to the story of a man we thought we knew.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KJH: I chose to attend graduate school at the University of Delaware because it was one of the best places in the country to study American literature during the eighties. Professor J. A. Leo Lemay, a leading scholar of early American literature, informed me about the numerous opportunities in his field. In addition to the critical study of literature, the field of early American literature would let me pursue parallel interests in American intellectual history and the history of the book. Researching the literary history of early America, I could be both literary scholar and historian.

JF: What is your next project?

KJH: I write biographies. This summer, Reaktion, a London publisher, will release my next book, Herman Melville, as part of its series Critical Lives. Over the past few years I have unearthed a considerable amount of new information about Benjamin Franklin, which I am now incorporating in an book-length study of Franklin’s life and writings.

JF: Thanks, Kevin!

The Author’s Corner with Jonathan Yeager

Edwards and PrintJonathan Yeager is UC Foundation Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This interview is based on his recent book Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture?

JY: I enjoyed researching and writing the last two chapters of my first book on the Scottish Presbyterian minister John Erskine (1721-1803). In these chapters, I discussed how Erskine helped disseminate and publish the works of several evangelical authors, including many of Jonathan Edwards’s posthumous books. While conducting research for these chapters, I benefited greatly from reading Richard Sher’s seminal monograph,
The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, 2007). Because Sher’s book was devoted exclusively to secular and theologically liberal Scottish Enlightenment authors, I thought that I might be able to make a scholarly contribution on eighteenth-century evangelicals and publishing. I discovered that no one has ever written on the history of Jonathan Edwards’s publications, and so I started to write an article on how his major works were published in the eighteenth century. I amassed so much material on Edwards’s publications–especially on the various people behind the scenes who helped publish his works–that I decided to write a full-length monograph on this topic.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture?

JY: I make two major arguments that can be summarized as the following: First, even though Jonathan Edwards can rightly be described as a theological genius and the foremost American revivalist of the eighteenth century, much of his success was dependent on a host of booksellers, printers, and editors who helped publish his works before and after his death. Second, evangelicals like Edwards cared how their books appeared in print, even thought they worked harder at disseminating their works for evangelistic purposes than making profits from their publications.

JF: Why do we need to read Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture?

JY: There has been
a lot written about Jonathan Edwards. But nearly all the scholarship has focused on his life and thought. In order to have the fullest understanding of Edwards and other eighteenth-century authors, we need to examine the publishing history of their books. I want readers to see that Edwards’s ideas were packaged in a particular format, with various options in sizes, bindings, paper and font quality, and pricing that made a difference in the reception of his works. More importantly, a number of people, acting as booksellers, printers, and editors, made most of the decisions on how Edwards’s books should appear in print and how they should be marketed to the public. Edwards had a definite idea on how he wanted his books to look, but he did not know the best way to have them published so that they would be appealing to the public (without giving too much away, I show this in a few case studies within my book). Knowing all this to be true, I argue that we need to take a closer look at how individuals such as these contributed to his success as an internationally-recognized author.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JY: In 1998, I graduated with an undergraduate degree in business administration and then went on to work as a financial consultant for five years with two different brokerage firms in Florida. About halfway through my time as a broker, I became disillusioned with the business and began reading a lot of books on church history and theology. With my wife’s blessing, I resigned from my job in 2004, sold our house, and moved my family to Vancouver, Canada to study theology at Regent College. At the time that we moved, I simply wanted to gain more knowledge about Christianity. I was having so much fun in Vancouver learning about my faith, snow skiing, and hanging out with friends from multiple denominations all over the world, that after finishing a MA in Christian Studies, I stayed for an additional ThM degree in theology. In my last year in Vancouver, I began corresponding with David Bebbington, who helped me with a thesis that I was working on at Regent College under J. I. Packer. Later that same year, I was able to meet Bebbington in person, and he and I talked about studying history with him in Scotland. After much thought and prayer, my family and I decided to move to Scotland in late 2006 to begin my PhD. My time in Vancouver and Scotland highlight my twin interests of theology and history. I feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to do research and teach in both fields. 

JF: What is your next project?

JY: My immediate plan is to write an article on the publication of Samuel Hopkins’s System of Doctrines (1793). This mammoth two-volume book by Edwards’s disciple became the first systematic theology of the so-called New Divinity movement, and helped shape the next generation of Edwardseans. After this project, who knows.

JF: Thanks, Jonathan!

The AAS Printers’ File Is Being Digitized

Printers fileThe American Antiquarian Society‘s Printers’ File contains information on 6000 people who were involved in the early American book trade. Emily Wells, a staff member at the AAS and an incoming College of William and Mary graduate student, will be working on the project this summer.

Here is a taste of her report at the AAS blog, Past in Present:

At present, this resource is only available to researchers who are able to visit the reading room and peruse the cards in person. To make the Printers’ File more easily accessible, AAS is working to digitize and transfer the information recorded on these cards to a linked open data resource. Not only will this resource make the Printers’ File available to anyone with a computer and internet access, but it will also allow researchers to answer complex research queries and draw connections between the people and places recorded within the scope of the project.

As the person hired to enter data, I am working to interpret and transfer the information written on the original typewritten cards to a digital environment while also helping to formulate guidelines that will standardize the data entry process. Through my work with the Printers’ File, I have discovered that there is a fundamental difficulty that arises when attempting to fit biographical information into a standardized format. To create a working dataset, one must determine the best way to field a person’s life experience, something that is inherently messy and complex, within the limits of a data entry form.

Read the entire post here.

Historians are very excited about this development, perhaps none more than Joseph Adelman of Framingham State University in Massachusetts.  Here is a taste of a post he wrote at his blog:

A few weeks ago I was grouchy about the prospects of closed digitization projects in early American history. This morning I’m ecstatic. At the Past is Present blog of the American Antiquarian Society, Emily Wells writes today about her experience working to digitize the AAS Printers’ File, a massive compendium of information about participants in the American printing trades from 1639 to 1820.

I’m particularly excited about this project because the research for my dissertation/first book so heavily relied on the twenty or so drawers of salmon-colored cards in the AAS reading room. In fact, the first summer after I moved to Massachusetts I spent several weeks doing nothing but go through the card catalog, drawer by drawer, to build my own database of printers from the 1750s to the 1790s for the purposes of my research.

If you read Wells’s post, you’ll see just how sophisticated she and her AAS colleagues have had to get in order to capture the complexity of biographical information on the cards (for which we all owe an enormous debt to Avis Clarke). To give you a comparison, let me show you the slide I used in a few job talks to discuss my database:

Read the rest of Joseph’s post here.

Amy Sopcak-Joseph: SHARP Things at AHA 2016

SHARPAmy Sopcak-Joseph checks in with another dispatch from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta.  To read Sopcak-Joseph’s previous post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home click here.  –JF

This conference has been such a whirlwind of activities – scoring some $5 books, trying to cram in food and sleep between panels and good conversations with old friends and new.  I was so exhausted when I wrote my first post that I didn’t mention that this is my second time at AHA.  I attended about a day and a half of the 2015 conference in New York.  This year I’m all in, here in Atlanta for the whole thing.

As John mentioned in my first post, I’m primarily attending AHA this year because I serve as one of the co-liaisons from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) to the AHA.  You may have noticed sessions in your program with the “affiliated society” designation.  There are more than a hundred organizations that are affiliated with AHA – whatever your subfield, this list probably includes the appropriate organization.

So what does being a liaison entail?  The work consists of two phases: the prep before the meeting and activities at the conference.  I’ve been working with my co-liaison for the past year to connect SHARP members to AHA activities.  We organized an affiliate panel, “Exploring Race and Ethnicity through Book History.”  After choosing the papers, we spread the word about it through the SHARP at AHA social media accounts and through the SHARP email list.  Stephanie Kingsley of the AHA also discussed it in her blog post about book history panels.

At the conference much of my Friday revolved around SHARP things at AHA.  Each year the affiliated societies are given a chunk of time for exhibits to recruit members and talk to current members.  You may have noticed a number of tables set up on Friday outside of the registration area where liaisons were touting the virtues of membership in their organization.  If you didn’t stop by the affiliate displays here in Atlanta, you should think about doing so next year!  The liaisons love to chat with people, and you never know what kind of cool swag you can add to your AHA tote bag.

The SHARP panel, “Exploring Race and Ethnicity through Book History,” featured an eclectic group of papers on topics ranging from pre-Columbian Mexico to twentieth century book agents.  But all four of the papers made the case that book history methods – paying attention to the development, production, content, and dissemination of texts and images – can bring new insights on the formation of racial and ethnic identities.

In “ Erasure and Reinscription in MesoAmerican Divinatory Almanac: The Curious Case of the Codex Vaticanus B,” Jamie Forde discussed the complicated history of the Codex Vaticanus B, a document created by indigenous peoples but so named because it now resides in the Vatican. Forde and his co-author, Elodie Dupey Garcia, traced where the Codex was edited – images were erased and repainted with designs that were not commonly found in the area where it was created.  They linked these new designs in the Codex to common designs from other areas of Mexico, showing influences of other ethnolinguistic groups.

Kathryn Schwartz’s paper, “‘Civilization’ and the Idea that Print Catalyzes Progress, Late Ottoman Cairo,” explored the meaning ascribed to Cairene textual production.  Europeans, oddly enough, saw printing as a sign of “civilization” that placed them atop a hierarchy of groups.  The introduction of printing in Cairo could be interpreted as both a civilizing influence and a threat – what if Egyptians eventually outpaced Europeans?  Joan Bryant took her first foray into book history with her paper, “Agents Wanted: Kelly Miller’s Book Marketing and the Challenge of Negro Progress.”  Miller was an interesting figure – a writer who wanted to elevate his race and to sell publications.  Bryant pointed out that book agents were often itinerant and moved on to other professions, but these agents were crucial to Miller’s distribution of his works.  

Aston Gonzalez presented the paper most relevant to scholars broadly interested in early America.  “Reforming the Reader: Seeing Race in The Narrative of James Williams and The Slave’s Friend” compared two uses of a portrait of an escaped slave.  Gonzalez walked us through the how the original 1838 engraving from Williams’ narrative provided visual cues of his respectability.  The way that light hit Williams’ face, the nice clothing that he wore, and even his non-caricatured facial features didn’t conform with the stereotypical depictions of African Americans that circulated in the 1830s.  Gonzalez was able to identify a second use of the portrait of Williams’ in an 1839 issue of the children’s periodical The Slave’s Friend, produced by the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS)  The AASS began publishing the periodical in 1835, and it saturated the market with 200,000 copies in its first year.  The Slave’s Friend did not include the specific details of Williams’ story or identify him in any way.  But his portrait was paired with text that clearly touted his freedom and humanity: “This is a picture of a freeman! … Either he or his forefathers were once slaves. He now breathes the sweet air of liberty, and looks like a MAN.”  The use of Williams’ portrait in both of these publications taught readers how to see, how to read, and how to understand race.  I particularly appreciated this paper because I was already familiar with The Slave’s Friend.  In a previous life I worked on K-12 teacher education programs at the American Antiquarian Society.  I used The Slave’s Friend in workshops on abolition.  If you’re interested in the periodical, you can see some of it (including Williams’ portrait) here.

Bay Psalm Book (1640) Could Draw Between $15 Million and $30 Million

Jill Lepore, writing at The New York Times, reports on tomorrow’s historic auction.  A taste:

THE first English-language book printed in the New World is scheduled to be auctioned on Tuesday by Sotheby’s of New York. It’s expected to command between $15 million and $30 million — more than anyone, anywhere, has ever paid for a printed book….
…“The Whole Booke of Psalmes” is a collection of 150 psalms, in verse. In the 1630s, Puritan intellectuals in New England, believing the King James translation of the Bible to be corrupt, retranslated the psalms from Hebrew into English. Since they wanted the psalms to be sung, they set them to meter. They cared more about piety than poetry. As the Boston minister John Cotton, one of the translators, explained, “If therefore the verses are not always so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that God’s Altar needs not our polishings.”
Others favored more polishing. The first “improved” edition appeared in 1647, just seven years after the original. Thomas Prince’s own “Revised and Improved” translation was published in 1758, in time for one of his psalms to be read over his grave. In the King James, the 37th psalm promises that “the meeke shall inherite the earth.” In the Bay Psalm Book, “meek ones the inheritance/shall of the earth possesse.” In Prince: “the meek and humble shall/the earth as heirs possess.” Smooth and elegant these psalms are not.
In 1866, the Old South Meeting House gave the Prince collection to the Boston Public Library for safekeeping. There followed a certain amount of jiggery-pokery. One copy of “The Whole Booke of Psalmes” ended up in the hands of a mayor of Boston. After his death, when his estate announced plans to auction it, the deacons of Old South filed suit, claiming the church still owned the book. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sided with the mayor’s heirs, and the book was sold for $1,025, a sum so staggering that the story was reported in The New York Times.
Another copy was auctioned in 1879; it was bought for $1,200 by Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in America. That copy was auctioned again in 1947, when it commanded $151,000, breaking a record. The copy of the Bay Psalm book that Sotheby’s is set to auction this week comes from the Prince library, too. In protest of its sale, the Old South’s historian resigned.