Cultural Narratives

Textuality and Performance in American Culture before 1900

Edited by Sandra M. Gustafson and Caroline F. Sloat

This collection of original essays examines debates on how written, printed, visual, and performed works produced meaning in American culture before 1900. The contributors argue that America has been a multimedia culture since the eighteenth century. According to Sandra M. Gustafson, the verbal arts before 1900 manifest a strikingly rich pattern of development and change. From the wide variety of indigenous traditions, through the initial productions of settler communities, to the elaborations of colonial, postcolonial, and national expressive forms, the shifting dynamics of performed, manuscript-based, and printed verbal art capture critical elements of rapidly changing societies.

The contributors address performances of religion and government, race and gender, poetry, theater, and song. Their studies are based on texts—intended for reading silently or out loud—maps, recovered speech, and pictorial sources. As these essays demonstrate, media, even when they appear to be fixed, reflected a dynamic American experience.

CONTRIBUTORS: Caroline F. Sloat, Matthew P. Brown, David S. Shields, Martin Brückner, Jeffrey H. Richards, Phillip H. Round, Hilary E. Wyss, Angela Vietto, Katherine Wilson, Joan Newlon Radner, Ingrid Satelmajer, Joycelyn Moody, Philip F. Gura, Coleman Hutchison, Oz Frankel, Susan S. Williams, Laura Burd Schiavo, and Sandra M. Gustafson

SANDRA M. GUSTAFSON is associate professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.

CAROLINE F. SLOAT is director of scholarly publications at the American Antiquarian Society.

Advance Praise: “This volume brings together some of the most exciting work in print culture and ‘old new media’ studies (relating to early America) that is being done today. The collection will have an avid scholarly audience as the interdisciplinary fields of book history and of media, literacy, and performance studies, and their subfields, continue to thrive.” — Patricia Crain, New York University


“Gustafson and Sloat show how memories ‘have enough cultural currency to be a historical category.’ Textual information is well cited and documented, and the titles of the chapters are intriguing. Useful to specialists in American studies, English, or history.” — Choice

“The seventeen essays in this collection are relatively brief; most of them serve as provocations for new approaches, distillations of the authors’ larger projects, or meditations on method. Those that attend especially to women offer vivid snapshots of the possibilities and perils of literacy and writing in a colonial through antebellum context. . . . What is clear from this collection is that . . .[i]n the context of textuality and performance in early America, many forms of publication, including print, opened up alternative modes for the production of meaning—meaning that we continue to discover” — Legacy

“Resisting the tendency to hyper-specialize that one often sees manifested in contemporary edited collections, the book is appealingly ‘loose’ in its structure . . . An excellent example of the scholarship that can emerge when some of the newest and most original thought is applied to the oldest of American texts.” — Years Work in English Studies

“This collection—with contributions to Native American studies, musicology, race and culture, and the examination of precise sites of literacy—provides a map of the interactions between the emerging media that constituted early and nineteenth-century American culture. It also marks a significant broadening of the modes of enquiry and material considerations of book history.” — SHARP News