Edited by William Kuskin
“Caxton’s Trace is an excellent collection that takes up an important and understudied moment in the development of vernacular literature.” —Ethan Knapp, Ohio State University
“This is a significant contribution to the history of the book. It examines the reified idea of the separation between the medieval and early modern period in a sophisticated and illuminating way. The essays engage the problematics of periodization while also interrogating the twin notions that print somehow mystically transformed the Middle Ages into modernity and that the fifteenth century is merely transitional, and, thus, unconnected with modernity.” —Thomas Prendergast, The College of Wooster
William Caxton (ca. 1421–1492) and the printers who immediately followed him, Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson, dominated early English printing. Surprisingly, their ideological impact on English literary history—their transformation of a textual economy based in manuscript production, their strategic development of authorship, their collation of English literature—remains largely unrecognized, overshadowed by the work of later sixteenth-century printers and folded into the general transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
This collection, the first such work on Caxton and his contemporaries, consists of ten original essays that explore early English culture, from Caxton’s introduction of the press, through questions of audience, translation, politics, and genre, to the modern fascination with Caxton’s books. The contributors to this volume approach the study of the printed book as the study of literary culture, and so broaden the traditional terms of bibliography to argue that no full understanding of books is possible without consideration of the larger nature of cultural production and reproduction. On one level, then, the book reads early printers’ editions as evolutionary, reproducing preexisting production methods; on another, however, it argues that these printers introduced a significantly new relationship between material and symbolic forms. Thus, Caxton’s Trace suggests that the first century of print production is defined less by transition or break, than by a dynamic transformation in literary production itself.
Contributors: William Kuskin, David R. Carlson, Mark Addison Amos, Jennifer R. Goodman, A. E. B. Coldiron, Alexandra Gillespie, William N. West, Patricia Clare Ingham, Tim William Machan, and Seth Lerer.
“This collection of ten essays, each by a different scholar, seeks to reappraise Caxton’s achievement and influence chiefly on later fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English printing. . . . David Carlson has good things to say about Caxton’s jobbing printing. A. E. B Coldiron looks closely and well at the various early modern printings of Christine de Pisan’s Proverbs. And Tim Machan gives an excellent overview of the printing of medieval English texts in the first half of the sixteenth century.” — Times Literary Supplement
“. . . Well-organized, with a descriptive list of illustrations, an excellent basic bibliography, and a helpful index.” — Renaissance Quarterly
“These ten essays ambitiously cover a circuit of human production and consumption from early English printers to readers; from merchants to kings; and from literature to commerce and politics. Somewhat surprised by the commercial nature of books, they bring the literary community’s analytical methods to material evidence.” — SHARP News (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing)
“ Caxton’s Trace is an ambitious collection of essays whose contributions extend well beyond their late fifteenth-century focus. This volume is particularly impressive for its integrity: the chapters cohere to a remarkable degree, creating sustained interventions in our ongoing study of printing, of technology and culture, of early capitalism, and of English nationalism.” — Journal of British Studies