"Histories of Print, Manuscript, and Performance in America" Conference
American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts
June 10-12, 2005
We invite paper proposals of 250-500 words on subjects related to print, manuscript, and performance in British North America and the United States before the 20th century. The verbal arts in this period 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, post-colonial, and national expressive forms, the shifting dynamics of performed, manuscript-based, and printed verbal art capture critical elements of rapidly changing societies. These three varieties of linguistic media competed with, complemented, and shaped one another in unpredictable ways that have only begun to be described.
Consider some illustrative instances of these intertwined trajectories. Native American and African American leaders developed complex relationships to written and oral media. Many were literate Christians who embraced the authority of the written and printed Word while simultaneously defending and elaborating oral traditions and modes of oratorical performance. In colonial North America and the early United States, racial hierarchies were constructed, staged, and challenged through oral and textual media, playing out in unpredictable and contradictory ways. A similar complexity and a comparable unpredictability emerges when we consider that the rapid spread of print supplemented, but did not displace, manuscript, which remained an important medium of verbal art throughout this period. Indeed, the circulation of literary manuscripts thrived at the moment in the 18th century that print culture underwent dramatic expansion. Manuscript permitted the formation of alternative publics and alternate articulations of the public well into the 19th century. Manuscript publics existed in a wide variety of functions and forms whose relationships to oral and print media have yet to be fully explored.
In the 19th century the explosive growth of print culture was matched and, often, fueled by the multiplication of performance genres and venues, including dramatic presentations, lectures, readings and recitals, and oratorical performances. Considered by many the natural art form of a republic, oratory was often championed as the medium of American cultural excellence and innovation. Theatrical venues also spread rapidly during these years, adding to the increasingly elaborate performance culture of the United States. For those whose suspicion of the theater lingered, public readings were a popular art form as well as a schoolroom exercise, while the lyceum provided one important venue for touring lecturers to educate and entertain their audiences. The right to claim space on a platform, or to write and circulate a manuscript, or to publish a book had profound implications. As a result, the boundaries of print, manuscript, and performance remained generative, creative sites of production, shaping the development of American literature and politics.
These examples suggest the need to contextualize the history of the book in the broader field of the verbal arts. In their introduction to the first volume of A History of the Book in America, Hugh Amory and David D. Hall observe that book history intersects with discussions of orality, writing, and print. The full story of that intersection remains to be told. This conference will contribute importantly to its telling.
Sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and held under the auspices of the AAS Program in the History of the Book in American Culture, the conference will consist of approximately four panels chosen from the individual proposals submitted; presentations by invited speakers Carla Mulford, Jeffrey Richards, David Shields, and David Waldstreicher; a keynote address by Sandra M. Gustafson (delivered as the annual James Russell Wiggins Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture); and an AAS collections-based needs and opportunities session. The essays presented at the conference will be considered for inclusion in a collection to be edited by Sandra Gustafson.
Submissions may be sent as Word or WordPerfect attachments to John Hench at the American Antiquarian Society via email. Please include a brief (1-2 page) cv. Participants will be notified about acceptances by June 10, 2004.
American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
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