Using insights gleaned from various disciplines, this course examines the history of reading and
writing in America. In particular, we will study how written texts are produced, disseminated,
and consumed. Topics include: Indians and the discovery of print; the sentimental novel; slave
narratives; religious readers; the making of an American literary canon; comic books in modern
America; and, of course, Oprah’s book club. Prerequisites HIS 110 or 111 or sophomore standing.
Variable semesters. Hale.

NOTE: the following syllabus excerpt is offered for informational purposes only.  For future HIS 242 syllabi, please contact Professor Hale directly.

Spring 2009                                                                             Professor Hale

T-TH 10:00-11:15AM                                                             Email:  mhale@goucher.edu

Hoffberger Science G41                                                         Office:  Van Meter 132, x6217

Office Hrs:  TU-TH 1:00-2:30PM and by appointment

 HIS/ENG/AMS 242:  From Puritan Diaries to Oprah’s Book Club: 

Readers and Writers in American History

Introduction:  Course Summary and Objectives

            In the past three decades, historians have begun to explore the ways in which the production, dissemination, and reception of printed materials have influenced society and culture.  Commonly referred to as the history of the book, this field brings together insights taken from a number of disciplines, including ethnography, literary criticism, anthropology, gender studies, journalism, and education, as well as a number of sub-fields of history, including labor, intellectual, and cultural history.  This course will serve as an introduction to this exciting field by concentrating on the American experience from the colonial era to the late twentieth century.  Although we will touch on certain theoretical and methodological questions, the major focus of the class will be on applied versions of the history of the book—on what scholars are actually saying about the history of American readers and writers.  We will follow a loosely chronological format, pausing occasionally to more closely consider selected topical problems.

 Required Readings

            Your readings this term will cover a variety of topics and approaches to the history of the book.  You will be expected to complete all readings in a timely fashion and to be prepared to discuss them actively in class.  It is also expected that you will bring that day’s required readings to class.

 Copies of the following required texts are available for purchase in the college bookstore.

 1)      Tamara Plakins Thornton, Handwriting in America

2)      Jay Fliegelman, Declaring Independence:  Jefferson, Natural Language, and the Culture of Performance

3)      Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; or the Transformation

4)      Bradford Wright, Comic Book Nation:  The Transformation of Youth Culture in America

5)      Scott Casper, Joanne Chaison, and Jeffrey D. Groves, eds., Perspectives on American Book History

 Please note:  there are, in addition, a number of required reading assignments available on the web, on different Julia Rogers Library databases (J-STOR and AMERICA:  HISTORY & LIFE), and on Blackboard.  Please make sure you are aware of these assignments and gain access to them in a timely manner.  Computer and internet problems are not sufficient excuses for failing to complete reading assignments.  Those readings marked with “***” are available on Blackboard.  Those readings marked with “###” are available on “J-STOR” and/or “America:  History and Life,” two digital databases available on the Julia Rogers library webpage.  Those readings marked with “%%%” are available on reserve in the Julia Rogers Library. 

            In addition, you will view one “Oprah’s Book Club” video on reserve in the library.  Make sure you set aside time to view this video. 


            You will complete three papers.  The first paper (3-4 pages) is due Thursday Feb. 12.  The second paper (3-4 pages) is due Thursday March 12.  The third and final paper (8-12 pages + cover letter) is due Thursday April 30.  The specific assignments for the first two papers will be discussed at a later date. 

            The third paper will be a creative writing assignment.  Instead of writing a traditional essay, you will assume the voice and style of an imaginary historical figure and produce a new, “historical” document.  For example, after reading portions of Thomas Shepard’s journal, you may want to write a number of diary entries as the voice of Shepard’s brother-in-law or wife.  The possibilities are innumerable and you can really utilize your historical knowledge for creative gain.  Along with the creative writing document, you will turn in a cover letter that explains the thinking behind the “historical” text you have produced.  This cover letter should do two things:  1) discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your attempt to produce a new, “historical” document; and 2) discuss the ways in which the specific aspects of the genre and historical context of your document shaped the creative choices of your writing and the nature of your “historical” document.  Be forewarned:  this creative writing assignment is not a way to lessen your work; successful completion of this assignment will involve as much, if not more, careful planning, thinking, and writing as the more traditional essays.

 Schedule of Class Meetings and Assignments

NOTE:  those readings marked with “***” are available on Blackboard.  Those readings marked with “###” are available on “J-STOR” and/or “America:  History and Life,” two digital databases available on the Goucher College library webpage.  Those readings marked with %%% are available on reserve in the Julia Rogers Library at Goucher College. 

 Tu. Jan. 27:      Introduction

 Th. Jan. 29:      ***Jack Goody and Ian Watt, “The Consequences of Literacy,” in Goody, ed.,

                        Literacy in Traditional Societies, 27-68

 Tu. Feb. 3:       1) ***David D. Hall, “The Uses of Literacy in New England, 1600-1850,” in

                        Hall, Cultures of Print:  Essays in the History of the Book, 36-78

                        2) ***Thomas Shepard, “Journal” (November 1640-May 6, 1641) in Michael

                        McGiffert, ed. God’s Plot:  The Paradoxes of Puritan Piety, Being the

                        Autobiography & Journal of Thomas Shepard, 83-99

 Th. Feb. 5:       1) ### James Axtell, “The Power of Print in the Eastern Woodlands,” William

                        and Mary Quarterly 44 (1987) 300-309

                        2) ###Jill Lepore, “Dead Men Tell No Tales:  John Sassamon and the Fatal

Consequences of Literacy,” American Quarterly 46 (1994) 479-512

 Tu. Feb. 10:     1) ***Richard D. Brown, “Information and Authority in Samuel Sewall’s

                        Boston, 1676-1729,” in Brown, Knowledge is Power:  The Diffusion of

                        Information in Early America, 1700-1865, 16-41

                        2) Tamara Plakins Thornton, Handwriting in America, 3-41

3) PABH, 52-58

 Th. Feb. 12:     Paper #1 (3-4 pages) Due at 10:00AM in Folder Outside VM 132

 Tu. Feb. 17:     1) ***Lewis P. Simpson, “The Printer as a Man of Letters:  Franklin and the

                        Symbolism of the Third Realm,” in J. A. Leo Lemay, ed. The Oldest

                        Revolutionary:  Essays on Benjamin Franklin, 3-21

                        2) ###Prudence L. Steiner, “Benjamin Franklin’s Biblical Hoaxes,” Proceedings

                        of the American Philosophical Society vol. 131 no. 2 (Jun. 1987) 183-196

                        3) PABH, 47-51, 80-84 and 95-96


Th. Feb. 19:     1) ***Robert Darnton, “Readers Respond to Rousseau:  The Fabrication of

                        Romantic Sensitivity,” in Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre:  And Other

                        Episodes in French Cultural History, 215-256

                        2) PABH, 62-67

 Tu. Feb. 24:     Jay Fliegelman, Declaring Independence:  Jefferson, Natural Language, & the

                        Culture of Performance, 1-94

 Th. Feb. 26:     NO CLASS

 Tu. March 3:    Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; or the Transformation, 1-119

 Th. March 5:    Brown, Wieland, 120-234

 Tu. Mar. 3:       1) Thornton, Handwriting, 43-71

                        2) ###Thomas Augst, “The Business of Reading in Nineteenth-Century America:

                        The New York Mercantile Library,” American Quarterly 50 no. 2 (1998) 267-


                        3) PABH, 136-138, 140-143, and 149-151

 Th. Mar. 5:       1) ***Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wealth,” in Emerson, Essays & Lectures, 987-


                        2) ###Mary Kupiec Cayton, “The Making of an American Prophet:  Emerson,

                        His Audiences, and the Rise of the Culture Industry in Nineteenth-Century

                        America,” American Historical Review 92 (1987) 597-620

                        3) PABH, 166-170

 Tu. Mar. 10:     1) %%%Ezra Greenspan, Walt Whitman and the American Reader, 13-39

                        2) ###Anne Boyd, “’What!  Has She Got into the ‘Atlantic’?’:  Women Writers, the

                        Atlantic Monthly, and the Formation of the American Canon,” American Studies 39 no. 3

                        (Fall 1998) 5-36

                        3) PABH, 170-184

 Th. Mar. 12:     Paper #2 (3-4 pages) Due at 10:00AM in Folder Outside VM 132

 Tu. Mar. 17 and Th. Mar. 19:  NO CLASS – SPRING BREAK

 Tu. Mar. 24:     1) ###David Waldstreicher, “Reading the Runaways:  Self-Fashioning, Print

                        Culture and Confidence in Slavery in the Eighteenth-Century Mid-Atlantic,”

                        William and Mary Quarterly 243-272

                        2) ### 10-15 Runaway slave advertisements from the “Virginia Runaways” website @


 Th. Mar. 26:     1) ***Ann Fabian, “Slaves,” in Fabian, The Unvarnished Truth:  Personal

                        Narratives in Nineteenth-Century America, 79-116

                        2) PABH, 151-155 & 298-299

 Tu. March 31:  Thornton, Handwriting in America, 72-141

 Th. Apr. 2:       1) PABH, 285-298

                        2) %%%George W. Goode, “Kathie, the Overseer’s Daughter,” Factory Life Library: 

                        Stories for the Working People vol. 1 no. 1 (1887) 1-24

 Tu. Apr. 7:       1) ***Christopher P. Wilson, “The Rhetoric of Consumption:  Mass-Market

                        Magazines and the Demise of the Gentle Reader, 1880-1920,” in Richard

                        Wightman Fox and T. T. Jackson Lears, eds., The Culture of Consumption,


                        2) ###Joan Shelley Rubin, “Self, Culture, and Self-Culture in Modern America:

                        The Early History of the Book-of-the-Month Club,” Journal of American History

                        71 (1985) 782-806

                        3) PABH, 340-343, 345, and 347-357

 Th. Apr. 9:       Wright, Comic Book Nation, 1-55

 Tu. Apr. 14:     Wright, Comic Book Nation, 56-85 and 109-153

 Th. Apr. 16:     1) Wright, Comic Book Nation, 86-108

                        2) %%%Leerom Medovoi, “Democracy, Capitalism, and American Literature:  The

                        Cold War Construction of J.D. Salinger’s Paperback Hero,” in The Other Fifties: 

                        Interrogating Midcentury American Icons, 255-287

                        3) %%%Jeff Jensen, “The Amazing Adventures of a Comic Book Kid,” Entertainment

                                    Weekly, January 11, 2008, 49-52

 Tu. Apr. 21:     Wright, Comic Book Nation, 154-225

 Th. Apr. 23:     1) Wright, Comic Book Nation, 226-253

                        2) PABH, 367-399

 Tu. April 28:    In-Class Video of Oprah’s Book Club

 Th. April 30:    In-Class Video of Oprah’s Book Club

                        Paper #3 (8-12 pages + cover letter) DUE at the BEGINNING of CLASS

 Tu. May 5:       1) VIEW one more Oprah video on reserve in Julia Rogers Library

2) %%% “Oprah’s Materials Folder” (includes the following:  1) Gayle Feldman,

“Making Book on Oprah,” New York Times Book Review, February 2, 1997; 2)

D.T. Max, “The Oprah Effect,” New York Times Magazine, December 26, 1999;

3) Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, “My Case of Oprah Envy,” Washington Post, April 6,

1997; 4) Paula Chin and Christina Cheakalos, “Touched by an Oprah,” People,

December 12, 1999; 5) Ann Oldenburg, “Oprah:  ‘These are the glory days for

me’,” USA Today, October 8, 1998)                       

Th. May 7:       1) Wright, Comic Book Nation, 282-292

                        2) other readings TBA