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Circulating Libraries in the Victorian Era  

Troy J. Bassett

Beginning in the 18th century and continuing throughout the 19th century, circulating libraries became an integral part of the literary marketplace as the chief means of distributing books. Subscribers paid an annual or per-book fee to rent volumes: during the Victorian period, the typical subscription rate was one guinea (21s) per year to borrow one volume at a time. The relatively high price of books made circulating libraries an economical means for many middle-class families to access books: for less than the price of one three-volume novel (one-and-a-half guineas, or 31s 6d), a subscriber could borrow dozens if not more volumes. Hundreds of circulating libraries existed during the Victorian period, but the two largest were Mudie’s Select Library (1842–1937) and W. H. Smith and Son’s Subscription Library (1860–1961). Mudie’s, headquartered in London, had upwards of 50,000 subscribers, established branches in other major cities, and shipped books around the world. W. H. Smith added a library department to its pre-existing network of railway bookstalls with larger branches in major cities. Between them, Mudie’s and W. H. Smith became the largest purchasers of books and thereby had a direct and indirect effect on Victorian literature. In particular, the three-volume novel system—whereby the high price limited sales to the libraries who then had a monopoly on new fiction—encouraged British readers to become book borrowers instead of book buyers. The format of the three-volume novel led to certain generic conventions influencing areas such as characterization, plot, and style, which remained until the format was abolished in 1894. Since the libraries, especially Mudie’s and W. H. Smith, largely controlled the distribution of literature, they often exerted an informal censorship on literature which some authors, such as George Moore, advocated against.

Article

Late 19th-Century Periodical Print Culture in the US–Mexico Border Region  

Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara

Hundreds of 19th-century newspapers and magazines published in the region of the US–Mexico border are housed in archival collections in Mexico and the United States, and they provide access to historical, cultural, and ideological perspectives involving two world spheres that are intimately connected. Archival collections in the following databases provide access to periodicals published in the United States as well as in Mexico: the Newspaper and Periodicals Collection at the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the Readex Collection of Hispanic American Newspapers, 1808–1980; the Nettie Lee Benson Library’s microfilmed collection of 19th-century independent newspapers; the digital collection of periodicals and magazines from the Capilla Alfonsina Biblioteca Universitaria and the Biblioteca Universitaria Raúl Rangel Frias, at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León; and the EBSCO Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collections, Series 1 and 2. These collections house digitized and microfilmed newspapers that include those published in the US states of California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as Mexican states such as Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. The region includes areas that share not only a physical border but also a cultural memory based on the effects of historical collisions that have contributed to the formation of new meanings regarding these world spheres that can be understood as two intersecting semiotic systems that exist as a continuum. The intersection of these spaces represents the transnational aspect of periodical print culture of the late 19th century that communicates worldviews that are semiotically and ideologically heterogeneous. Indeed, cultural spaces that exist in the borderland (or that symbolic space that forms a border or frontier in a cultural sense), are semiotic realities that unfold in unpredictable and indeterminate ways as a result of historical processes. Periodical print culture produced in the border region provides access to diverse social, cultural, political, and religious perspectives. Furthermore, the history of print culture involves a process of communication of both social and cultural history. As objects of study, borderland newspapers ultimately provide the basis for understanding the circulation of ideas.

Article

Latin American Print Culture in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries: Censorship and Public Sphere Before and After the Independence War  

Rosa Dalia Valdez Garza

The history of print culture in Latin America is not only about the world of books propagated by an intellectual elite who exerted influence and advanced civic discourse by publishing their works, their intimate reading customs, and exclusive kinds of sociabilities—even during the Enlightenment. Not even the increase in literacy among the general population lessens the importance of oral practice traditions among their potential readers. This is made evident not only when identifying the kinds of sociabilities based on reading among different social classes but when observing the role and impact of print during the reign of the Spanish Crown in the Americas. In this way, we can identify the role of publishers, print culture, and books. To think about print culture beyond the printed book and prevailing print genres enables us to attain the broadest understanding of printing typology that served the intellectual elite and those materials that responded to the daily requirements related to public governance and professional or family life. Widening this perspective leads to the understanding of the appearance during the 18th century of the periodical that even with a civil and religious censorship served to advance the principles of discussion based on reason; while during the 19th century, with freedom in printing, periodicals consolidate themselves as protagonists in political discourse. Therefore it is necessary to imagine the impact of publishing and print culture on people’s lives beyond the members of the Republic of Letters and to weigh the impact of print on an illiterate audience whose lives were also shaped by print culture. The cultural practices related mainly to reading, sociabilities, conversation, and publicizing (in the sense of “making public”) are those that bring to light the cultural significance of print.

Article

The Lira Popular in Chile: An Important Latin American Broadside from the Late 19th and 20th Centuries  

Simoné Malacchini Soto

Lira Popular refers to the group of broadsides printed in Chile between 1860 and 1920, a period considered to be “classic,” although reappearing into the early 21st century. In these broadsides, verses written in ten-line stanzas, called originally décimas in Spain (a metric consisting of stanzas of ten eight-syllable verses), that were dedicated to both the human (daily, historical, love, news topics) and the divine (religious topics) were published. Over time, the content of the sheets evolved to become more newsworthy by portraying journalistic events of a criminal nature. Each sheet contained four to eight poems, although they generally consisted of five or six. They were undated and generally contained compositions by a single popular poet (although there are cases of sheets signed by more than one poet). The poet included their name at the end of the paper and sometimes added their address in order to market their sheets, as well as the print shop that often functioned as a place of sale. Although the phenomenon is also called string literature, it has not been confirmed that, in Chile, these sheets were hung for sale. The name Lira Popular is usually associated with the popular poet Juan Bautista Peralta, who titled his sheets in this way, perhaps parodying a literature magazine of the time called Lira Chilena; however, among the popular poets themselves, this phenomenon was already called “popular verses” or “popular poetry,” even referring to the sheet with the term lira.

Article

Reading Culture and Reading in 19th-Century Australia  

Susan K. Martin

Reading practices and tastes were transported to colonial Australia along with European colonists. Access to and circulation of books and newspapers in the colonies were subject to the vagaries of distance, travel, and transport, and these had a concomitant impact on reading patterns and access, as well as on the development of local writing and publishing. Trade routes, and the disjunction of inland versus sea routes, may have had some influence on localized reading and distribution. The early history of libraries and booksellers in the Australian colonies, publication patterns, and marketing give clues to reading patterns. Examining the reading accounts and movements of individual readers, and individual texts, provides further detail and context to the environment and situatedness of reading in the Australian colonies, as well as the impact of transport as an idea, and an influence on texts and reading.