Research Areas: Eighteenth-Century British Literature; Book History and Digital Humanities; British Empire and Colonialism; Irish Literature
Locating Literary Property: Nation, Race, and Print in the Eighteenth-Century Anglophone Atlantic
My project examines how eighteenth-century English, Irish, and American authors and booksellers re-imagined themselves and their labor given new ways of regulating literary property in the period. Like paper credit or finance capital, transatlantic literary property necessitated a re-characterization, a new epistemology to understand the work of literary production and the rights that protected that work. Specifically, I look at how authors and booksellers used figures of enslavement to depict their struggles over copyright. Starting with the literary property debates in London at the beginning of the century, I read Daniel Defoe’s Colonel Jack (1722) in relationship to his earlier polemics on the regulation of print production and on empire building, polemics that rely on the figure of the body to explain the troubles with ownership in this new abstracted system of value. In my second chapter, I look at how and why Jonathan Swift troubles the possessive principles behind authorship in A Tale of a Tub (1710) and Drapier Letters (1725); I read his defense of Dublin printer George Faulkner, in which Swift compares Irish booksellers to slaves, in light of these earlier works. In my third chapter, I look at how George Faulkner’s dealings with playwright Richard Cumberland may have influenced The West Indian (1772), a sentimental comedy that leaves the audience with the message that booksellers are not to be trusted, while slave owners and slave traders are upstanding citizens. My final chapter is on Mathew Carey, who, like Samuel Richardson, straddled the role of author and bookseller in his career that started in Dublin, but took off once he escaped capture by the British authorities and resettled in the United States. After examining transatlantic reprints of his yellow fever pamphlets to show how Carey’s authority in Philadelphia must become anonymous in Dublin because of the two cities relationships to England, I look at the responses of two former slaves, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, to Carey’s depiction of the African American community in Philadelphia during the yellow fever crisis. Jones and Allen’s rejoinder was the first time that African Americans secured a copyright in the US, just three years after the Federal Copyright Law was passed. I argue that the pamphlet war between Carey and Jones and Allen in the wake of the yellow fever epidemic read through their strategic uses of copyright shows that battles tied to authorship, in both legal and cultural landscapes, refract those fought over the agency that comes with citizenship and with establishing oneself as a viable force in a marketplace newly regulated by national laws. Throughout my study, I interpret the work of these authors and their booksellers in combination with examples of formerly enslaved people, such as Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano, Anthony Burns, as well as Jones, and Allen, whose identities are partially mediated through printed texts, showing that battles around books point to the homogenizing power of capitalism to effectively flatten difference so that the master-slave paradigm gets easily transported across time, place and material circumstances.
I am also in the early stages of a second project, “Crowd Sourced Nation,” which will focus on media of the transatlantic eighteenth century. The nationalist discourse around type and typography will be the central focus this study, but I will pose some of book history’s questions about other material artifacts, including such quotidian objects as quilts and clothing.
Please view some of my conference presentations.