Do you see this paper? The answer is likely “yes,” but also “no.” It is yes because the letters you read become legible against their papery substrate, and no because the technical and social codes of reading dictate that normally substrates should recede from view. John Bidwell, papermaking historian and curator of books at the Morgan Library, writes that paper is “the basic substance of which books are made, yet almost never impinges upon their communicative function.” The less paper rises to a reader’s attention, Bidwell contends, the more it succeeds as a technology of inscription. Paper “serves as a mute vehicle of text, rarely noticed except when it fails of its purpose, when defects inherent in its manufacture impede the transmission and preservation of printed information.” Once it functions as a substrate carrying inscriptions, paper is meant to be self-effacing because it is supposedly secondary to meaning-making processes. This is so much the case that phenomenologists of reading, such as Georges Poulet, describe how paper “dissolves” during the reading experience, allowing a communion between the text and the reader’s mind. “The book is no longer a material reality,” Poulet writes, but rather “a series of words, of images, of ideas which in their turn begin to exist. And where is this new existence? Surely not in the paper object.” Even among the early twentieth-century founding figures of the academic discipline of bibliography—those scholars who we might expect to take the greatest interest in the material facts of the book—we find that the flipside of attending to typography and composition is a tendency to overlook paper. In his 1927 Oxford Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students, Ronald McKerrow writes that “knowledge of the processes by which paper is manufactured and of the substances of which it is composed has never . . . been regarded as necessary to the bibliographer.”1 Each of these ways of reading and interpreting suggest that the hierarchy of inscription over substrate is both natural and necessary.
And yet, here you see and feel the paper even as you deprioritize these sensory signals in the process of reading text. Because I have made explicit mention of this book’s paper, you might be giving it more attention than you normally would, rubbing it between your fingers, weighing it in your hands, examining its surface closely. If you became even more curious, perhaps you looked for a colophon that would provide additional information about this paper’s origin: Is it recycled? What is its weight? Does it meet acidity standards for library preservation? If you work at the industrial printer where this book was produced, you likely touched and carried this paper object without stopping to read what I have written here. You may treat this paper similarly if you are the person or robot in an Amazon warehouse whose work was timed while boxing this book together with other books and household goods for delivery. Before it became the substrate for this particular printed book, this paper was cut from a massive industrial roll, which was manufactured in a facility that also likely makes rolls of newsprint, paper towels, and toilet paper. Do you wonder where the trees grew before they were cut, pulped, and made into paper, or what any recycled content did in a “past life”? If you are reading this on a digital device, you might now be asking related questions about glass, circuitry, software, and connective digital infrastructures (but that is a topic for a different book). Paying attention to the most mundane material elements of our reading surfaces brings focus to the processes of making and distributing language, art, and information through print.
Like the connections between this book’s paper, printed text, and meaning, every book is the site of overlapping linguistic, bibliographical, and social codes. In these intertwined strands, Jerome McGann says, we encounter “the symbolic and signifying dimensions of the physical medium through which (or rather as which) the linguistic text is embodied” and how these, working together, are used by human beings. This insight is the primary contribution of book history to the humanistic disciplines, and its methods help us read the various layers of meaning and human history embedded within material texts. Bibliographers and book historians argue that such contribution is necessary because the hermeneutic tradition, at least since the mid-twentieth century, has established a “readerly view of the text . . . in which text is not something we make but something we interpret.”2 Book historians are not alone in pointing to all that is lost when the idealist interpretation of verbal texts takes precedence over the description and interpretation of material texts. Philosopher and literary theorist Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht argues that ever since the linguistic turn, the humanities have been organized around “the uncontested centrality of interpretation” and a commensurate “tendency . . . to abandon and even forget the possibility of a presence-based relationship to the world.” “Presence,” here, means the quality of cultural texts that are “tangible for human hands” and have an “immediate impact on human bodies.”3 Beyond your reading and interpretation of these words, this book is present to you and is in relation to your body. In another aesthetic register, when we listen to a live music performance we might interpret the formal qualities of the piece and contextualize it historically, but we also feel the presence of sound vibrating on our bodies and throughout the unique space we share with its performers and instruments.4
Paper might not at first seem to create sensory intensities that vibrate against our bodies as we dwell in its presence. The Intimacy of Paper shows, however, that ever since papermaking began in what would become the United States, readers, writers, printers, and papermakers have invested much in their relationship to paper. This book is about what paper makes present, how it creates meaning, and what difference this makes for literary criticism and book history. Specifically, I trace a phenomenology of reading that finds expression throughout the era of rag paper production in colonial America and the nineteenth-century United States, roughly between 1690 and 1867. During this period, paper was made from shredded and pulped linen, hempen, and cotton rags, many of which were collected from homes and recycled into paper. Studying paper and how writers and readers experienced it in this period changes the way we think about the interrelation of bibliographic and linguistic codes, of presence effects and meaning-making effects. Rag paper signifies from the rags embedded within it, as well as from the ink printed or written on it. Paper is the thin plane where presence and meaning, the ontic and the mimetic, the bibliographic and the linguistic cohere and become mutually constitutive.
Humanists, from book historians to philosophers, have tried to reconcile the seeming alienation of these ways of experiencing texts. We will see, however, that early and nineteenth-century American readers and writers did not experience intense alienation of the bibliographic code from the linguistic code. They were intimately and inextricably entwined. The intimate relationship of meaning and materiality is especially apparent when writers of this period discussed rag paper. Here they found the ideality and materiality of texts in lockstep.
In 1857, for example, Pastor M. Emory Wright toured a Holyoke, Massachusetts, paper mill and wrote about his experience in the heart of that region’s biggest and most important industries. Rather than detailing paper machine technology, Wright instead expressed fascination with the relationship between rags and the written contents of books. “It is indeed a difficult matter for an inexperienced eye to discover any relationship between the tattered contents of the rag-bag in the kitchen closet and the beautiful leaves of a costly gift-book,” said Wright. But once the eye is trained, we become able to see the connections “between the filthy bundles that weigh down the cart of the country tin-peddler and the fanciful packages that adorn the shelves and fill the drawers of the city stationer.” “Strange as it may appear,” he concluded, “the connection [between rags and books] is very intimate, and he who will attentively study the curious art of papermaking, will discover many odd companionships and dependencies, of which the world at large never dreamed.”5 Wright’s narrative was published ten years before wood pulp would eclipse rag pulp as the primary ingredient of papermaking, and his paper mill narrative presupposes widespread knowledge about the industry among his readers. He cites the ubiquitous ragbag in the nineteenth-century kitchen, knowing that his readers had been saving irreparably torn or dirty household linens and selling them to rag peddlers their entire lives. To this day, elderly residents of western Massachusetts share childhood stories about rag collectors visiting the house to trade books and stationery for rags. Nineteenth-century memoirists also recalled trading their ragbags for books, paper, and cash. Rags had currency both as valuable items to save and trade and then as the substrate for paper money.6
Wright’s paper mill tour narrative is just one example of literary writing about paper and papermaking in the nineteenth century. This book brings to the surface an archive of writing about paper from multiple genres and registers, including poetry, fiction, personal narratives, and advertisements. Across genre and period, writing about rag paper animates thought about readers’ sensual relationships with material texts, revealing similarities in ways of writing and feeling. These works theorize sensemaking and dwell in the oscillation between attention to the presence of paper and attention to the meaning of letters and images written or printed on it. The haptic dimension of material texts becomes the site for political and aesthetic argument. For example, women poets in the late seventeenth and the mid-nineteenth centuries turned to paper’s origins in feminized labor with cloth as the basis of thought experiments about the connection between feminized domestic labor and women’s writing. Historically and aesthetically, these poets belong to very different moments, but through the common thread of rag paper, a text technology shared in both periods, ways of sensing the material text are connected. Indeed, as we settle into the long digital present and renegotiate our relationship to paper, we are also questioning our sense of it, what it has meant to us, and how it positions us in a global supply chain of materials.
This book makes the claim that paying attention to rag paper and writing about it sheds new light on how early and nineteenth-century American readers and writers understood the materiality of texts. In everything from advertisements to popular poetry to magazine fiction, writers of the rag paper period theorized that narrative, memory, and meaning were inherent within paper’s rag content as well as written on it. For readers and writers during this time, paper acted and was figured as a site of intimacy, where intriguing proximities and contacts became possible within the materiality of paper, books, and print. Reflecting on the relationship between cast-off rags and the paper within a book, Pastor Wright wanted his readers to share in the notion that “the connection is very intimate.” He and other writers were drawn to the ways paper seemed to speak through the possibilities inherent within rags. Those who wrote what we might, adapting from Herman Melville, call “paper allegories,” expressed in written form how paper mediated intimacy and what meaning was created in the contact between rags and readers.7
By engaging with early and nineteenth-century perceptions of the materiality of rag paper, I mean to address contemporary questions in the fields of book history, print culture, and bibliographical studies. Because paper is the meeting place of both written and material expression, I argue that paying closer attention to the layers of meaning-making on and within its surface calls us to rethink the definition of an important term in contemporary scholarship: “material texts.” In the last decade, these three related fields have been arranged in coalition under the organizing principle that each is a way of approaching the “material text.”8 The earliest documented use of “material texts” in Americanist book history appears in Michelle Moylan and Lane Stiles’s 1997 edited collection Reading Books: Essays on Literature and the Material Text in America, published by the University of Massachusetts Press in the same series in which this book appears. In Reading Books, Moylan and Stiles define the “material text” as the “collapse [of the] distinction” between “material form and textual content.” For many readers and writers during the rag paper period, paper was always this sort of material text; it always presented the collapse of text into materiality and the eruption of materiality into text. The Intimacy of Paper shapes the understanding of “material textuality” as the literary or figurative dimension of a text’s physical form. The study of this kind of material textuality is one type of Meredith McGill’s proposed “book history style of literary criticism,” identifiable by what she describes as a negotiation between “close reading of the text” and an “engagement with the material social economic forces that are invisible, occluded—even fetishized—at the level of the book-as-object.”9 What I take McGill’s provocation to be here is that we need greater recognition that studying material texts does not mean that we read texts closely while also gesturing toward how they are packaged in particular material forms. Material textuality means that the material presence of something is itself figurative and demands close reading too.
We need to think further about the relationship between textuality and materiality that is implied when we say “material texts.” There is a certain utility in organizing all types of scholarly attention to the physicality of books, print, and inscription under the umbrella of material text studies. But we would do well to think about the role of textuality here; what if these are not simply materials that carry inscription? The Intimacy of Paper offers rag paper as an object of study and reading in which both materiality and textuality are at work, where we see materiality as expression. Studying the tight relation of materiality and meaning is not a novel development in literary book history. Roger Chartier has written about how “readers . . . never confront abstract, idealized texts detached from any materiality. . . . They hold in their hands or perceive objects and forms whose structures and modalities govern their reading or hearing, and consequently the possible comprehension of the text read or heard.” The very role of paper in making meaning is central to my thought on what constitutes material textuality. Coming at these questions from a slightly different angle, Bill Brown has offered “textual materialism” as “a mode of analytic objectification that focuses on the physical properties of an embodied text” that stages a “dialectical drama of opacity and transparency, physical support and cognitive transport.”10
The Intimacy of Paper also contributes to the growing disciplinary formation of “critical bibliography” through its focus the ways material textuality has been used to make social and political claims about gender, labor, and race. When book history emerged in the U.S. academy in the early 1990s, some figured it as a positivist reaction against “theory” and the so-called culture war. They imagined that the study of books as objects returned the humanities to some desired solid ground. “Some people in literature are looking for ways to temper abstract theory with research,” is how a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter put it at the time. This reactionary configuration offers a flattened-out version of the field, one that David Scott Kastan and Matthew P. Brown have characterized as “the new boredom” piling up dry-as-dust details in barricades against supposedly “sexy knowledge.”11 McGill and others have recently pointed out that the cultural turn in literary and historical research coincided with the drop off of scholarship in descriptive and analytic bibliography. The “recovery” of diverse writers and the expansion of the canon fed critical work on gender, sexuality, race, and class, which happened largely without detailed attention to bibliographical and book historical data.12
The recent project of developing a critical bibliography is a move to dissolve barriers between theoretically informed cultural studies and deep attention to the materiality of texts. Rag paper contains and represents narratives about gender, race, and labor, and the writers I study here try to bring these to the surface. The Intimacy of Paper studies how the materiality of paper directs attention back to the laborers who made it and to the layers of meaning inherent in rag paper. American women writers direct us to see that anything written or printed on paper takes residence on a surface that has been worked by women from the flax field to the linen rag to the sheet of paper. Anonymous ad copywriters and such canonical authors as Herman Melville theorized what forms of political and sensual community was made within paper after the gathering thousands of shreds of rags from communities near and far. Writers as dissimilar to each other as Benjamin Franklin and William Wells Brown both queried the ways that white skin and white paper appear alike within antiblack culture.
These are glosses of how the chapters of this book approach the embeddedness of culture within the materiality of paper. Just as The Intimacy of Paper’s account of materiality textuality highlights the processes through which literature and materiality overlap, this book’s alignment with critical bibliography insists on the disciplinary blending of cultural studies with bibliography and book history.
A Brief History of American Rag Papermaking
The history of papermaking is a subfield in its own right. It consists of histories of business, technology, printing and publishing, and arts and crafts.13 To write this history would require several books, and each would have a different focus from this one. In fact, several comprehensive histories have been written by artists and scholars, including Dard Hunter, Cathleen Baker, and Nicholas Basbanes.14 But to follow how American writers engaged with paper’s material textuality during what I’ve called the “rag paper period,” it will be useful to have a short history of the processes of rag papermaking and some of the more important changes that occurred during the period.
The first paper mill constructed in the colonies that would become the United States was built in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1690 by William Rittenhouse, a German-born immigrant to Pennsylvania by way of Holland. Rittenhouse learned papermaking in Germany and Holland, two continental centers of the trade since the twelfth century. There is one surviving report indicating that as early as 1674, “Paper hath been made in New England,” but this is likely to have been an ill-equipped, small-scale operation, not a fully functioning mill.15 Unlike in the New England colonies, the area surrounding Philadelphia supported the flax farming and linen weaving, along with German and Dutch immigrant communities skilled in these trades, necessary for papermaking to thrive at a large scale.16 Several poetic pamphlets were issued in the late seventeenth century designed to advertise the successes of the Pennsylvania colony, and they tended to note the interdependence of nascent industries on one another. I will discuss the richest of these, Richard Frame’s 1692 “A short Description of Pensilvania,” at length in chapter 1, but another is worth quoting here. John Holme’s 1696 poem, “A True Relation of the Flourishing State of Pensilvania,” articulates the essential dependence of print on paper and, in turn, of paper on rags:
Here dwelt a printer and I find
That he can both print books and bind;
He wants not paper, ink nor skill
He’s owner of a paper mill.
The paper mill is here hard by
And makes good paper frequently,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
No doubt but he will lay up bags
If he can get good store of rags.
Kind friend, when thy old shift is rent
Let it to th’ paper mill be sent.17
The reliance of one trade on another, the tireless search for rags for papermaking, and the transformation of material from seed to cloth to rag to paper are recurrent themes in nearly all writing about paper during this time.
Because the printer in this poem “is the owner of a paper mill” who “wants not paper,” the poem also hints at the fact that paper was the most important upfront cost for a printer or publisher. Whether in the colonial, early national, or antebellum period, printers and publishers had most of their capital tied up in paper stock. This risk for each book or job was carried in paper that, unlike type, could not easily be reused, redirected, or recouped once a job was under way. Business historians of the book trade who have studied book costs of large nineteenth-century publishers have shown that paper represented most of the risk in the trade: Paper tied up substantial amounts of capital throughout the process of composing, printing, collating, and binding before a book finally hit the market, where publishers hoped it would sell.18
By the time papermaking was established in the American colonies, it had already spread from China through Japan and Korea to Africa and the Middle East before moving into continental Europe. The ancestor of paper as we know it was first made in China in 105 CE. Paper had become more common than papyrus and parchment in the Arab world by the end of the tenth century. Papermaking was established in Europe by Moors in the Iberian Peninsula in the twelfth century. In Spain, paper was called pagamino de paño, or cloth parchment, a neologism that acknowledged the essential ingredient of linen rags while maintaining a skeuomorphic connection to animal skin writing surfaces. Papermaking came to England relatively late, in the fifteenth century, owing to several factors, not least of which was the relative absence of flax farming and linen weaving and the prevalent use of wool, which is not conducive to making paper.19 By the time papermaking was established in Pennsylvania in the late seventeenth century, it had already been developed by people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East for centuries before being brought to the European colonial states that would move the technology to North America.
Broadly speaking, there were two “periods” of rag papermaking germane to this book’s focus: the hand period and the machine period. Within these periods there were many innovations, closely held trade secrets, and experiments in materials and processes that deviated from or extended “norms.” But within the scope of this book’s literary critical study of material textuality, a general understanding of the main processes, materials, and laborers involved in each period suffices. Hand papermaking was the norm in colonial America and the early national United States from 1690 until 1817, when the first paper machine was built on the Brandywine River in the mid-Atlantic region. In Europe, the machine paper era began around 1800.
Hand papermaking involved three principal artisan laborers, usually men: the vatman, the coucher, and the layer. They were supported by teams of other laborers, often but not exclusively women and children, who sorted, shredded, and prepared rags and who also hung and managed paper while drying. Paper mills purchased rags from a variety of sources, including street ragpickers, household collectors, and importers. Once at the mill, rags were sorted by quality of weave, color and cleanliness, and strength. Depending on the quality of the mill or the paper desired, seams and stitches were removed, as were other inclusions, and dirt and dust was shaken out over a screen. Once sorted they were cut into small pieces by being passed over a fixed blade attached to the bins where the women and children worked. Until the early nineteenth century, these small squares of cut and separated rags would be left to ferment, or rett, for a time. This began the process of breaking down the cloth fibers, softening and opening them up to be recombined in the paper mould. Next came boiling in an open cauldron with the addition of alkaline solutions (which varied depending on the mill and the desired product) to further soften and open the rag fibers. Beating was then accomplished at first with a triphammer stamping machine that operated by cams on an axle, powered by a waterwheel. The stamping machines were very loud, which took a toll on workers and which made the rag room of paper mills difficult to be near. Beating, water, and chemical additives completed the process of breaking apart rag fibers and preparing their shape and surface area for recohesion as paper. The resulting pulp is called “stuff.”
Once the stuff was prepared by sorting, cutting, retting, cooking, and beating, the slurry was dumped into vats. The vat is the basic workstation unit of the hand paper mill. A shop could be a one-, two-, or three-vat operation, and so on. After the vat was “charged,” or filled with pulp and water, the vatman dipped a two-piece wire mould and deckle into the vat, drawing it toward himself creating a thin layer of pulp atop a wire mesh. Working quickly, the vatman needed to shake and even out the pulp on the surface of the mould as water began to dry out and the sheet began to settle. At this moment, rag fibers that were opened by beating and soaking begin to bond together again, making the surface of the sheet come together. The wire of the mould and deckle create the chains, lines, and watermarks you see within paper from this period when it’s held to the light. The vatman then handed the mould off to the coucher, who pressed the wet sheet into a felt, transferring it from the wires to a stack of felt sheets. The vatman and the coucher did this continually. When a stack of wet sheets and felts reached a certain quantity, the layer placed the stack into a screw press and applied great pressure to remove more water from the sheets. Water was expressed several more times through pressing the accumulated pack. Sheets of paper were then hung to finish drying in the rafters of an upstairs room in the mill, usually with slats in the walls to regulate temperature, humidity, and airflow. The distinctive architecture of these buildings can be seen in engravings on nineteenth-century ream wrappers. After drying, and depending on the grade of paper and its purpose, the paper could be sized (to prepare the surface to accept ink without bleeding) by submersion in a gelatinous solution or buffed and beaten with stones and hammers. This three-person team and an eight-person support team working rags, pressing, and drying could make as many as fifteen hundred to two thousand sheets of good writing or printing paper per ten-hour day. The workflow of these three laborers is accurately and memorably depicted in the engraved illustrations accompanying Louis-Jacques Goussier description of papermaking in Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751–80). The best resources for studying the technical details of hand papermaking are the works of Timothy Barrett and Cathleen Baker, both of whom are paper scientists and papermakers who have reconstructed historical methods through practice in the present.20
The vat and mould structure of hand papermaking limited the amount of paper a mill could make. There were human limits: how fast humans could work, and how much they expected to be compensated for their skill and time. Near constant rag shortages were also a problem. The rag problem could not be solved by automation, but the speed and labor problem could be. After 1817, U.S. papermakers began replacing the hand mould with various kinds of paper machines. Eventually, these would replace the hand mould with a mesh belt. In terms of the paper itself, the replacement of the bounded rectangular mould with mesh belts meant that paper was now made in long rolls and then cut into sheets of different sizes, rather than made in discrete sheets limited by the size of the mould. The “endlessness” of the belt and emergent wet sheet captivated those who followed technology and even found its way to popular audiences. In 1830, one newspaper quipped that “the newspapers tell us that there is a paper mill in Delaware which can make a sheet of paper one hundred miles in length. This is a very decent sized sheet, undoubtedly, but there is a mill in Ulster Co. N.Y. which makes a sheet that has no end.”21 This comical editorial in the newspaper reveals both a fascination with the new technologies of papermaking and a projection of papermaking into the literary imaginary through humor and hyperbole. Eventually, people joked that papermaking machines worked such wonders of transformation that they could take a shirt in on one side and spit out a printed book on the other. One lecturer is reported to have marveled at a paper mill where “a person might throw in his shirt at one end and see it come out Robinson Crusoe at the other.”22
In these water- or steam-driven machines, a wire belt passed through a charged vat, or “stock box,” where it picked up a constant thin layer of stuff. The work of the coucher was replaced by several couch rolls that began drying the sheet and removing water with an “endless felt” belt that ran on a loop on the couch rolls. The sheet moved from the “wet end” of the machine to the “dry end,” where it passed through several drying rolls before being rolled, cut into sheets, and hung to dry. The most widely adopted paper machine was the Fourdrinier, which became the standard machinery in mills up and down the eastern seaboard by the 1830s. Mechanization also changed how rags were converted into stuff. As early as 1756 the popular macerating engine called the “Hollander beater” largely replaced the water-driven triphammer beater in colonial America, greatly reducing the necessary time for beating rags from several days to several hours.23 Like the eclipse of hand presses by machine presses for printing, the switch from hand to machine dramatically increased the speed and scale of papermaking, while lowering the cost. An 1818 newspaper account of this change mentioned that in one day’s work “two men and one boy” could make “as much as the old machinery by twelve men and six boys.”24
Increases in demand for paper and the capacity to manufacture meant that more rags than ever were needed. Experiments to add other materials to the stuff, from rope to vegetable matter, were always afoot at small scale. It wasn’t until 1867 that a wood-based pulp replaced a rag-based pulp as the primary ingredient in the majority of American papermaking.25 With the end of the rag period technologies of papermaking and ways of writing about one’s relation to paper changed markedly.
How Rags Mediate Intimacy
The readings in The Intimacy of Paper explore how the rag content of paper mediates intimacy by transmitting material history and narrative, and by making bodies present to one another. Each chapter in this book takes up a different dimension of these possibilities and their representation in American written, visual, and material cultures. I want to present two examples at the outset that help ground our sense of how paper functions in these ways.
Like all things made by humans, and as scholars of material culture know well, paper bears visible signs that tell stories about its creation. Studying these signs, we can often recreate the processes, the decisions, the aesthetic priorities, and sometimes even the struggles of the artisans and laborers who design and make the things we use and encounter. Since creating a clean, smooth, and unmarked sheet was a priority of papermaking, traces of the various people involved in its creation can be hard to find. But when inspected closely, the seemingly two-dimensional surface of the page turns out to be three dimensional: there are visible fibers, bits of unshredded rag, bumps and depressions.
Though papermakers aimed for a clean sheet free of tell-tale marks, papermaking was often not very far from the cities and towns where printing and publishing took place, and also often not far from readers. Calls for rag collection were in the advertisements of almost every newspaper, a ragbag was a feature of most kitchens, and ragpickers walked the streets of cities and towns. Across differences of class and race, women and girls were instructed, or ordered, to save household rags and to prepare them for sale to paper mills. Children and adults who learned to read and write using Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book or the Columbian Orator copied out and recited lessons about paper and papermaking by rote, as Pastor Wright noted, “There are probably few school-boys who are uninformed of the fact, so comprehensively declared in Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book, that “Paper is made of linen and cotton rags.”26 Teamsters moved rags off ships coming to port from abroad. Paper mills were loud and could be heard amongst the din of mill industries whether in the center of a city or at the edge of a town. As we will see later in this book, during the rag paper period readers encountered the page both as something to read and as the product of an industry that they likely had some part in, however small.
The special collections library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign owns a copy of a seventeenth-century Italian book containing a remarkable sheet of paper. Holding this sheet of Per la facciata del Duomo di Milano to the light we find an impression of the vatman or coucher’s hand (Fig. 1).27 Seeing the hand of the worker within this sheet of paper confronts us with the presence of a human. The hand provokes us to realize that when touching this sheet, we are proximate to a particular person reaching through time from within this book’s paper. Laying a hand over the seventeenth-century hand impression, you might share a kind of intimate contact through the materiality of the page. The hand raises questions that are very likely unanswerable: whose hand was this, what was the individual’s life like, and so on. Lacking definitive answers, we might begin to imagine who this person was, crafting a story based in the intimate contact we make through this sheet of paper. The handprint in Per la facciata del Duomo di Milano is an unambiguous illustration of how paper mediates contact between humans. But as I will show in this book, people who encountered rag paper were attuned to its intimacies in ways that did not require something as visible as a handprint.
Every sheet of paper is an archive of human labor. This is true of the work of the paper mill, but it is also true of the rags that make up paper. We know hands touched each page as they came into being in the mill, but what about the cloth that became rags and the flax plants that became linen? These, too, are present within paper, and the literature of the rag paper period was also fascinated with how the histories of these objects and the people who encountered them were present within the sheet. The sense that a sheet of paper contained the history of all the people who encountered its material components was so strong that several “it narratives” exist in which a sheet or a quire of paper tells its story from flax seed to cloth to paper to print or manuscript and back to the earth again. The most well-known of these is probably the 1779 English magazine story “The Adventures of a Quire of Paper,” but they were so common that schoolchildren could write them out from memory.28
One of them was James Knox, a school-age boy in Rochester, New York, who had an it-narrative about the material history of a sheet of paper ready at the tip of his tongue. He wrote it out for his classroom’s manuscript newspaper, Odds and Ends. A folio sheet formatted like a newspaper, students in this class composed articles and stories by hand and created a single copy of Odds and Ends each week. Upon completion, their teacher read it aloud. For the March 1, 1850, issue, young James Knox contributed a story entitled “The Flax Seed.” I quote the entire story here for the sake of orienting us to how readers and writers like Knox understood the rag content of paper to “speak.” Without much punctuation, and with a pace that communicates the boy’s excitement, Knox writes from the perspective of a flax seed that becomes paper:
“The Flax Seed”
The first that I remember of myself I was laying in an old chest in a farmer’s kitchen in the spring I was taken out and put in the ground I sprang up and was cut down again I went through a variety of performances till I was made into a piece of cloth I was then boxed up and sent to a dry goods store where I was taken out and placed on the shelf I had laid there for some time. When one day a little girl and her mother came into the store to buy some cloth. A great many articles were handed down but none suited them I was then taken down and placed before them they asked the price paid for me and and [sic] went off home I was then taken and placed upon the table I was worn around the house till I was all in rags I was then thrown in the rag bag. one day there came a man to the house and asked them if they any rags I was handed to him with the others and he gave them a few articles of tin-ware and went off I was then taken to the paper mills and made into a piece of paper I was then put into the printing press and made into a spelling book I was then placed into a book store I had lain there for some time when a little boy came into the store and asked them if they had any spelling books I was handed down he asked the price of me paid for me and went off the little boy did not like his book and I was left kicking around the floor one evening I was kicked out of the school I had lain there for some time when a large dog came along and shook me so that he shook the wits out of me and that is all I can remember.29
As a child, James knows that paper’s origin is in flax seeds, which after growing into flax is woven into linen. Telling the story of this paper, James also tells the stories of the humans who encounter it along the way: a farmer, a little girl and her mother, a ragpicker, a schoolboy. James also associates all the places this seed, plant, linen, and rag have been with the paper. Within the paper are stories of the farm, the store, the home, the ragbag, the paper mill, the printer, the bookstore, and the classroom. James can imagine, and narrate in prose, the rag content of paper’s ability to speak its material history and to make present all of the people it encountered along the way. James also resists the technodeterminist and archival fantasies that paper print and fix words and images in place and in perpetuity. The end of James’s story contains a “dog ate my homework” joke, but it also delivers the realization that the elements of paper, once digested by the dog, will return to the earth from whence they came, perhaps as fertilizer for another flax seed. James’s way of thinking about what he encountered when he touched the paper in his primer was not an uncommon one.
One of the qualities of rags and paper enabling the sense that it carries so many contacts and contexts within them is their absorptiveness. Rags and paper literally and figuratively absorb things around them and carry them forward. Other narratives about the raggy content of paper speak not only of the people who wove flax into linen but also about the tears absorbed into a pillowcase, or even about the conversations “overheard” by a piece of cloth. These tears and overheard conversations might later emerge out of the paper in the form of a tearjerking sentimental novel or, in the case of a novel called The Tell-Tale Rag, a tell-all exposé. The Tell-Tale Rag, for example, bills itself as a story in which “a cotton rag is made, as it were, a living oracle, giving its own history whilst serving as raiment on twelve different masters, relating each one of their secret besetting and popular sins, from the time it was planted in the cotton fields of South Carolina, until it became a portion of the body of a glorified saint.”30
A sheet of paper constituted from thousands of pulped rags, the cellulose torn open and then rebonded through drying, contains within it what Carolyn Steedman calls the “irreducible traces of an actual history.” Observing a rag rug in a nineteenth-century domestic space, she describes how it creates a floor covering out of interlocking pieces of waste rags. What interests Steedman is how “the rag rug is made from the torn fragments of other things, debris and leavings, the broken and torn things of industrial civilization.” Looking at such a rug, Steedman wonders how the cultural historian could tell the story of the social relations literally knotted up within the thing itself: “The rug carried with it the irreducible traces of an actual history, and that history cannot be made to go away.”31 Such rugs, Steedman notes, were often sold by working families to paper mills for cash, and so these cloth-bound histories of domestic labor become subsumed into paper. And though, she notes, such it-narratives as The Romance of a Rag would try to speak on behalf of this material history within the generic constraints of the romance, a material history remains embedded within the rag rug and within the paper it goes on to make.
Material textuality combines the figural or storytelling dimension with the materially present object. We can look on the object itself as cultural historians and wonder “if these rags could talk . . . ,” but we also encounter the object within a set of familiar generic expectations and narrative forms that supply us with no end of raggy expressions. The richest possibilities for reading “material textuality” present themselves when we are open to both the literal and the fanciful narratives that might accrue to a quire of paper. The Intimacy of Paper focuses on the relationship between literary writing about paper and paper itself, foregrounding how material metaphors, what N. Katherine Hayles calls “the traffic between words and physical artifacts,” create different ways of sensing material texts.32
Rags and rag paper absorb and re-present what they carry within them. Beyond the realm of literary representation, people wondered about, and also feared, the possibly too intimate proximities that paper and rags put them in. In port and paper mill cities, people feared that rags and paper could spread disease. This was especially true of rags that were imported from abroad, and even more so if the country of origin stoked racist fears and prejudices. Rags were quarantined at port and rushed from port to remote paper mills without entering city centers lest they spread disease. A historian of early American quarantine, David S. Barnes, confirms that in the minds of early and nineteenth-century Americans, rags “represent[ed] the threat of direct or indirect contact with filthy human beings.”33
The intimacies of rag paper could lead to imagination or contagion, or both. Either way, the rag content of paper made other people, places, times, and stories present within the page. Bill Brown has more recently commented that the lines between people and things become blurred. As a site of encounter between thing and person, as an archive of persons in things, rags and rag paper are sites of what Brown might call enmeshment: “Enmeshed as we are in the object world,” he writes, “we can’t at times differentiate ourselves from things, or because those things (however actively or passively) have somehow come to resemble us.”34 Others before me have taken up the way paper and books absorb and archive what happens around and over them. Stéphane Mallarmé wrote that “your act is always stuck to a piece of paper, / for mediation without traces becomes evanescent.”35 In “Unpacking My Library,” Walter Benjamin also links the scrap of paper and the trace of memory. Recalling the work of physically handling and reorganizing his book collection, he notices that “the floor [is] covered in torn paper.” These scraps of paper and books bring him “not thoughts, but . . . memories,” he says. In particular, touching these material objects makes present “the cities in which I found so many things.”36 Paper mediates presence and creates proximity; it absorbs traces of people, places, and actions, making them available for thinking and touching. The Intimacy of Paper excavates these traces stuck to pieces of paper. Through early and nineteenth-century American literature and culture, this book traces one path of these material memories through rag paper.
“Many roads lead to paper,” Christina Lupton writes, “both those of common sense, which aim to pin it down but end up vertiginously acknowledging the ‘miracle’ of papers that come and go as soon as we try to look at them too closely.” In the book at hand I join a community of scholars in conversation about the different kinds of cultural and aesthetic work done by paper. In a December 2012 article in the New York Times, arts reporter Jennifer Schuessler described an “emerging body of work that might be called ‘paperwork studies.’”37 Schuessler’s article focused a spotlight on several recent books studying the social, intellectual, and political structures that are made possible by the affordances of paper and paperwork. Under this umbrella, Lisa Gitelman, Ben Kafka, and others have loosed the archival and epistemological methodologies of book history and print culture studies from “the book” and “print,” focusing rather on documents and the technologies of paper that make them possible. In Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents, Gitelman argues that book history and print culture have dominated the history of communication but are “insufficient” rubrics for the task. “One aim” of Gitelman’s work, she writes, “is to discourage [the] use” of the terms “book history” and “print culture,” dislodging them long enough to see around the edges, to let other sorts of media objects come into focus. Taking up paper and the document as the organizing principle opens up different questions about the materiality of texts. “Surface” and “inscription” become more important terms for analysis than are “book” or “print.” The way paper cuts across, or under, as it were, the division between manuscript and print dissolves the hold of that division on the mind. Gitelman calls attention, for example, to the massive archive of job printing, including blanks and forms. Forms and blanks have no authors or readerships in the traditional, literary sense, yet they made up the bulk of a printer’s daily work and they play a crucial role in the establishment and management of governmental and corporate infrastructures. Ben Kafka takes up this very question in his book, The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork. He studies how paperwork, documentation, and bureaucracy create and frustrate forms of power. Kafka argues that the bureaucratic regime created by the French Revolution gave rise to the notion that government could be called to account and that this accounting was based in new possibilities of paperwork, record keeping, and record storage.38 Both Gitelman and Kafka are influenced by Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, particularly the suggestion that objects act on and organize the behavior of humans around them. Paper works on the humans around it, affording some possibilities while foreclosing others. The Intimacy of Paper is similarly interested in the ways that rag paper prompts those around it, calling readers to look into its fibers or to think about whose hands they encounter when touching the sheet.
In addition to Gitelman’s and Kafka’s work, this book’s conversational constellation includes the work of several scholars who study the links between paper and the literary content it carries. For example, the sheet of paper emerges as the crucial analytic scale in Alexandra Socarides’s Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics. Socarides offers a wholesale reevaluation of Emily Dickinson’s fascicles, the poet’s hand-stitched, book-like gatherings of poems in manuscripts. Socarides observes that critics tended to analyze Dickinson’s fascicles as if they were booklets, making claims about the relationships between and among poems in the fascicles as if they were purposefully arranged in order in booklets. So accustomed are we to “thinking in books” that we forget, as another scholar, Augusta Rohrbach, has written, to “think . . . outside the book.”39 We become unprepared to see other possible units of meaning and formats for carrying them. By doing the fundamental bibliographical work of collating the sheets in the fascicles, Socarides found that Dickinson composed not with booklets in mind but in sheets of paper. Socarides’s close readings of the poems, informed by bibliographical data, show that the unit of coherence and relation among poems in Dickinson’s fascicles is actually the sheet of paper. Dickinson’s “poetics . . . is guided by paper,” finds Socarides.40 The single sheet of paper puts poems in relation to one another in the fascicles, an important and revealing fact that remained invisible as long as we go with the assumption that Dickinson intended the fascicles to resemble books, not sheets. Socarides reveals the extent to which paper literally shaped Dickinson’s work and how self-conscious Dickinson was about the material influences on her writing. “There isn’t room enough; not half enough to hold what I was going to say. Won’t you tell the man who makes sheets of paper, that I hav’nt the slightest respect for him!” Dickinson wrote in a letter from her home in Amherst, halfway between the major paper mill capitols of Springfield and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Socarides’s work shows that “paper shapes what [Dickinson] has to say” and issues a call to scholars using methods born in book history and bibliography to remember that, while we usually focus on print and script, paper is a platform and studying what it makes possible is both necessary and revealing.41
No one has taken further the insight that paper is a technological platform than Bonnie Mak, whose book, How the Page Matters, studies “the page” as a long-lasting architecture of information. The page has organized information for readers in loose sheets of papyrus, paper, or vellum, bound in codex form, reproduced in Xeroxes and microfilms, and in digital environments where selecting “new” in the menu of word processing software produces what looks like a digitally remediated fresh sheet of paper. Across textual media and technological periods, “the page” endures as an interface and organizing structure. As scholars increasingly study the remediation of texts across formats—Gitelman, for example, studies the link between print, microfilm, and digital versions of texts—“the page” turns out to be a more useful frame for tracking content across platforms than “the book.” Like Socarides, Mak argues that book history and print culture “demarcate[d] the printed book as a locus for the investigation of reading and writing” and “fractured the broader history of the codex and communication technology” by overshadowing other components like the page. “Mattering,” Mak writes, means significance, and signification in the textual sense, “but also to claim a certain physical space, to have a particular presence, to be uniquely embodied.” This interweaving of matter and signification, the interrelation of meaning, presence, space, and embodiment, is at the heart of The Intimacy of Paper’s approach to material textuality. “The matter and mattering of the page are entangled in complicated ways as they reconfigure each other,” Mak writes.42
Closely related to Mak’s analysis of the layering of embodiment and meaning within the page, Sarah Kay’s Animal Skins and the Reading Self asks questions about the relationship between animal skin writing substrates like vellum or parchment and the genre of the “bestiary” inscribed upon them. Here, visual and textual representations of animals are borne on skins of goat and calf; pores, hair, and holes from wounds to the animal and to the text carry visual and verbal representations of the very same fleshly animals. What is the relation of the skin writing surface to “skin” represented in text and image? “By focusing on the page itself, as much as what is written, drawn, or painted on it,” Kay “sketch[es] a speculative phenomenology” of the page. How does the substrate of skin intervene in reading by making its presence known to the reader, “how would it feel to become absorbed in the contents of a page that can be perceived as an extension of the reader’s own skin?” “Guided and preempted by the texts themselves,” how do such texts reconfigure the stable categories of book as object and reader as subject, she asks.43
The Intimacy of Paper is similarly invested in the real and imaginary boundary crossings between the reader who collects rags in her kitchen and the rag paper pages over which she runs her fingers. What emerges between embodied reader and embodied text? Here I argue for an approach to material textuality that asks readers to dwell in the structures where meaning and matter are entangled. The Intimacy of Paper joins a growing body of scholarship that looks to paper, the page, and the substrate to think about the generative feedback loops between textuality and materiality.
Material Turns and Theories of Material Presence
As a field, book historians have been moving toward the framework of “material texts” at the same time that other humanist interpretive frameworks have taken their own “material turns.” To what extent does the study of material texts intersect with these? Bibliography, book history, and print culture studies’ attention to the details of material objects was once held out as a rejection of “theory” after the linguistic turn, a refusal to permit “the text” to float free of any particular manifestation in the world. Similarly, new materialism and “thing theory” offer possible models for staging the relationship between thought and things. With so many thinkers attempting to articulate how materiality shapes thought and experience, what models matter, so to speak, for those of us focused on material texts?
The “new materialism,” for example, proposes to think outside the dualism of the subject/object paradigm in order to regard the agency of things, and further to do so without appealing to personification or the value human subjects assign to objects. This mode of thinking seeks to reveal the networks, assemblages, and relations that form without human input or that are perhaps even indifferent to humans altogether.44 The idea of assemblages that emerge from this body of theory may be particularly useful for the study of material texts. We are used to talking about books and print as conglomerations of different kinds of human labor and craft assembled into book form. But the notion of the assemblage that comes to use from new materialism prompts us to think about other, nonhuman actors in these negotiations of material textuality. Sonia Hazard has argued that the move away from anthropocentrism allows humanists, in particular, to see the interrelation of humans and objects as complex assemblages. “Humans and things are fundamentally co-constitutive, whether cooperatively or agonistically so,” she writes.” “Assemblages,” Hazard continues, “challenge the commonplace idea that agency—the capacity to make effects in the world—is the unique province of deliberate actors like humans . . . in assemblages, things are not inert.”45 When human blood soaks into a rag, and then is made into paper, what sort of assemblage of human, vegetable, and textual matter is it? How do we account for the presence of the animals whose bones and hooves supply gelatin for the sizing that prepares paper to accept ink? The vocabularies of new materialism permit us to talk about the tense molecular bonds always moving between fibers in a sheet of paper and the DNA dwelling within rags as part of the encounter between human readers and the sheet of paper.
The way Bill Brown describes “things” as different from “objects” can be another useful framework, one that resonates with this book’s interest in paper’s becoming visible and meaningful in the rag paper period. Things, Brown says, are excessive objects that “exceed their mere materialization as objects or their mere utilization as objects—their force as a sensuous presence or as a metaphysical presence, the magic by which objects become values, fetishes, idols, and totems.” Things are objects that suddenly “seem to assert their presence and power.” Fibers in rag paper assert their presence, visible within the surface of the page. Rag and fiber within the page assert their thingliness in the way Roland Barthes says that the punctum in a photograph “rises from the scene, shouts out of it like an arrow, and pierces.” It is the “accident which pricks me.” I am particularly drawn to Barthes’s use of “accident” here, because an accident does not only mean contingency or circumstance but also signifies that which is “present but not necessarily so,” the material embodiment of something seemingly absent.46 For both Brown and Barthes, things harbor the ability to exceed their supposed inertia, to gain the attention of the viewer, and “infuse the world with significance.”47 Rag paper calls out from its surface to be engaged in its presence and its sensuousness.
In this book, I am especially interested in bringing the study of material texts into conversation with a body of scholarship on “the materialities of communication” not often engaged by American scholars, even in the current wave of material turns. The way The Intimacy of Paper thinks about the relationship between presence and meaning in material texts is informed by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s work on “presence effects” and the “presence dimension” of aesthetic and cultural objects. In a series of books, including Materialities of Communication (1994), The Powers of Philology: Dynamics of Textual Criticism (2003), and The Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (2004), Gumbrecht embarks on a project to articulate an approach to aesthetic experience that is not completely subsumed by the metaphysical, including the subject/object dichotomy of the Cartesian worldview and hermeneutics/interpretation. Gumbrecht laments how various approaches to the “attribution of meaning,” which he credits as the dominant paradigm of the humanities, dull our capacity to perceive and describe the effects that objects have on our bodies: “If we attribute a meaning to a thing that is present, that is, if we form an idea of what this thing may be in relation to us, we seem to attenuate, inevitably, the impact this thing can have on our bodies and our senses.”48 Throughout his work, Gumbrecht aims to restore the haptic to our critical toolkit by dwelling in the oscillation between the “presence effects” and the “meaning effects” of cultural artifacts. As a book historian working today, I am particularly interested in how easily presence and meaning map onto materiality and textuality, respectively. Throughout this book, I am keen to dwell in the oscillation between materiality and textuality, between presence effects and meaning effects. This oscillation is at the heart of what material textuality, a configuration that links these terms and creates generative tension, offers as a paradigm for our field.
In Gumbrecht’s framing, the search for meaning, symbolism, context, and interpretation has become so dominant to critical practice, and it sets in so immediately, that it forestalls recognition of sensation and its intensities on the body. In the Cartesian worldview, the work of the mind is separate from the body and objects. In the hermeneutic tradition, meaning is latent in objects and must be drawn out. The work of the scholar is to find the meaning “behind” something, to look “through” its surface to reveal the spirit that lies within the body. To think around and outside this paradigm, Gumbrecht and a number of other German philosophers and critics, including Friedrich Kittler, turned their attention to, as they framed it, the “materialities of communication.” We should recall here that in one of the earliest uses of the concept of “material textuality,” Peter Stallybrass and Margreta de Grazia say that material texts are objects that “demand to be looked at, not seen through.”49 The call to meet the text at itself rather than to immediately look into or through it unites both early articulations of de Grazia and Stallybrass’s material texts studies and Gumbrecht and Kittler’s “materialities of communication.” “Not taking into account . . . the materiality of characters on wax, papyrus, or parchment was seen as the historical condition for the dominance of ‘meaning’ and ‘spirit’ in Western culture,” Gumbrecht writes. Gumbrecht, Kittler, and others in their working group of media theorists organized their work around a “main fascination” with the “question of how different media—different materialities—of communication would affect the meaning that [material texts] carried.”50
The main thrust of Kittler’s work, probably the most influential so far to emerge from this group, is that human thought does not happen outside the affordances of available inscription systems. Therefore, in this model, the work of the scholar is to understand the media conditions of possibility for certain expressions of literature, rather than to interpret individual expressions. In any historical period, Kittler would say, the technological capacities of media determine the shape of what can be written. Technologies of inscription are prior to meaning-making.51 Kittler’s work has influenced media studies far more than book history, though these fields do share some conceptual and disciplinary overlap. Kittler’s work is also foundational to prominent Americanist scholars of material texts, such as Lisa Gitelman.52
One of the features of Gumbrecht’s thought that makes it more attractive to me than Kittler’s is that he leaves more room for oscillation between meaning and materiality, especially in literature. “Poetry is,” he writes, “the most powerful example of the simultaneity of presence effects and meaning effects—for even the most overpowering institutional dominance of the hermeneutic dimension could never fully repress the presence effects of rhyme and alliteration, of verse and stanza.” Here we have an outline for literary criticism, moving back and forth between how some material condition, the way rhyme sounds or moves the mouth, and the meaning made by what is said in the way it is said. “We no longer believed that a meaning complex could be kept separated from its mediality, that is, from the difference of appearing on a printed page, on a computer screen, or in a voicemail message,” Gumbrecht writes. But, he admits some room for ambiguity in the relation between meaning and mediality: “We didn’t quite know how to deal with this interface of meaning and materiality.”53 Kittler’s work centers around historical epochs and their media systems; another of his widely influential books is titled Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, and in his reading, each of these new media technologies inaugurates a distinct era of discursive possibility. Where Kittler turns to media, Gumbrecht turns to philology, a field closely related to bibliography and book history. And this is why I think his focus on the presence effects of media are as, if not more, important for book historians to engage as Kittler’s. Philology is the discovery, editing, and presentation of historical texts, a field of study in which one must literally get close to the problematic interface of meaning and materiality at the surface of text. Dealing with the fragmentary text, for example, the philologist works with the artefact to articulate its relation to a whole. “Philological practices generate desires for presence, desires for a physical and space-mediated relationship to the things of the world (including texts),” Gumbrecht writes.54 To get around the dominance of interpretation, Kittler makes interpretation secondary to technological systems; Gumbrecht urges physical tangibility and closeness of the body to aesthetic objects and events.
To situate this argument in practice for a moment, let us think about the intensity of feeling that arises in you when you are presented, in the archival or special collections reading room, with an object you have called from the vault. I do not think I am alone in having and valuing an intense bodily reaction to the manuscripts, books, and other objects I study—especially those that come to me across great stretches of time. Who has not been moved in some way by being present with an object in an archive? A person we care about very deeply for one reason or another moved their hands over this paper in the creation of this manuscript, and it is possible to lay our hand there too. My eyes are struck by the bite of very black type on astonishingly white rag paper; my fingers move over the bumpy echo of eighteenth-century type pressed through to the recto of a sheet. I wonder about the enslaved African American man who I know printed this sheet and place my hands where his were. Encountering the first edition of a book I’ve read in modern reprint a hundred times before arranges my body to the text anew. When these material texts are brought forth in space we experience their presence effects. But, typically, when we begin to produce scholarship about them, we narrow our focus to meaning effects. Almost immediately we get set on the “real work” of reading, interpreting, and contextualizing. It would be almost embarrassing to acknowledge the intensities we feel during these moments of physical encounter.
And yet, firsthand archival research remains crucially important to the field. Fellowships at archives like the American Antiquarian Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Newberry Library, and the Huntington Library, among others, are important catalysts for research, teaching, and career development. As teachers, we take our students to special collections to see, touch, and smell material texts. In these moments we cultivate a certain enchantment with material texts, but do we have a vocabulary to offer students to give shape to their embodied encounters? We rightly insist on the value of being present with the material texts that we study, even as digital surrogates make reproduced texts more readily available for us to read on digital screens nearly anywhere. In these moments, material texts vibrate on our skin in the same way that low bass notes register in our bodies, shaking us; how would we even begin to talk about this? We have not abandoned the presence dimension of material texts, but we lack the vocabulary necessary to acknowledge and interpret it. One wager of this book is that readers and writers of the rag paper period did not lack the words or concepts that acknowledged and described how paper’s presence dimension worked on their bodies and created meaning in their time. Let their example be instructive to us as we try in the digital age to communicate the value of being present firsthand with other people among art, books, and sound.
In The Intimacy of Paper, I work through Gumbrecht’s challenge to “think a layer in cultural objects and in our relation to them that is not the layer of meaning” and then to view the presence layer and the meaning layer at work together in specific written expressions.55 The language of layering is useful for thinking about paper. Paper itself is a three-dimensional structure of pulverized rag fibers constantly pushing and pulling off one another, coated with a layer of sizing, and sometimes imprinted with a layer of ink. Some layers we want to read representationally because they contain words or images to be interpreted. But the presence layer can be something else entirely. When I speak of finding the presence of women workers in the rags that their hands touched, I am speaking of this “presence layer.” In the real world that you and I inhabit, when we go into archives and special collections and handle rag paper, we are literally presented with traces of thousands of people, plants, garments, and labors. Across time and space, our bodies and minds are put in some form of relation to theirs, just as the bodies and minds of early and nineteenth-century American readers were. Working in multidisciplinary teams, humanists and scientists today engage in advanced imaging and chemical testing to attempt to scientifically represent the complex world inside of paper. They may eventually be able to tell us with certainty where this or that flax came from or what whose DNA survives within the raggy contents of a sheet of paper. Before there was multispectral imaging of paper, however, there was literature, and the writing that I take up in this book is deeply engaged in animating the world inside of paper. Readers in early and nineteenth-century America did not need to be reminded that paper was made of rags or that the encounter with paper was an oscillation between the presence of its materiality and the meaning conveyed by what is written on it. But much could be done through literature to animate the presence dimension of paper, of the real and imagined relations embedded within the sheets. Presence effects and meaning effects are simultaneous in the model Gumbrecht offers and emerge in relation to each other, a process that literary writing about paper enacts to different political, aesthetic, or cultural ends.
The purpose of introducing Gumbrecht’s framework of oscillation between presence and meaning effects is not to argue that it ought to become the chosen model for describing and interpreting material texts. I am uninterested in strict adherence to any particular “theory” and prefer rather to adopt aspects of bodies of thought when they illuminate something about a particular problem, genre, or interpretive tradition. Gumbrecht acknowledges a key feature of aesthetic objects: they have immediate effects on both the body and the mind. More important, the mind and body work together to understand the object in its multidimensionality. This carries great utility for our still-developing understanding of what the framework of material textuality brings to book history, print culture, and bibliography. What is admitted to perceptibility and interpretation by the specific linkage of textuality and materiality of a text’s presence dimension and its meaning dimension?
Throughout The Intimacy of Paper I am also interested in challenging and displacing one of the more dominant theories, or set of questions, that has organized Americanist book history and print culture studies since at least the early 1990s: the notion of the print public sphere, specifically as inherited from Jürgen Habermas. I am certainly not the first to criticize the utility of the Habermasian model of the public sphere because of its reliance on the Kantian notion of disembodied and disinterested use of reason in print or its fantasies of political affiliation through self-reflexive shared reading. The first two chapters of this book are concerned with how communities of readers and, crucially, makers understood themselves as embodied participants in the creation of a material world of paper letters, rather than as subjects in a free-floating sphere of ideas and thinkers in dematerialized print. The Habermasian model of the print public sphere limits participation in textual production, aesthetic expression, and communal/political affiliation to those who read and write, usually in English, French, or German, and who have privileged access to printing presses. But if we pull back to the book as a material object, we find a more diverse range of actors, many of whom are women and laborers. Early and nineteenth-century American print often conveyed the printed words of elites, but these words are carried by paper made of the rags worked by women’s hands, collected by ragpickers, and made into paper by artisans and factory laborers. Traces of these people are available in the presence dimension of rag paper, and they allow us to conceive of books and print on paper as archives of a drastically different kind of community to be read and sensed within the raggy contents of the sheet.
In this book, I explore these questions in four chapters and a concluding reflection on rag papermaking in the contemporary book arts. The book moves roughly chronologically through the rag paper period in early America and the nineteenth-century United States, beginning in the late seventeenth century and lasting until the late 1860s at the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction. Chapters 1 and 2 are concerned largely with literary representations of handmade rag paper, and they challenge the print public sphere model to account for diverse communities of makers whose presence inheres in rag paper. Chapters 3 and 4 take up technologies of papermaking and inscription from the machine paper era and trace larger-scale “socialities” within the endless sheets of white paper rolling off of paper machines.
Chapter 1, “Paper Publics and Material Textual Affiliations in American Print Culture,” focuses on paper as the grounding possibility for communal affiliation, not only through acts of reading but also within the material substrate of texts. I assemble an archive of writing about papermaking during the revolution and early republic, noting how these calls for rags and reflections on the industry describe the material survival of the nation in terms of its ability to make paper from the new nation’s rags. The way these calls for rags represent the materiality of early American periodicals necessitates a reevaluation of how we have long understood, following Jürgen Habermas and Benedict Anderson, the relation between reading and the formation of the public sphere. Paper becomes the material substrate of both the literary public sphere and and the body politic. In the eighteenth century, the early republic was figured as a commoning of rags in paper that had to emerge before a community of readers became possible. These concerns about paper and the maintenance of nations and publics resurface during the Civil War, when conditions of material lack, especially in the Confederate States, occasion a crisis in printing a paper and maintaining a public. Paper publics ground communal affiliations by making people present to one another in the contents of paper. Encountering these paper publics is still possible when rag paper is ready to our hands.
Chapter 2, “The Gender of Rag Paper in Anne Bradstreet and Lydia Sigourney,” follows the trade in rags and their movement from the feminized domestic sphere and into the masculinized public sphere as its material substrate. Anne Bradstreet and Lydia Sigourney, American women poets who lived several hundred years apart, both turn to the rag content of paper to mount a feminist argument about their gendered exclusion from the literary print public sphere. In their poetry, they both draw a direct link from domestic work with rags and cloth to artistic and writerly work on paper, noting how the latter is dependent on the former. By insisting on these material intimacies, they reframe the possibilities of female authorship by making visible the women’s work embedded within all paper.
Herman Melville would later develop these themes for different purposes in “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids,” an 1855 story about the masculine and feminine spheres represented by writing and papermaking. Chapter 3, “The Ineffable Socialities of Rags in Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville,” examines how Thoreau and Melville, two male writers living in the capital of mid-nineteenth-century papermaking in western and central Massachusetts, understood the presence dimension of rags. Thoreau takes Sigourney’s assertion about the intimate embedding of meaning within rags to its logical conclusions, believing that he can read narratives within rags better than he can after narratives have been printed on rag paper. Melville focuses much more strongly on how relationships are embedded within rags and paper, which are, for him, a site of highly intimate, even erotic interpersonal communion. Both Melville and Thoreau react to the midcentury scalar changes in machine papermaking. For Melville, what he calls in one instance the “socialities” within paper become “ineffable” because instead of collecting rags from a bounded community, they are gathered from around the globe and mixed into an unending “riband” of paper emerging from a Fourdrinier machine.
Chapter 4, “The Whiteness of the Page: Racial Legibility and Authenticity,” examines the racial logics behind the production of whiteness in white paper as the invisible substrate against which other marks become visible. The blank sheet of white paper, real or imaginary, was called to signal various social formations, especially the gendered construction and “preservation” of white femininity. Here we see the specific production of a medium and mediation across human and paper bodies. Just as paper’s materiality is intertwined with embodied relations to gender, sexuality, and nation, so is it intertwined with social processes of racialization. As technologies for producing, protecting, and discerning racial whiteness consolidate during the nineteenth century, so do technologies for producing whiteness in paper. Black/white legibility emerges in a form analogous to the legibility of black ink on a white page, a structure that is further supported by the history of constructing white womanhood through reference to unmarked sheets of white paper. These processes are read through the techniques of relief engraving racialized figures to be printed on white paper. In particular, the engraved image of William Wells Brown’s title character in the novel Clotel ought to appear as white as the paper on which she is printed, but her face is represented with black ink in order to render legible the legal logics of race on the surface of the page, acting within its logics of print legibility.
Finally, I close The Intimacy of Paper with a scene taken from contemporary rag papermaking practiced by the Combat Paper, Peace Paper, and Panty Pulping projects. These paper artists work with veterans to pulp their military uniforms and with survivors of intimate partner violence to pulp their undergarments, transforming these rags and the material memories embedded within them into paper. Participants and project leaders describe the overlap of materiality and meaning within rag paper in language that re-creates the early and nineteenth-century American sensibility of rag paper’s material text. Their papermaking draws on ways of sensing paper and making meaning out of materiality that keep seventeenth- through nineteenth-century ways of knowing material texts alive in the present.
Collected in the papers of Isaiah Thomas—early American printer, founder of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester, Massachusetts, and author of the earliest monograph in what today we would call “the history of the book in America”—is a folio gathering of three blank sheets of paper. The AAS is one of the most complete archives of early and nineteenth-century American books and print, so these blank sheets stand out somewhat for their very blankness. Isaiah Thomas was a printer, but this folio is an artifact of his business as a papermaker. This folio contains the first sheets of writing paper made in his paper mill. An accompanying note reads: “1794. First writing paper Made in Worcester. Mill erected by I. Thomas 1st sheet molded [sic] in latter part of July 1794—this paper finished Aug. 1 1794.”56 Holding these sheets up to the light reveals the distinctive chain and wire marks of hand-moulded paper. It also reveals the watermark, “IT,” and “Thomas” for Isaiah Thomas.57
In this introduction, I have proposed that these blank sheets should be experienced and also read, even though there is no alphabetic writing inscribed on them. They contain rags collected from homes in the Blackstone River valley and Boston.58 Those rags carry traces of bodies and stories of lives. “Rags are as beauties, which concealed lie, / But when in paper, how it charms the eye; / Pray save your rags, new beauties discover,” read a late eighteenth-century Boston newspaper.59 This poetic advertisement asks readers to participate in the process of making concealed rags visible and of recognizing the “charming” effect they have on the senses. Such are the modes of reading paper that this book tries to bring to the study of material texts.
Isaiah Thomas built a paper mill on the Blackstone River in Worcester in 1793 because his printing operations required more paper than existing mills could supply. When writing the History of Printing in America, Thomas progressed only a few pages into the “introduction of the art” of printing in the colonies and the United States before shifting from printing to paper, papermaking, and paper mills.60 Paper and paper mills come before discussions of type foundries, printing presses, and the histories of printers working in each colony and state. As the twentieth-century typographer Eric Gill said, “Paper is to the printer as stone is to the sculptor.” On February 7, 1776, before he built his own mill, Thomas wrote in his pro-Revolutionary newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy: “We are sorry we cannot oblige our customers with more than a half s sheet this week owing to the want of paper. The present scarcity throughout this country will certainly continue unless a paper-mill is established in this neighborhood.”61 Chapter 1 dwells in this very problem at the nexus of paper, neighborhood, and public.
1. John Bidwell, “The Study of Paper as Evidence, Artefact and Commodity,” in The Book Encompassed: Studies in Twentieth-Century Bibliography, ed. Peter Davison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 69; Georges Poulet, “Phenomenology of Reading” New Literary History 1, no. 1 (1969): 54; Ronald McKerrow, An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students (New York: Oxford University Press, 1927), 97.
2. Jerome McGann suggested the entwining of these layers of meaning, calling them a “double helix of perceptual codes . . . linguistic codes on one hand, and bibliographical codes on the other.” To these, Michael F. Suarez S.J. adds the extratextual social and political contexts of social codes (quoted in Emma Rathbone, “What's the Future of Books in a Digital World?,” University of Virginia Magazine, https://uvamagazine.org/articles/whats_the_future_of_books_in_a_digital_world. Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 77, 4 (emphasis in original).
3. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, The Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), xiv–xv, xii.
4. The musicologist Carolyn Abbate has written about the split in attention between “the material acoustic phenomenon” of “music that exists in time” and space versus the “metaphysical mania” that pulls scholars to “retreat” to the “to the abstraction of the work.” Carolyn Abbate, “Music: Drastic or Gnostic?,” Critical Inquiry 30, no. 3 (Spring 2004): 505.
5. M. Emory Wright, The Parsons Paper Mill at Holyoke, Mass. Embracing a Minute Description of the Paper Manufacture in Its Various Departments (Springfield, MA: Samuel Bowles & Company, Printers, 1857), 5–6.
6. John C. Holbrook, Recollections of a Nonagenarian (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1897), 30. For the most part, discussions of paper money, though relevant to thinking about paper in the nineteenth century, have been omitted from this book because the historical and literary writing about paper money is vast and would require its own book. See Kevin McLaughlin’s Paperwork: Fiction and Mass Mediacy in the Paper Age (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), for literary scholarship that begins to do this work. On the subject of ragpicking and paper money, see my essay “Rags Make Paper, Paper Makes Money: Material Texts and the Creation of Capital,” Technology and Culture 58, no. 2 (April 2017): 545–55.
7. Wright, Parsons Paper Mill, 6. Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, November 17, 1851, in The Writings of Herman Melville, vol. 14, Correspondence, ed. Lynn Horth (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1993), 212.
8. Major centers, fellowships, and university press series have adopted the “material text” as their organizing object. See, for example, the Centre for the Material Text at Cambridge University, fellowships in material textual studies at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), UPenn’s “Material Texts” seminar, and the Material Texts book series at Penn Press. For further information about these resources, see Centre for the Material Text at Cambridge University (http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/cmt/); fellowships in material textual studies at UCLA and UPenn (http://www.c1718cs.ucla.edu/content/postdoc-sup.htm and http://www.mceas.org/dissertationfellowships.shtml, respectively); and the Material Texts book series at the University of Pennsylvania Press (http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/series/MT.html).
9. Michelle Moylan and Lane Stiles, Reading Books: Essays on Literature and the Material Text in America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), 13; Meredith McGill, “Literary History, Book History, and Media Studies,” in Turns of Event: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies in Motion, ed. Hester Blum (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 33.
10. Roger Chartier, “Laborers and Voyagers: From the Text to the Reader,” Diacritics 22 (1992): 50; Bill Brown, “Introduction: Textual Materialism,” PMLA 125, no. 1 (January 2010): 25–26
11. Karen J. Winkler, “In an Electronic Age, Scholars Are Drawn to Study of Print,” Chronicle of Higher Education, July 14, 1993; David Scott Kastan, Shakespeare after Theory (New York: Routledge, 1999), 18; Matthew P. Brown, “Book History, Sexy Knowledge, and the Challenge of the New Boredom,” American Literary History 16, no. 4 (2004): 688–706.
12. See, for example, McGill’s argument about format (pamphlets versus books) in “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Circuits of Abolitionist Poetry,” in Early African American Print Culture, ed. Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 53–74.
13. The Friends of Dard Hunter is the scholarly and craft community most responsible for shepherding this field today. See www.friendsofdardhunter.org.
14. See Dard Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (New York: Knopf, 1943), Cathleen A. Baker, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation (Ann Arbor, MI: Legacy Press, 2010), and Nicholas A. Basbanes, On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History (New York: Knopf, 2013).
15. Keith Arbour, “Papermaking in New England before 1675? A Document and a Challenge,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 96, no. 3 (September 2002): 351–79; John Bidwell, American Paper Mills, 1690–1832: A Directory of the Paper Trade with Notes on Products, Watermarks, Distribution Methods, and Manufacturing Techniques (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2013), 82n26.
16. For a concise history of the Rittenhouse Mill, see James Green, The Rittenhouse Mill and the Beginnings of Papermaking in America (Philadelphia, PA: Library Company of Philadelphia and Friends of Historic Rittenhouse Town, 1990).
17. Horatio Gates Jones, “Historical Sketch of the Rittenhouse Papermill; The First Erected in America, A.D. 1690,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 20, no. 3 (1896): 318.
18. Michael Winship’s study of the Ticknor and Fields cost books is indispensable for understanding the processes and decisions behind the mid-nineteenth-century industrial book trade. See Michael Winship, American Literary Publishing in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Business of Ticknor and Fields (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 95.
19. For “cloth parchment,” see Steven Roger Fischer, History of Writing (London: Reaktion Books, 2001), e-book. For a comprehensive global history of papermaking, see Dard Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1978). Hunter’s several books on the art and craft of papermaking are informed by his own mastery of the art of papermaking.
20. Descriptions and technical details of the hand papermaking process come from Baker, From the Hand to the Machine, 20–49 and Timothy Barrett, Mark Ormsby, Robert Shannon, Irene Brückle, Joseph Lang, Michael Schilling, Joy Jazurek, Jennifer Wade, and Jessica White, Paper through Time: Nondestructive Analysis of 14th- through 19th-Century Papers, University of Iowa, last modified May 04, 2016, http://paper.lib.uiowa.edu/index.php, and Barrett, European Hand Papermaking: Traditions, Tools, and Techniques (Ann Arbor, MI: Legacy Press, 2018). Barrett and his team at the University of Iowa Center for the Book endeavored to re-create the process of making 2,000 sheets of handmade “Chancery” format paper in one day with a team of three. They documented the process on video. Short of doing the work oneself, the video is the best resource for appreciating the work of mass-producing hand paper. See Timothy Barrett, Chancery Paper, YouTube, last modified May 28, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-PmfdV_cZU.
21. Ithaca (NY) Journal, March 17, 1830 (emphasis in original).
22. “Trench’s Paper Mill,” Burtons’ Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly Review, May 1, 1840, 246.
23. Baker, From the Hand to the Machine, 28, 50–65.
24. February 1818 article in The Federal Gazette and Baltimore Advertiser. Quoted in Baker, 53–54.
25. Lyman Horace Weeks, A History of Paper-Manufacturing in the United States, 1690–1916 (New York: Lockwood Trade Journal Company, 1916), 235.
26. Wright, Parsons Paper Mill, 5.
27. Luca Beltrami, Per la facciata del Duomo di Milano (Milan, 1657). The call number for this copy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is Cavagna 17604.
28. “The Adventures of a Quire of Paper,” London Magazine, or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer 48 (October 1779): 355–98, 448–52. The best recent scholarship on paper it-narratives and “The Adventures of a Quire of Paper” in particular is Leah Price, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 2012).
29. Odds and Ends, Rochester, NY, March 1, 1850. Amateur newspapers and periodicals collection [manuscript], 1737; 1795–1892, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.
30. G. W. Henry, The Tell-Tale Rag and Popular Sins of the Day (Oneida, NY: G. W. Henry, 1861), title page.
31. Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 128 (emphasis in original).
32. N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 22.
33. David S. Barnes, “Cargo, ‘Infection,’ and the Logic of Quarantine in the Nineteenth Century,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 88, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 88.
34. Bill Brown, Other Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 9.
35. Stéphane Mallarmé, “L’Action réstreinte,” quoted in Maurizio Ferraris, Documentality: Why It Is Necessary to Leave Traces (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), iv.
36. Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 59, 67.
37. Christina Lupton, “The Theory of Paper: Skepticism, Common Sense, Post Structuralism,” Modern Language Quarterly 71, no. 4 (2010): 426; Jennifer Schuessler, “The Paper Trail through History,” New York Times, December 16, 2012, C1.
38. Lisa Gitelman, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 7; Ben Kafka, The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (New York: Zone Books, 2012). Before Kafka and Gitelman, Kevin McLaughlin was working at the intersection of paper, mediation, and literature/history. McLaughlin’s take on “paperwork” in the nineteenth century is that it represents a decline of what Walter Benjamin would later call “aura.” McLaughlin links the “mass mediacy” enabled by “the paper age” to the “withdrawal of the here and now” through readings of paper money, the novel, and the historical essay. See McLaughlin, Paperwork. McLaughlin’s focus on paper and the withdrawal of aura conflicts with the readings I offer in this book about rag paper’s intimacy, enchantment, and presence.
39. See Augusta Rohrbach, Thinking outside the Book (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).
40. Alexandra Socarides, Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics (New York, Oxford University Press, 2012), 4.
41. Emily Dickinson, The Letters of the Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1958) 77 (emphasis in original); Socarides, Dickinson Unbound, 168.
42. Bonnie Mak, How the Page Matters (Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 6, 3.
43. Sarah Kay, Animal Skins and the Reading Self in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 3.
44. For a review and critique of the recent robust interest in new materialisms, see Andrew Cole, “The Call of Things: A Critique of Object-Oriented Ontologies,” Minnesota Review 80 (2013): 106–18.
45. Sonia Hazard, “The Material Turn in the Study of Religion,” Religion and Society 4, no. 1 (2013): 65. More recently, Hazard challenged those who study early American material texts to think more speculatively about the thingly vitality of books through new materialism’s modes. See Sonia Hazard, “Thing,” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16, no. 4 (2018): 792–800.
46. Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 1 (October 2001): 4–5; Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 26–27; Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “accident.”
47. Bill Brown, Other Things, 11.
48. Gumbrecht, Production of Presence, xiv.
49. Margreta De Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text,” Shakespeare Quarterly 44, no. 3 (1993): 255–83, 257 (emphasis in original).
50. Gumbrecht, Production of Presence, 9, 11.
51. See Friedrich A. Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer and Chris Cullens (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990). The original German title of Discourse Networks was Aufschreibesysteme, which David Wellerby tells us in the preface translates literally to “systems of writing down,” or “notation systems,” xii.
52. On the relationship between book history and media studies see McGill, “Literary History, Book History, and Media Studies.” Kittler’s influence on Gitelman is most readily seen in her book Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).
53. Gumbrecht, Production of Presence, 18, 11–12.
54. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, The Powers of Philology: Dynamics of Textual Scholarship (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 6; Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
55. Gumbrecht, Production of Presence, 54.
56. Isaiah Thomas, printer, papermaker, and founder of the AAS, the first historical society to focus on the entirety of the United States, published History of Printing in America, with a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers in two volumes in 1810, providing some of the earliest bibliographical and book historical knowledge we have. The gathering of blank paper from his mill is collected in Isaiah Thomas, Papers, 1748–1874, box 1, folder 4, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA.
57. See Bidwell, American Paper Mills, 1690–1832 for a definitive history of handmade paper mills in colonial North America and the early national United States. Notes on the Thomas mill and its watermarks are on pp. 109–10.
58. Paul J. Erickson has written about the account book of Thomas’s paper mill, noting that he often paid millworkers and mould makers in paper and books. Paul J. Erickson, “The Business of Building Books,” Common-place: The Journal of Early American Life 17, no. 4 (Summer 2017), http://common-place.org/book/business-building-books/.
59. Boston News-Letter, March 6, 1769.
60. Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America, ed. Marcus McCorison (New York: Weathervane Books, 1970) 3, 21–28.
61. Eric Gill, An Essay on Typography (Boston: David Godine, 1988), 82; The Massachusetts Spy, February 7, 1776.