Date Awarded


Document Type

Dissertation -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P Whittenburg


This study examines the socioeconomic and sociocultural contexts of printing and reading in Virginia between 1750 and 1820. By scrutinizing the surviving business records from this period's book and printing trades, and by correlating them to the extant public record, the social locus of particular types of imprints and of their audience was revealed. The result of this analysis is an understanding that colonial-era markets depended upon the elite, who embraced the standard works of classical education and English rationalism upon which the American Revolution was based philosophically. However, the post-Revolutionary expansion of print markets increasingly depended on the middling orders, whose reading tastes and interests diverged markedly from their elite contemporaries. Those new markets for print were filled largely by publishers outside Virginia, who produced their imprints in large quantities that allowed for the sale of small numbers of their products in a large number of places, forestalling local competition in Virginia. This system replicated and extended the colonial-era book trade, at least in terms of the book trade, which left Virginia's printers at a competitive disadvantage. The state's printers survived by producing materials unavailable in the national book-trade system, materials that fit particular niche markets in the state. The largest of these was the legal-imprint market, dominated by the printers of the state capital, Richmond. Elsewhere, the niche markets for imprints were largely religious in nature, focusing on the activities of local ministers and congregations. This tendency was reflected in the eventual development of denominational presses in the state, institutions that made Virginia a major player in the religious imprint market in antebellum America. Yet this trend would also help to deepen the state's dependency on non-Virginia sources for non- religious imprints. In terms of books, Virginia remained very much a colonial economy.



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