Books between Europe and the Americas- A review

This week, I was very excited to receive my copy of a new collection of essays on transatlantic print.  It is always a good surprise to receive a package in the mail, but particularly when you have been waiting nearly 12 months for a book.  The book is titled Books between Europe and the Americas Connections and Communities, 1620-1860 and is edited by Leslie Howsam, the president of SHARP, and James Raven, author of many books on print culture in both England and America.

The books is a collection of essays dealing with the exchange of books and print between Europe and the Americas which came out of a 2004 conference titled ‘Connected by Books’.  I first heard of it last year at the (excellent) 2010 Perils of Print Culture conference held in Dublin.  There I met James Raven, who mentioned the volume in reference to Michael O’Connor, one of  the contributors.  Unfortunately the
volume wasn’t published until May of this year, and wasn’t available on Amazon until June, causing my painful wait.

One of the strengths of this volume is its scope.  Often, as the editors note, the study of the book trades is limited by national or linguistic boundaries, with little conversation taking place between scholars working on these various projects.  Many scholars of the English Atlantic world are ignorant of the processes and networks which moved print between Central and South America and Europe.  This volume very consciously gathered contributors not only from Canada, the United States and the UK, but also from Mexico and Brazil, working in a
variety of colonial and linguistic milieus.Although the book is still somewhat biased towards Anglo-American print exchanges it does a good job of offering alternative perspectives even within that category.

One of the essays which I found particularly interesting dealt with the consumption of novels in Brazil.  The author, Sandra Guardini T. Vasconcelos emphasized the importance of French translations of British novels to the making of the Brazilian novel.  There the impact of British authors, on the reading of nineteenth century Brazilians has been hidden.  Both the French translations of these works, and the circuitous networks by which they reached Brazil served to alter and  disguise the British origins of the texts.  This essay reveals the political and economic reasons behind this development, as well as some of the ways in which Brazilian readers and authors  responded to these works.

One enjoyable part of this work was the way in which the various essays spoke to each other.  By  highlighting similar patterns in different countries, or by offering sites for comparison the essays begin to point out ways in which transatlantic and transnational can inform even the most specific studies.  I found it interesting to note the level of awareness contributed to various colonial book purchasers across the  essays.  While Francois Melacon’s essay on print in Canada under the Ancien Regime, noted that colonial buyers had to rely on French agents to select their books because of their ignorance of the French publishing scene, James Raven’s essay on Latin and Greek texts points out that at least some American buyers believed themselves to be very well-informed.  How much did the level of  information between these buyers vary, and was it a function of time, personal  connections, or individual personality?  Since evidence for transatlantic book shipments is often fragmentary at best, these types of comparisons can help connect the anecdotal nature of sources.

To finish off, I would recommend that anyone interested in print culture, in any part of the Atlantic world, have a glance through this volume.  Even if the essays don’t touch on your area of interest, it is likely that they will offer you a new perspective to bring back to your work, or simply expand your knowledge about the types of transactions which were taking place between Europe and the Americas.

The full reference to the volume is:

Leslie Howsam and James Raven (eds), Books between Europe and the Americas: Connections and Communities, 1620-1860 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 317 pp. £55.00

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