This collection of original essays examines debates on how written, printed, visual, and performed works produced meaning in American culture before 1900. The contributors argue that America has been a multimedia culture since the eighteenth century. According to Sandra M. Gustafson, the verbal arts before 1900 manifest a strikingly rich pattern of development and change. From the wide variety of indigenous traditions, through the initial productions of settler communities, to the elaborations of colonial, postcolonial, and national expressive forms, the shifting dynamics of performed, manuscript-based, and printed verbal art capture critical elements of rapidly changing societies.
The contributors address performances of religion and government, race and gender, poetry, theater, and song. Their studies are based on texts--intended for reading silently or out loud--maps, recovered speech, and pictorial sources. As these essays demonstrate, media, even when they appear to be fixed, reflected a dynamic American experience.
"This volume brings together some of the most exciting work in print culture and 'old new media' studies (relating to early America) that is being done today. The collection will have an avid scholarly audience as the interdisciplinary fields of book history and of media, literacy, and performance studies, and their subfields, continue to thrive." --Patricia Crain, New York University
"This collection contains important contributions to our understanding of a wide range of media in America before 1900. The volumes published in A History of the Book in America have already begun to give an impressive sense of the major contribution of the history of the book to our understanding of American culture, but Cultural Narratives goes beyond the brief of those volumes both in emphasizing other media than the book and in stressing the interrelations between those media. This volume is important not only to scholars working in American Studies but also to anyone interested in the impact of 'textual media' in the making of culture and history." --Peter Stallybrass, University of Pennsylvania
"Cultural Narratives encompasses an extraordinary range of topics, including cross-cultural exchanges of music, poetry, oral narrative, and theatrical traditions. It delves into codes of civility, poetic performance, and visual and verbal literacy, considering issues of race, class, and gender, and how they intersected with the 'texts' so many Americans used in shaping their own identities." --Heather S. Nathans, University of Maryland