Just as today’s embrace of the digital has sparked interest in the history of print culture, the rise of commercial print culture in eighteenth-century Britain inspired reflection at the time on the traditions that had seemingly preceded it. And so it was, as Paula McDowell shows in this book, that what we know as oral culture was identified and soon celebrated during the very period of the British book trade’s ascendancy.
McDowell recreates a world in which everyone from clergymen to fishwives, philosophers to street hucksters, competed for space and audiences in taverns, marketplaces, and the street. Their encounters forged new conceptions of the oral, as McDowell demonstrates through an impressive array of sources, including travel narratives, elocution manuals, theological writings, ballad collections, and legal records. Challenging traditional models of oral versus literate societies and key assumptions about culture’s ties to the spoken and the written word, this landmark study reorients critical conversations across eighteenth-century studies, media and communications studies, the history of the book, and beyond.