Book Project

“Broadway, Print Capital: Literature, Modernity, and the Marketplace”

This project recovers the ways in which New York’s busiest avenue mediated literary production in the nineteenth century, providing a material context for how writers like Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass experienced and imagined the development of mass publishing. As printing evolved from an artisanal trade to a commercial industry, publishers, booksellers, and other literary tradesmen clustered in the vicinity of City Hall Park, and the adjacent stretch of Broadway became one of the most frequently depicted places in popular writing of the day. I reinterpret the term “print capital” to conceptualize the literary market as an actual, lived marketplace, to explain the value of representing such a place for contemporary authors, and to analyze the literary forms it inspired. Broadway, I argue, shaped not only the material conditions of literary production, such as the location of gas pipes or the movements of newsboys, but also the metaphorical language available to writers for conceiving and responding to literature’s changing status. Moving between a materialist micro-history of Broadway and formal analysis of canonical and forgotten works that represent the street, I demonstrate how new genres of mass print, from sensational reform narratives to children’s city guidebooks, use Broadway to formulate their operation as reflexive literary forms and in doing so provided a larger set of strategies by which antebellum authors explored their relationship to the transforming marketplace.