[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [Jhistory]: Kettler on Adelman, 'Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing, 1763-1789'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Tue Jul 23 17:12:15 MDT 2019

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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Tue, Jul 23, 2019 at 6:30 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [Jhistory]: Kettler on Adelman, 'Revolutionary
Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing, 1763-1789'
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>

Joseph M. Adelman.  Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics
of Printing, 1763-1789.  Studies in Early American Economy and
Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia Series. Baltimore
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.  280 pp.  $54.95 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Andrew J. Kettler (University of Toronto)
Published on Jhistory (July, 2019)
Commissioned by Robert A. Rabe

Joseph M. Adelman's _Revolutionary Networks_ focuses on the daily
work done by printers during the revolutionary era and shows how
aspects of that work influenced and were altered by the Revolutionary
War. Applying a relatively playful writing style that makes his
economic narrative read clearly and quickly, Adelman engages
questions of the free press and the role of printers in the making of
nationalism within the early American public sphere. To accomplish
these goals, _Revolutionary Networks_, an empirical study, applies
quantitative and network analyses from a database of 756 early
American printers to illustrate how printers were connected to other
exchange networks on the Atlantic Seaboard. These methods and
arguments are meant to offer an economic revision of the consistently
reiterated narratives of patriotic printers originally found within
Isaiah Thomas's _History of Printing in America_ (1810).

Working from the database of printers he collected, Adelman often
focuses on gender in his analyses, providing interesting spaces where
female printers gained notoriety at different times during the
revolutionary era. Expansions like these make the narrative of
_Revolutionary Networks_, an edition in the celebrated Studies in the
Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of
Philadelphia series, important for scholars working on print culture
in early America. Nonetheless, Adelman centers his study primarily on
print culture in mainstream New England. He rarely offers narratives
of other indispensable spaces of print culture that do not relate
directly to his analytical categories of freedom, labor, and
resistance, especially disregarding the printers of the South and the
voices of African Americans, abolitionists, and Native Americans
within alternative printing cultures.

Following the broad theories of Jürgen Habermas, Benedict Anderson,
and Michael Warner, Adelman explores how printers helped to create
new ideologies of American nationalism through print culture within a
growing bourgeoisie public sphere. However, for _Revolutionary
Networks_, most of these printers were relatively apolitical within
their personal lives, choosing to print patriot tracts often for
economic survival and profit motives. In his frequent comparisons of
American and English printing networks, Adelman also shows how the
successes and failures of printers in the Northeast mirrored the fits
and starts of the American nation from the end of the French and
Indian War until the ratification of the Constitution.

Focusing largely on the printing shops of Benjamin Franklin, the
first chapter looks at the networks printers developed during the
early eighteenth century and the ways printers maintained economic
mobility in the later trying times of the 1760s. These printers, some
of whom held slaves as laborers in their print shops, focused
defenses of their profession on the ideal of the free press due to
the economic advantages a free press provided. Even as many printers
maintained lucrative government contracts, they sometimes voiced
resistance to English state concerns regarding the freedom that could
be provided through the movement of paper and news.

These controls were often asserted within the British Post Office in
the colonies and through increased surveillance placed on information
after the French and Indian War. Within a system of journeymen,
apprentices, artisans, and patrons, printers engaged new ideas of the
free press and what could be considered newsworthy material, which
habitually made their work a threat to political leadership
throughout Anglo-America. The first chapter culminates with a reading
of the John Peter Zenger case of 1734, which set an informal, though
non-statutory, precedent that truth could be used as a defense for
accusations of libel.

The second chapter takes these questions of the free press, state
power, and resistance into the turbulent era of the Stamp Act Crisis
of 1765. Therein, in contrast to many general narratives, Adelman
shows that the Stamp Act provided more options for printers than
quick mobilization behind the banner of liberty. Through the later
1760s, these economically motivated printers began to frame their
plight as victims of state repression due to having to pay more for
paper. These frames, often within narratives involving the Sons of
Liberty, moved from local to regional to national headlines based on
tropes of resistance that were frequently developed by the printers

The next chapter looks at the place of printers within the standard
narrative of patriotism wherein printers helped to foment the causes
of the revolution. Focusing more on economic motivations than
ideologies, Adelman concentrates directly on the printing history of
John Dickinson's _Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania_ (1767-68)_._
This printing history shows how both earlier tropes regarding
patriotic printers and new forms of political resistance made their
way from the presses to the American resistance movement that
culminated after the Tea Party of 1773 due to greater connections
between Boston and other large urbanizing areas.

The fourth chapter continues these discussions into narratives of
printing during times of warfare and greater personal threats. During
the Revolutionary War, printers continued to use tropes of
resistance, especially after the Boston Port Act began to put new
economic pressures on printers in New England. Through this narrative
of struggle, Adelman specifically explores printer William Goddard's
growing desire for a specifically American Post Office. He also
examines how printers used older networks to circulate news on the
eve of the Revolutionary War. Despite their consistent support of the
war for economic motives, printers were forced to make many difficult
personal and familial decisions due to the actual contingencies of
warfare as presses faced hardships finding paper and ink, as well as
searching for a safe place to print with armies constantly looming.
Ever persistent, printers were vital for spreading the revolutionary
sentiments of Thomas Paine's _Common Sense_ (1775-76) and the
Declaration of Independence (1776).

As the revolution matured, Loyalist printers specifically faced
personal attacks, and many fled to Canada or England. Through a more
quantitative analysis, Adelman looks next at the end of war as a time
when commercial difficulties continued for most printers, whether
patriotic or Loyalist. To cure these ills, many printers headed to
the West while others faced renewed urban competition on the Atlantic
Seaboard. The conclusion to _Revolutionary Networks_, though short,
maintains that printers generally supported the ratification of the
Constitution through the printing of different parts of the
_Federalist Papers_ (1787-88). Although Adelman is keen to point to
the growth of immigration and westward movement for printers late in
his book, he stops short of addressing significant issues regarding
the free press that arose quickly after the ratification of the
Constitution, especially those concerning the Alien and Sedition Acts
of 1798.

The greater proportion of _Revolutionary Networks_ focuses on
printing in the northern colonies, where political debates on the
revolution became common after the Stamp Act Crisis. However,
printers in the South also worked to print numerous tracts.
Importantly, these printings, like runaway slave notices, are
generally overlooked within Adelman's work. Although much work has
been done on race, slavery, and print culture after the era explored
within _Revolutionary Networks_, there were also significant
publications regarding abolition, slavery, and runaway notices prior
to and during the era Adelman focuses on. Specifically, runaway
advertisements created new opportunities for printers to gain wealth
from selling the spaces on their pages to slaveholders hoping to
regain their slaves, a seemingly important narrative for a monograph
that centers directly on the economic relationships between printers,
patrons, and the public.

Generally, _Revolutionary Networks_ is a tale of the New England
school of early American scholarship, wherein printers were heroes
within a narrative of patriotism driving out of Boston and its many
taverns. To be sure, Adelman is not tied to this narrative. He
attempts to offer Atlantic linkages for his printing networks. He
frequently explores the fits and starts of patriot printers and their
shops and does well to offer many narratives of the successes and
failures of Loyalist printers. As a revisionist, he demonstrates how
printers who may have appeared patriotic were often simply printing
what they knew would sell, driven by an excited market that created
divisions as a means for profit rather than patriotism. However, the
general narrative of _Revolutionary Networks_ remains within a field
where patriot printers made revolution a more acceptable and proper
action during the tense moments of the 1770s and into an era that saw
the establishment of broader American printing and production
networks with the Post Office Act of 1792.

_Revolutionary Networks_ is consequently an important work that
partially applies a new reading of printers through the methods of
book history, whereby the actual production of the product is central
to the historical narrative. Sections of _Revolutionary Networks_
that explore those methods of production, the technological
constraints of printing, and the ways those procedures altered
narratives of political change are important and relatively new
within the historiography. These include descriptions of how printers
placed words in specific sections of their papers and pamphlets and
faced difficulty collecting the necessary supplies for printing
during wartime. Nevertheless, Adelman explores only sections of the
American printing networks that he argues were essential for
understanding political change during the revolutionary era. This is
most likely a problem of sources, whereby printers rarely left
substantial documentation of their actual working lives. One must
look to future scholars to show how Native American, abolitionist,
and African American voices made their way into print during this
time, and how southern and anti-Native American printings also
participated in the creation of an early American public sphere, one
that was much more racialized than that provided in the pages of
_Revolutionary Networks_.

Citation: Andrew J. Kettler. Review of Adelman, Joseph M.,
_Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing,
1763-1789_. Jhistory, H-Net Reviews. July, 2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54236

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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