Early American libraries stood at the nexus of two transatlantic branches of commerce—the book trade and the slave trade. Slavery and the Making of Early American Libraries: British Literature, Political Thought, and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1731-1814 (Oxford University Press, 2019) bridges the study of these trades by demonstrating how Americans’ profits from slavery were reinvested in imported British books and providing evidence that the colonial book market was shaped, in part, by the demand of slave owners for metropolitan cultural capital. Drawing on recent scholarship that shows how participation in London cultural life was very expensive in the eighteenth century, as well as evidence that enslavers were therefore some of the few early Americans who could afford to import British cultural products, Seán Moore, Associate Professor of English at the University of New Hampshire as well as journal Editor for Eighteenth Century Studies, merges the fields of the history of the book, Atlantic studies, and the study of race, arguing that the empire-wide circulation of British books was underwritten by the labor of the African diaspora.
The volume is the first in early American and eighteenth-century British studies to fuse our growing understanding of the material culture of the transatlantic text with our awareness of slavery as an economic and philanthropic basis for the production and consumption of knowledge. In studying the American dissemination of works of British literature and political thought, it claims that Americans were seeking out the forms of citizenship, constitutional traditions, and rights that were the signature of that British identity. Even though they were purchasing the sovereignty of Anglo-Americans at the expense of African-Americans through these books, however, some colonials were also making the case for the abolition of slavery.
History Channel podcast about this book: