Printing History and Cultural Change

Printing History and Cultural Change: Fashioning the Modern English Text in Eighteenth-Century Britain
by Richard Wendorf 2022

About the Author
Richard Wendorf has been Director of the American Museum & Gardens since 2010. Previously he was Professor of English and Art History at Northwestern University, Librarian of the Houghton Library and Senior Lecturer on the Fine Arts at Harvard University, and Stanford Calderwood Director and Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum.

About the Book
This study provides one of the most detailed and comprehensive examinations ever devoted to a critical transformation in the material substance of the printed page; it carries out this exploration in the history of the book, moreover, by embedding these typographical changes in the context of other cultural phenomena in eighteenth-century Britain.

The gradual abandonment of pervasive capitalization, italics, and caps and small caps in books printed in London, Dublin, and the American colonies between 1740 and 1780 is mapped in five-year increments which reveal that the appearance of the modern page in English began to emerge around 1765. This descriptive and analytical account focuses on poetry, classical texts, Shakespeare, contemporary plays, the novel, the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, sermons and religious writings, newspapers, magazines, anthologies, government publications, and private correspondence; it also examines the reading public, canon formation, editorial theory and practice, and the role of typography in textual interpretation. These changes in printing conventions are then compared to other aspects of cultural change: the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the publication of Johnson’s Dictionary in 1755, the transformation of shop signs and the imposition of house numbers in London beginning in 1762, and the evolution of the English language and of English prose style. This study concludes that this fundamental shift in printing conventions was closely tied to a pervasive interest in refinement, regularity, and standardization in the second half of the century—and that it was therefore an important component in the self-conscious process of modernizing British culture.

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