Barton Schweiger, B., A Literate South: Reading Before Emancipation: [Review]

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationBook/Film/Article review

Abstract

This book challenges the "orthodox" view of the antebellum South as an illiterate culture. Tracing the prodigious "output of small printing offices (much of which has not survived)," Beth Barton Schweiger reconstructs "the creative ways this burgeoning industry met its customers' demands," providing ample evidence of the production and circulation of spellers and grammar books, newspapers, almanacs, tracts, hymnals, and fiction (199). Schweiger's story of antebellum literacy includes itinerant peddlers who doubled as lecturers on temperance and grammar, travelling preachers who sold books, newspapers, and magazines from their saddle bags, authors of letter-writing manuals, and compilers of camp meeting songbooks. Yet her primary corpus is a pair of journals kept by two pairs of sisters who lived in the Blue Ridge; she seeks to show "what reading meant" to them-- not only "what they read, but also what they did with their reading" (34). This is not only the book's most compelling goal but also the one most difficult to accomplish.
Original languageEnglish GB
Specialist publicationReview19
PublisherDartmouth College Press
StatePublished - 2020

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