This article provides a timeline of the progress of publishing and reading in America from 1880 to 1940, explaining the rise in urban papers ad magazines, describing the marketing strategies of publishers, and even touching on other fundamental forms of communication such as the telegraph. However this reading does not simply describe the evolution of print and mass media communication, but explains how this evolution shaped the American people both socially and economically. What gives this article value is not the basic history it describes, but the way the authors and editors Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway dissect the time period and reveal the diversity that flourished despite all of the irregularities that came along with the changing times.
This reading is actually chapter one of the fourth volume of “A History of the Book in America,” published in 2009 by the University of North Carolina Press. Written and edited by Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway, this chapter is part of a multi-volume series written by many scholars about print culture in America. A graduate of Yale and Harvard, Kaestle is the former chair of the educational policy studies department here at UW-Madison, was the president of the National Academy of Education, and is now a Professor at Brown University. He is well known for his work and research on American educational history, and so his opinion is one that is trusted. Radway, a Michigan State University Graduate, has chaired the literature program at Duke University and was formerly the editor of American Quarterly. As an American literary and cultural studies scholar, she is more than well versed in the topics covered in this book. The extensive knowledge of the history of print culture that Kaestle and Radway both possess allowed them to analyze this time period and relate it to the developing American culture, resulting in this volume of “A History of the Book in America.” The Journal of American History described the book, saying, “This superb collection proves that the history of print culture, when smartly done, is the history of American culture."
One of the main changes that arose during this time of increasingly fast and cheap production described in the article was the development of consumer capitalism, something we are all familiar with today. The introduction of advertising in magazines and newspapers allowed them to compete with extremely low prices, eventually lowering the amount of these circulating publications despite the increasing number of readers. Books did not undergo the same abrupt changes as papers, but publishers eventually managed to market them more like periodicals by associating them with social goals. With this increasingly literate society came the need for more highly educated individuals in order to fill the booming specialized work force. In time, these developments created opportunities for the rising diversity within the American population as immigrants arrived, women gained power, and the American culture began to be shaped into life as we know it today. As young individuals hoping to enter the work force, this article explains how students today have the opportunities they do, and promises hope for greater opportunities tomorrow.
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