The Bookstore in Nineteenth-Century New York City
A talk by Kristen Highland
The romantic image of the independent bookstore—haven of book lovers, cultural bulwark, and literary playground—obscures the historical reality of selling books—the rapid turnover, looming bottom lines, and peripatetic stores. Yet bookstores have always been more than the sales tallies or even the books lining the shelves. This talk examines the social and cultural life of bookstores in New York City from 1820 to 1860. Using GIS technology to map bookstore locations and movements, Highland traces the retail landscape of a growing bookselling center and presents select case studies to explore how the physical spaces and marketing strategies of nineteenth-century retail booksellers helped shape the definition and familiar form of today’s bookstores. An understudied component of literary history, the retail bookstore participated in the lively and varied cultural life of antebellum New York City. In the shadow of today’s escalating panic over the future of the brick-and-mortar store, it is critical to explore the past of the bookstore.
Kristen Doyle Highland is a PhD candidate in the English Department at NYU. Her dissertation project focuses on the social and cultural life of antebellum New York City bookstores, and broader research interests include book history, spatial humanities, and early American culture. She is a graduate coordinator of NEWYORKSCAPES, a graduate-faculty research collaborative on cultural geography and humanities scholarship at the Humanities Initiative.
Light refreshments will be served.