Selected papers presented at the two Connected by Books Conferences (2004 and 2007) have been edited for publication by Prof. Leslie Howsam and Prof. James Raven and are published as Books between Europe and the Americas: Coonections and Communities, 1620-1860 (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011).
The conference papers considered connections between peoples on both sides of the Atlantic and how these connections were established, sustained, and sometimes broken and re-established by literature. The fourteen conference speakers considered a great variety of literature, from official texts of government and church, to the literature of dissident or exiled groups, to new forms of reportage, to imaginative work for diversion or instruction. The form in which that literature was packaged was equally varied, from correspondence, manuscript tract or book, chapbook and single sheet, to newsbook, newspaper, serial and luxury folio, solely textual, or accompanied or indeed led by images.
Papers examined the contacts that created something new, maintained something old or made something unexpected. The papers discuss, for example, a mongrel popular imaginative literature, an American classicism and classical value system, an overtly transatlantic debate about the nature of political independence and national liberty, and a reinvigorated and genuinely transatlantic discussion of slavery. Analysis extended to the use of literature to maintain cultural authority, implicit in the importation of practical books, and in the demand for classical language texts and what might lie behind that extraordinary nineteenth-century surge in Hellenism in the United States. Examples of contacts that forged something unexpected include the workings of the monitorial system supported by texts from diverse origins, or what we can now see as political crusades, apparently in the name of freedom, but bringing effective enslavement for many of those who mouthed support.
All speakers also considered the technologies of transmission and the means of opening up and continuing a conduit. Questions from the audience often returned to the time taken to receive texts, to the distance involved, and how that changed over the centuries. The emphasis remained on personal trust and individual relationships in order to secure successful exchange.
Language featured at various points, especially in the privileging and reshaping of ideas about the importance of translation. Speakers restated the attention to a diversity of languages across the Atlantic as a cultural dimension of the colonial project. Attention to translation was important and innovative in this conference, demonstrating how mediation by what were in fact competing European powers contributed to the finished literary products. Several papers addressed the literary manipulation of ideas about transatlantic communities and the incorporation of false identities.
In summary, all participants in the conference were concerned with issues of reciprocity, obligation, and the expectations of exchange as well as independence and alliances. ‘Authority’ became an issue in all the case-studies considered, and most speakers attempted to see how material forms of texts and their transmission and reception worked across the ocean between diverse peoples, where the creation and protection and policing of particular messages also frequently involved or even demanded manipulation. In considering the causes of the forging and creation of transatlantic identities, the conference achieved a suggestive integration of the quantitative and the qualitative. Such integration, all speakers agreed, requires great subtlety in presenting historical measures of transmission, receipt and exchange.