Cultural History

The Practice of Book History: Between and Beyond Disciplines

newbooksIt has been about eight months since I finished my master’s thesis—a book history and critical edition of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1840 historical novel, Mercedes of Castile. It proved to be marvelous meat for my thesis. In the course of my research, I gained insight into Cooper’s love both for his wife and his new novel: in one of his letters he tells her, “You are my Mercedes”—referring to the idolized heroine and namesake of the novel. I learned about the press wars Cooper was embroiled in, which may have adversely affected sales of the novel; gained insight into the publication practices of Philadelphia publishers Lea & Blanchard by exploring their archives at the Pennsylvania Historical Society; and saw Cooper’s vast popularity reaffirmed by a variety of translations and illustrated editions that swiftly followed the first editions.