Reflections from Guest Curator Ceara Morse

My second round of Adverts 250 was an interesting one to say the least. It took my experience from last semester and tried to find better sources. Sometimes I failed and at other times I excelled. Last semester I used JSTOR for all my sources but I found that to be difficult. This semester I tried to broaden my sources. I found a lot of better fitting sources and I found some very interesting stories to tell. This made my analysis that much better because I found sources I really enjoyed reading. Overall, this part of the project was the easiest. Of course there is always room for improvement. If I ever had an opportunity to do this project again, I think I would want to do more research on words I do not know in the advertisements. Plus, for some reason I thought brewers and distillers were one and the same. I learned something new.

I will say there were some crazy moments, however. I was juggling multiple projects, one of which was giving me loads of stress, but that’s a whole other story. In the beginning, I thought I was going to have an upper hand on the project because I had already done it once before, but nonetheless, life is full of curveballs and it was not as easy as I thought it would be. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, because it would not have been so satisfying to finish if it had been as easy as I expected.

I got to learn so many new things about life in the colonial and Revolutionary eras. I think my favorite thing to learn about was Eastern White Pine and the Pine Tree Riot of 1772 because that’s not something in most of the history books but it had an impact on the rising tension between the English and the colonists that led to the Revolutionary War. Another interesting thing I learned about was William Jackson. He had an interesting start thanks to his mother and he is riddled into American history, such as not participating in the non-importation agreements to being captured when he tried to flee Boston because he was a Loyalist.

I think the most rewarding part of this experience was the fact that I knew people were reading my work and getting something out of it. Most of the things I wrote about I had never even heard of before so I hope to some people who read my analysis learned something too. We gained this opportunity to read into advertisements and got the chance to delve into why certain items were so popular while others were unique. Being able “do history” is such a rewarding experience because there is always something new to learn about and then can teach that new information to someone else.

Overall, I once again thoroughly enjoyed working on this project. Learning about the past helps us in the future and I find it fascinating how some of the items being advertised can lead to much larger stories that could even relate to today. I am looking forward to continuing the Slavery Adverts 250 in a week and delving into the commercial trade of slaves.

Reflections from Guest Curator Daniel McDermott

I have previous experience in public history and historical interpretation as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service, and I have looked at and interpreted primary sources for other history classes and for tours, so heading into this project I felt comfortable and within my element. The project did still push me to further my interpretation skills and ability to analyze primary sources, all within a public history setting. I especially was pushed to find my scholarly voice as well. I feel I learned a lot about the purpose of the project and about digital humanities projects, which I find to be an importation means of linking the academic world to the public through digital platforms. I came across unexpected challenges, such creating the content to reflect the audience of the project. Researching specific sources and documents for the posts was also a welcomed challenge.

The research topic and general theme of the project allowed me to really dive into learning about everyday live in colonial and Revolutionary America. A lot of my work and writing allowed me to compare our current everyday life and find similarities and differences to eighteenth-century life. Newspapers were a particularly fascinating primary source, a means of cultural communication that is still in place today, in paper or digital. Understanding the primary sources and taking on the viewpoint of a colonist helped me develop different perspectives. It pushed me to become the audience and ask myself questions. Then being able to step outside of that perspective and write about it in present terms to make it available for the public to use and learn was engaging. I tried to focus my work on an array of topics to allow readers to see that colonial life was just as complex as today. See, specifically, my post on the different textiles, baize and tammy. I realized they seemed like unfamiliar goods, but today when I see an advertisement, I automatically know what each product is. I asked myself if readers of the newspaper would read the advertisement and automatically know everything as well. I began researching the two I personally found interesting and it eventually led to me finding Abigail Adams mentioning baize in a letter to her husband John. I wanted to make clear comparisons to today as well; I hoped this would interest readers.

As for my long-term academic plans, I feel this project will help me in different aspects. It gave me a taste of being an actual historian, doing work that I might experience when I plan to continue the study of history in graduate school. Interpretation of primary sources and researching historical topics for public history use will help develop my interpretation skills as a Park Ranger. I hope to continue linking scholarship to the public through different means, especially through digital humanities which gives it easier access to people. For doing public history in an academic setting, I thought I learned a lot of the behind the scenes work it takes, and embraced the challenges not usually found in a typical classroom setting.

Reflection from Guest Curator Samuel Birney

I will admit this project was a new challenge for me as an historian. I have done research for essays and, for the most part, delved into books and treatises or reviews regarding medieval or early modern Europe, which has been the focus for most of my studies at Assumption College. So, researching eighteenth-century newspapers from colonial America was a new transition for me. It was interesting to read through the newspaper advertisements and get an impression about what life was like for colonists just prior to the Revolution that defines most of American history.

I had assumed that colonists would have been more removed from European culture and influences, but they proved to be more interested in fostering and strengthening their ties and identity to England and Europe. The colonies were also widely involved with other colonial settlements and powers, such as the West Indies, Africans, and the Dutch and French, to name a few. As I suspected, alcohol played a large role in the colonists’ lives, due to its establishment as a far more reliable drink than water or milk. I learned a lot about how colonial life varied depending on one’s economic and social standing, from transportation in single seat private carriages for the elites to a relaxing drink at work for a poor laborer. The newspaper advertisements were interesting gateways to examine colonial life and culture, from a period when the American identity had yet to form, in spite, or perhaps, because of emerging tensions between colonists and the British.

For my research I mostly focused on sources available through a simple google search because the work was going to be featured on a blog page, admittedly one that goes through a somewhat extensive research review and editing process, and as such should have been easily accessible for readers. It was also much easier to scour through google for related articles and information on the newspaper advertisements and products or related subjects than going through a college database and having to narrow down the search results. Although because of this it was a little more difficult to find creditable sources of information, although I suppose that’s where the editing and reviewing process with Prof. Keyes came in to either give a go ahead or provide alternative options. It was nice being able to send in an analysis of my research and get suggestions for improvement or new articles to explore and incorporate. I would have to say that it made the experience less stressful than I thought it was going to be.

All in all, I would have to say that this has been a bit of an eye-opening experience for me as a historian. I have seen how useful it is to have other historians available to assist and guide one’s research and writing, something that has also been a part of special topics courses and the capstone research seminar. I have utilized newspapers, and advertisements, in a way I had never considered before, due to either a lack of interest or the lack of relevance with regards to my previous classes. It’s been difficult at times trying to juggle constantly working on this project with other assignments from both the main coursework and my other classes, but as with any project or essay, seeing the final result is a pretty cathartic experience. I got to learn more about a period of history that I had been sorely lacking in knowledge and appreciation of up until this point, and as an American and a student I am grateful for this experience.

Reflections from Guest Curator Shannon Holleran

When the Adverts 250 Project was first assigned and I discovered I would be the first guest curator, I felt very intimidated and overwhelmed by the responsibility I was being tasked with. Luckily, once I started to explore the digitized newspapers and select my advertisements, the project became fun and much less overwhelming. As my week as guest curator is coming to an end, I realize I have acquired a greater knowledge of colonial and revolutionary-era America as well as many new techniques for reading and analyzing sources. During this experience, I have faced many challenges along the way; however, the result has been extremely rewarding.

The first step in this process was to select seven advertisements from eighteenth century newspapers, made available online. This was one of my favorite parts of the project because while I was selecting the advertisements I wanted to post about, I was able to see countless colonial and revolutionary-era newspapers and advertisements. I found this to be so fascinating because I could see how much newspapers and advertisements have changed over time. During the eighteenth century, newspapers were a major form of communication for the colonists; however, in today’s society, we often rely on social media as a main form of communication and advertising.

Once I had selected my seven advertisements, I was then tasked with finding other sources (primary, secondary, digital) to tie in with my post. This was one of the most challenging parts of the project for me. I found myself having a difficult time finding reliable, historically accurate sources for the time period I was posting about. I also faced problems with paraphrasing some of my sources and putting them into my own words. I found this challenging because the sources I used were filled with so many interesting facts; however, Professor Keyes gave me extremely helpful tips to avoid simply repeating what my sources had already said. Through this process of tying in other sources, I was able to acquire much more information about the colonies in the eighteenth century.

This digital humanities project helped me expand my knowledge about everyday life and commerce in colonial America. After seeing and analyzing many different advertisements, it was clear that the colonists’ society and economy had become completely Anglicized. It was interesting for me to see how many of the advertisements were about English goods. Many of the advertisements I worked with, specifically my indigo advertisements, revealed how Great Britain would exploit the colonies for their natural resources. The colonies, in return, would import a wide variety of British goods. This helped the economy in colonial America to flourish. Many advertisements revealed the colonists’ rapidly growing economy and the effects this had on society.

Although at times this project was challenging, it was extremely rewarding in the end to see my work published on the Adverts 250 Project website. It was very exciting to see the entries I had worked so hard on be seen by the public. This was the first time I was involved in a project that was published for the general public to see. I was, of course, very worried at first about people viewing my work; however, it was a very neat experience to be a part of. As a history major, I always love learning new things about our nation’s history and gaining new experiences, such as working with digitized resources and having the opportunity to visit the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester. I am thankful I was given the opportunity to work on such an interesting project. I am looking forward to curating the Slavery Adverts 250 Project and once again having the opportunity to work with these eighteenth-century newspapers.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

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Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831).

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

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Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

Jan 30 - Advertising Wrapper - Worcester Magazine - 4th week May 1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 268th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

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Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839).

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 257th birthday, Mathew Carey!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston.  Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.”  Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well.  Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

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Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729.  In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention.  Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

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Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising.  Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade.  The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling slaves as well as notices offering rewards for runaways.

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An advertisement for slaves from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736)

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies).  The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

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General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries.  This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741).  Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising.  Happy 311th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!