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Worlds of Print: The Moral Imagination of an Informed Citizenry, 1734-1839

Authors
  • Slifko, John Paul
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2015
Source
eScholarship - University of California
Keywords
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Abstract

Plato, Aristotle, Baron Montesquieu, and Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that you could never have a democracy bigger than the geographic size, intimate oral habits, and embodied rituals of face-to-face communication, and walking distance of a Greek city-state, French town, or small Swiss city. However, in the years surrounding the 1776 American War of Independence and accelerating into the 1800s in the American northeast and mid-Atlantic, there was a significant cultural transformation in the transition from oral/aural cultures to an increasingly literate citizenry. A consequence of this transition was an expanded geographical range of democratic engagement. I argue that freemasonry was representative and played an important role in this transformation and helped articulate the moral imagination of an informed democratic citizenry via fast emerging worlds of print. A metamorphosis occurred through worlds of print anchored at home in the routine lives of local community and transmission in space across networks of place. Communication and political participation were enhanced in early America through a growing range of print vehicles such as pamphlets, newspapers, declarations and books of all types concerned with ancient and modern learning. The formation of local civic associations and reading libraries further contributed to this growth of available print documents. In this dissertation I examine the vital roles that freemasons played in this print transformation.

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