Response to “A Republican Literature…”

Weekly readings seem to be getting more daunting knowing that I will soon be writing my own similar style of essay. More and more I am beginning to feel that, while all of these examples are GREAT examples, they’re so far out of my range of capabilities that it’s almost overwhelming. David Nord’s impressive essay A Republican Literature: A Study of Magazine Reading and Readers in Late Eighteenth-Century New York is no exception. Nonetheless, I was able to appreciate the great amount of thought that Nord put into his work and learn a few things that I could muster through my own writing.

One of the great things about this piece is that Nord draws all of his data from one year – 1790. While the amount of information that comes out of just one year is plentiful, I admire that he stuck to a small time frame; I’m sure it contributed to the ease of his research and I’m quite confident that it contributed to the ease with which I was able to read and understand the data. I’m also a huge fan of his tables – Nord really knows how to organize, and he sure does give us a lot of tables to look at: there’s a table about occupations of subscribers (Nord 48), one for the top ten occupations of artisan subscribers (50), one for the geographical locations of artisan subscribers (51), and two for the subject matters of the magazines (53). Personally, I’d say Nord covered his bases well. Hopefully by the time I finish the final draft of my own essay, I can be confident that I, like Nord, left no stones unturned.

The other major thing I appreciated about Nord’s writing that I will take as an example in my own work is his extensive explanation of the setting which defined the word “Republican.” One of the first questions a reader might ask is: just what constitutes a “Republican Literature?” Luckily, Nord takes the first few pages to explain that “Historians still disagree, rather warmly, over what Americans in the late eighteenth century meant when they talked about republicanism” (43) and goes on to further address a few of the ways that the word “republican” has been interpreted. One would be mistaken to assume that the word had the same meaning then as it does now, and one would also be mistaken in ignoring the ambiguity of the word even in modern terms; Nord helps us become intelligent readers by keeping us from committing either of those mistakes. This to me is a great lesson on context, without which the essay would be confusing and less meaningful.

In all, I think Nord’s study has a lot of qualities that even a beginning-level writer like myself can try to imitate. His writing was disciplined in its focus on the magazine while it could so easily stray from the data and attempt to analyze the relationship between the magazine and the culture more critically. Let it be a lesson for all of us that we don’t necessarily need to make overly-broad cultural assertions in order to create a meaningful argument. 



Nord, David. “A Republican Literature: A Study of Magazine Reading and Readers in Late Eighteen-Century New York.” John Hopkins University Press. American Quarterly 40.1 (1988): 42-64.


2 thoughts on “Response to “A Republican Literature…”

  1. Brie, I appreciate your reflections on Nord’s essay, and your really smart extraction of what you can imitate as a writer of an article about book history. I think the secret is narrowing the scope, just as Nord does. You don’t have to make sweeping generalizations or broad claims in order to say something interesting. Indeed, sometimes a narrower scope makes for more interesting arguments.

  2. You’ve picked out some really good lessons from Nord’s essay! It’s nice to know that even though a topic can be overwhelming or unknown to us, that there is still something that can be learned and applied to our own research. I don’t know if your topic has changed since the last post, but I can tell you seem to be following some of Nord’s advice already by narrowing down your topic. It seems using Nord’s writing as a reference for our papers is going to be very useful!

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