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Draft Proposal

3 min read

The 18th century saw the rise of the novel and with it, the rise of a new market. Novel readership was often determined by social class and the financial means of a family; literacy itself already was a relatively reliable litmus test for one’s value as a participant in consumer culture. If someone was well off enough to afford novels, it was likely that they would be well off enough to buy other consumer products as well. The content of the publisher advertisements included in the back matter of 18th century novels led me to question whether publishers transpose their assumptions about the audience into their advertising choices. What does being a consumer of novels mean for general consumerism?

The goal of my project is to study how novels and being a novel reader in the 18th century play into the consumer culture of the time. Although it would be interesting to see if the place of the novel as a material object holds true internationally, I will be limiting the scope of my research to Britain as most published works are centered there geographically pre-1800s. Because I am interested in the novel reader’s relationship with consumer culture, I am specifically looking at publisher advertisements that hawk products other than additional novels and texts. Due to constraints within the END dataset, it will not be possible to draw wide-ranging conclusions about the data. For this reason, I will be using case studies to highlight the nuances within these advertising choices that are most salient to the questions am I trying to answer.

There are several stages that I will be implementing in order to complete this project. The first is to pull all the advertisement related data from the END database to create a spreadsheet in Excel. I will be specifically looking at category 656 (“Publishers’ advertisements”), field $a for “Miscellaneous” advertisements. However, since that controlled term has only been implemented recently, I will also be looking at field $x for the transcriptions or descriptions of the advertisement content. This information will be copied to another spreadsheet to consolidate it all in one place. Category 989, field $7 would also provide some information about the theoretical objects in these novels.

The second stage is to build a foundation of secondary sources to draw upon when I am studying the advertisements. For consumer culture and commodity in the 18th century, I will be reading Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth Century Britain (Maxine Berg), Consuming Subjects: British Women and Consumer Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Elizabeth Kowalski-Wallace), and Consumer Behavior and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760 (Lorna Weatherill). I think I will also be reading The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption. For the novel as a consumer object, I will be reading The Self and It: Novel Objects in Eighteenth-Century England (Julie Park), The Secret Life of Things (Mark Blackwell), as well as looking into Bill Brown’s thing theory.

The third is to start requesting books to look at their advertisements firsthand. The books called will be from the second, consolidated spreadsheet. I will be taking pictures and notes on the content. I think I may also note the content of the novel itself and the publisher or bookseller. Afterward, I will present this information in either Scalar or Omeka; the ideal presentation is an intuitive and visual representation of the information.