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The Center, a joint program of the School of Library and Information Studies, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, was founded in 1992 following several years of discussions between the founding co-directors, Wayne Wiegand and James Danky, and Carl Kaestle, the first Chair of the Advisory Board. Wiegand, Danky, and Kaestle, were part of a national conversation about reading, writing, and publishing. This conversation grew out of a sense that the traditional history of the book was limited as it did not account for the reader as well as the larger social processes of texts.  We emphasized our interest in all forms by using the then-new term "print culture." The preeminent American Antiquarian Society, sponsors of A History of the Book in America Program, limits its collections to the period before 1875, so we determined that our Center would concentrate on the period after 1875.

While the Center occasionally hosts lectures that focus on earlier centuries or other continents, we knew our expertise lay in studying the ways American culture produced and consumed texts.  Between 1992 and 2011 the Center was known as The Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America.  In 2011, however, the title changed to the current Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture, in recognition that print culture research often transcends national borders, and that the Center should be fostering discussion and analysis about both paper and digital forms of print.

In 1999, the Center developed a book series proposal for the University of Wisconsin Press. Since 2004, the Center has produced all of the publications in the Print Culture History in Modern America series through the Press beginning with 2004. Currently limited to volumes originating in the Center's biennial conference, the series fosters research and writing on the mediating roles that print has played in American culture since 1876. Its scope encompasses studies of newspapers, books, periodicals, advertising, and ephemera. Special attention is given to groups whose gender, race, class, creed, occupation, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (among other factors) have historically placed them on the periphery of power but who have used print sources as one of the few means of expression available to them. 

Early in 2003, Wayne Wiegand left Madison for a named chair in Library and Information Science and a joint appointment as professor in American Studies and Florida State University.  For the next three years, Jim Danky remained as Center Director, before stepping down in October 2006.  Christine Pawley, then a professor (and from 2009 Director) of the School of Library and Information Studies, took over as Center Director.

For a more extended account of the Center’s history between 1992 and 2007 see Christine Pawley, “Success on a Shoestring:’ A Center for a Diverse Print Culture History in Modern America” (Library Trends, 56, no 3 (Winter 2008) 705-719

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The first volume to appear was Paul Boyer's Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age. The second edition of this classic work was suggested by Boyer, the second Chair of the Advisory Board, who wrote two new chapters to bring it up to the present.

Libraries as Agencies of Culture, edited by Tom Augst and Wiegand, was originally a special issue of American Studies. This investigation of the library in the life of the reader as well as a place in the life of its users represents a significant development in advancing our cultural understanding of print and structure.

Dee Garrison's Apostles of Culture: the Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920 is one of the most widely cited cultural histories of libraries and those who inhabit them. The new introduction by Christine Pawley sets the context for the debates around Garrison's book over the last three decades.

Print Culture in a Diverse America, edited by James P. Danky and Wayne A. Wiegand, offers a unique foray into the multicultural world of reading and readers in the United States. Interdisciplinary essays examine the many ways print culture functions within different groups; they link gender, class, and ethnicity to the uses and goals of a wide variety of publications; and they explore the role print materials play in constructing certain historical events; such as the Titanic disaster. The volume includes exemplary scholarship in history, library studies, literature, journalism, and mass communications.

Women in Print: Essays on the Print Culture of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Women, edited by James P. Danky and Wayne A. Wiegand, with an introduction by Elizabeth Long. This volume was based on the cancelled conference of September 2001. Women readers, editors, librarians, authors, journalists, booksellers, and others are the subjects in this stimulating collection on modern print culture. The essays feature women like Marie Mason Potts, editor of Smoke Signal, a mid-twentieth century periodical of the Federated Indians of California; Lois Waisbrooker, publisher of books and journals on female sexuality and women's rights in the decades after the Civil War; and Elizabeth Jordan, author of two novels and editor of Harper's Bazaar from 1900 to 1913. The volume presents a complex and engaging picture of print culture and of the forces that affected women's lives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For more detailed information on our Publications, see:

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Conferences and Colloquia

In our first five years the Center hosted an annual lecture and developed a series of colloquia and in 1995 held its first national conference, "Print Culture in a Diverse America." This wide-ranging conference resulted in the first book sponsored by the Center which the University of Illinois Press published and which was awarded the 1999 Carey McWilliams Award for outstanding scholarly work relating to the U.S. experience of cultural diversity.

Our second national conference, "Defining Print Culture for Youth," was held in 1997 and was led by Anne Lundin, Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at UW. Building on the tradition of the 1995 conference, this one also produced publications, a special issue of Library Quarterly (1998) and in 2003, Defining Print Culture for Youth: the Cultural Work of Children's Literature (Westport, Libraries Unlimited, 2003), co-edited with Wayne Wiegand.

In 1999 the Center hosted the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) to great acclaim. The 220 plus attendees from nearly every continent brought a welter of analytic traditions to Madison for three days in July.

In 2004 the Center hosted its national conference, "Religion and the Culture of Print," continuing the tradition of biennial gatherings of scholars on a broad topic of wide-ranging interests to print culture historians.

In 2006, the Center hosted its national conference, "Education and the Culture of Print," once again continuing the tradition of biennial gatherings of scholars on a broad topic of wide-ranging interests to print culture historians.


For more detailed information on our Conferences, see:

For more detailed information on our Colloquia, see:

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