Date of Award

Winter 1980

Project Type


Program or Major

Philosophy in History

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This dissertation explores the social context of printing and publishing from 1639 to 1783 through an analysis of the complete extant record of colonial printing and a collective biography of the printers, publishers and booksellers who comprised the press. Two general areas are explored. The first involves the size, stability, and growth of the press, the second, the structure of the trade at large.

The early American press grew like the population it served and was characterized by a marked stability. The broad patterns of production and growth suggest that how much was printed depended largely upon the number of persons in the trade, which, in turn, depended upon successful demographic experiences. In all areas of colonial America, families formed the underlying structure of the trade, and their fortunes were those of the trade itself.

The nature and extent of association among tradesmen is also explored. Here, the professional and familial networks of tradesmen are examined both as phenomena of personal association in colonial America and as the structure through which ideas, in the form of printed works, flowed from place to place. The extent of trade networks reached its zenith early in the eighteenth century, and thereafter declined as the size of the trade exceeded the ability of individuals to form associations with other tradesmen. The diminishing networks of tradesmen contributed to a marked provincialism of the early American press which was reflected in the declining inter-regional diffusion of printed works as the eighteenth century progressed.