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Chapter 7 - Whence, Whither, and Which Books?

from Part III - Tristram in the Tropics: or, Reading in Jamaica

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2023

April G. Shelford
Affiliation:
American University, Washington DC
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Summary

Publications were the most important links to Enlightenment intellectual culture across the Atlantic World. Jamaicans acquired publications in quantity despite the difficulty and expense, challenging the colonial reputation of philistinism. The trade in books and periodicals was connected to a commercial revolution that brought a variety of cultural commodities—musical instruments, telescopes, globes, etc.—to colonial and metropolitan doorsteps. These objects helped assert their owners’ gentility: a wealthy planter might house his collection in a suitably dignified library, but a Kingston businessman could showcase his modest collection in a mahogany bookcase, and a merchant based in a small coastal town could increase his intellectual capital by borrowing reading material from neighbors and friends. Evidence drawn from a variety of sources—advertisements for books and book furnishings; book orders and library inventories; accounts of borrowing and lending—show that Jamaican readers could satisfy a desire for everything from the classics of Antiquity to now-canonical Enlightenment works, from sentimental and scurrilous novels to popularizing works of science and practical how-to treatises.

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A Caribbean Enlightenment
Intellectual Life in the British and French Colonial Worlds, 1750–1792
, pp. 174 - 196
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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