Milton and Book History

SHARP Affiliate Organization Panel at MLA
Vancouver Convention Center, West 204
Friday, 9 January 2015
3:30pm–4:50pm

This collaborative session, proposed by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing and the Milton Society of America (both MLA allied organizations) highlights the fertile intersection of book history and Milton scholarship and shows how the material forms of Milton’s texts are inseparable from the meanings produced by their readers and consumers. The meaning of Milton, these panelists demonstrate, is produced not simply out of technical industry, but by social forms, ideologies, political and intellectual dispositions, as well as the creative energies of writers, translators, and book producers. The three panelists identify the various kinds of agency involved in these transactions, building on recent new understandings of the histories of reading, authorship and publishing that have challenged the view of Milton as a lonely writer. If Milton is a social writer—one of the earliest to see the potential of the printing press to expand cultural and political inclusiveness—most recent work on Milton and the history of the book has focused on ideas of authorship and on the role of the author himself. This panel highlights how the media and circumstances of dissemination constitute the meaning of Milton’s works; it thus contributes to an understanding of authorship and cultural bibliography, and it also adds original historical findings to a sociological account of Milton’s early networks.

This panel brings together three Milton scholars who apply the tools of book history and bibliography to investigate and elucidate Milton’s life, career, and works. The first paper, Blaine Greteman’s ‘Milton’s first book and the making of a print author,’ explores the first work Milton had printed, the Epitaphum Damonis, an elegy that has rarely been discussed in a print context. Yet, as Greteman argues, the poem carefully affirms, reconstitutes, and expands the social, poetic network that Milton had established in during his schooling in England and his travels abroad during the 1630s. Greteman, drawing on both archival work and his ongoing digital project, maps the circulation and production of both print and manuscript texts to illuminate the ways that the Epitaphum inaugurates Milton’s investment in the book, in print authorship, and in the poet’s robust social involvement with his world.

Nicholas von Maltzahn’s paper, ‘Who printed Areopagitica? The Press and Milton’s Paper Work’ proposes to announce a major discovery, one based on scholarship von Maltzahn is undertaking for his volume in the Oxford University Press Complete Works of John Milton (forthcoming). Although Areopagitica has enjoyed great fame as Milton’s defense of the press from pre-publication licensing, its printer has still, until now, not been identified. Von Maltzahn will identify the printer, and on that basis will revisit Milton’s conception of the press’s work in the English Revolution, with special reference to the conceptions of the labour and literary genres involved in that publication within the underground print networks for such illicit publication. Both printer and author, it will be shown, shared a pattern of commitments that were both literary and political.

While these first two papers emphasise the importance of cultural bibliographic context in Milton’s own day, the third paper, Angelica Duran’s ‘Milton’s Areopagitica: A Speech to the World,’ chronicles the translations of Areopagitica in various languages and countries in recent or contemporary settings. After giving a brief history of Areopagitica’s translation or prohibition dates into various languages (twenty languages, including French, Hungarian, Japanese, and Polish), her paper then focus on two recent cases, Spanish and Chinese, chosen because the issue of censorship in each country produced complex response to Milton’s powerful statement against pre-publication licensing. Duran explores the different cultural impacts of Areopagitica’s first publications in the vernacular in Spain (1941) and China (1991), highlighting the ways Milton’s writing engages with topical debates over censorship. This paper brings the study of book history up to the present. The 370th anniversary of his anti-censorship pamphlet Areopagitica reminds us that Milton was not only a poet, he was an activist, deeply concerned about how ideas, in the form of printed texts, circulate in society.

Stephen Dobranski, a distinguished leading researcher in the field of Milton, authorship, and the book trade, will provide a response to the panel, putting the papers’ wide chronological sweep (from 1630s England to 1990s China) in context for the study of Milton and of the history of the book.

Greg Barnhisel (co-organizer) is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of English at Duquesne University. He is the author of James Laughlin, New Directions, and the Remaking of Ezra Pound (Massachusetts, 2005) and the forthcoming Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy (Columbia, 2014) and is one of the editors of the journal Book History.

Sharon Achinstein (co-organizer, presider) is Professor of Renaissance Literature, University of Oxford; she will take up her position as Sir William Osler Professor of English Literature at Johns Hopkins University in July 2014. Her books have explored the histories of political communication and literature in the early modern period, and include Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (Princeton, 1994), Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England (Cambridge, 2003), and two edited collections, Literature and Toleration (Oxford, 2007), and Gender, Literature and the English Revolution (Cass, 1994), and she is currently on the Executive Committee of the Milton Society of America.

Blaine Greteman is Assistant Professor of English, University of Iowa, and is author of The Poetics and Politics of Youth in Milton’s England (Cambridge, 2013), and has published articles on Milton, Jonson, and Donne, as well as long-form political journalism. He is currently working on a digital project, “Shakeosphere: The Early Modern Social Network,” for which he earned seed funding in 2013.

Nicholas von Maltzahn, Professor of English at the University of Ottawa, is editing Areopagitica as part of his volume of Milton’s tracts on religious liberty for the Oxford University Press Complete Works of John Milton (vol. 4, forthcoming). He has published numerous studies especially of Milton and Marvell, including a book- length Andrew Marvell Chronology (Palgrave, 2005); an edition of Marvell’s Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government (in The Prose Works of Andrew Marvell, Yale, UP, 2003); and a monograph on Milton’s History of Britain (Oxford UP, 1991). Angelica Duran is Associate Professor in English, Comparative Literature, and Religious Studies at Purdue University, author of The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution (Pittsburgh, 2007); editor of A Concise Companion to Milton (Blackwell, 2007); and is currently coediting Milton in Translation (under consideration). She has published articles on Milton’s reception in Spain, and has coedited a volume in comparative cultural studies, Mo Yan in Context: Nobel Laureate and Global Storyteller (forthcoming, Purdue UP, 2014).

Stephen Dobranski is Professor in the Department of English at Georgia State University, and has authored significant contributions in book history to Milton studies, his Readers and Authorship in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2005; pbk, 2009); and Milton, Authorship, and the Book Trade (Cambridge, 1999. pbk, 2009). Author of The Cambridge Introduction to John Milton (Cambridge, 2012), Dobranski has edited Milton in Context (Cambridge, 2010) and Milton and Heresy (Cambridge, 1998; pbk, 2008).