The term “print culture” is being bandied about a lot among grad-student types these days. I heard it used a lot when we were interviewing candidates for jobs, I hear it when I go to conferences, I see it all over the place in CFPs (calls for papers) and conference announcements.

Most of the time, people seem to be using “print culture” just to mean “stuff in print that some people might not think is literature”– that is, magazines, advertisements, newspapers, dictionaries, instruction manuals, and so on. But “print culture” is an inadequate term for what I think people are really talking about these days, which means, culture that can be examined as literature (meaning, analyzed and discussed in the way we analyze & discuss poems, fiction, and drama) but is not literary. This includes printed things like ads and dictionaries, but also, things like comic strips, which I’m studying right now, but also, social media (which includes words and language but is not “print,” per se), television, and the like.

And we also have what’s called “book culture,” which may or may not be dependent on print per se. For example, libraries are all about books, how they are collected, organized, and used; however, the fact that the books are printed is only just one element of their “bookishness.” Many have talked about the odor of books as a key aspect of book culture. And so on.

For some reason, I ran across a number of things today that address these questions, and found their juxtapositions interesting to think about. Here are the two that really got my attention:

  • Article in Baltimore Brew depicting scribal culture in books placed in parks– in Sandtown (Freddie Gray’s neighborhood) and Stony Run (a block from Loyola, used by well-off folks in Guilford, Roland Park, and Homeland neighborhoods)
  • Edith Wharton reviewing the Starbucks that is now located in her old childhood home in NYC, courtesy of–literary art meets flat whites and skinny lattés.

I don’t have time to post more than just the links, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on what they say about the literary, the literate, and book culture, either in the comments below or on Facebook.

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2 thoughts on “From the hive mind: “print culture” and beyond

  1. Love this post! And the two others you referenced. And before I try and respond to your question, let me get this out of the way: have you listened to the “Reading Lives” podcast, and you mentioned comic strips you’ve been studying. Strips? Or books?

    In my non-academic life, I haven’t heard the term/idea of book culture but I see how it’s “a thing”. The advent of smartphones seems to enable us to consume and maybe also produce more written words than we used to. Maybe it’s not surprising, then, to seek or find tonic or solace in the old, slower forms of consuming or sharing stories.

    Steve and I went to a Moth StorySlam last night. Timely! Resonant.


    1. I will have to check out “Reading Lives”– thanks for the recommendation! I am researching strips. Not books. I helped advise an undergrad research project on the early issues of Superman and Batman (1939-194) and while I think they do have their charm, I have to say I’m more interested in the strips for 40 years before 🙂

      What you say about smartphones I think is right. There does seem to be a backlash going on with my students these days– they really do prefer books to e-books. That said, I think most bibliophiles were just lovers of books all along.


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