A Place of Reading: Three Centuries of Reading in America

An exhibition of books and prints from the American Antiquarian Society is on view in Neilson Library Level 3, through May 28.

This image from Harper’s Weekly of March 14, 1847, depicts the newsboys’ habit of dropping copies of books and magazines onto travelers’ laps. They later collected either the book or the purchase price.

Exhibition: February 28 - May 28, 2013
Libraries' hours Exhibition
Book Arts Gallery, Neilson Library, Level 3
Thurs., Feb.28
4-6 pm
Book Arts Gallery, Neilson Library, Level 3

America is a country founded by readers. Lots of them.

This exhibition illuminates the rich history of reading in America that showcases—through books, broadsides, woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, watercolors, etc.—the places and events that particularly prompted the act of reading. By exhibiting these material and visual objects of the past, and in exploring the geography of reading, we hope to raise new questions—and answers—about readers and reading in America. A Place of Reading is a collaboration between the Smith College Mortimer Rare Book Room and the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society , which has loaned most of the items on display. Main themes of the exhibition include: the Colonial Home; Revolutionary Taverns; North/South/East/West: Newspapers, Periodicals, and the Popular Press; and Reading at the Front: The Civil War. In addition, a section called “Caught in the Act” highlights other places of reading, such as the kitchen, bedroom, bath, prisons, and public spaces.

A reception to celebrate the opening of A Place of Reading, will be held on Thursday, February 28 from 4 to 6 pm in the Book Arts Gallery (Neilson Library, 3rd floor). Come to view this exhibition and to meet curators and staff from the American Antiquarian Society and the Smith College Mortimer Rare Book Room. Also on view is a supplementary exhibition, “Cultivating the nobler part of her nature”: Books for Women and Girls in Early America, that was jointly curated by seniors in the Book Studies Concentration at Smith College, who collaborated on this project (and its online component) as part of their Capstone Seminar in the fall of 2012.

Originally created as an online exhibition for the American Antiquarian Society, the objects from this virtual exhibition are now on display in the physical space of the Book Arts Gallery. Most works of art and literature on view are on loan from the American Antiquarian Society, with the exception of several objects from the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum of Mount Holyoke College. A Place of Reading is curated by Cheryl Harned, a graduate student in the University of Massachusetts Amherst/Five College Graduate Program in History.

Libby Prison

[Click on image to enlarge for detail]
This print reflects not only the prevalence of books and newspapers in Libby Prison, but also the high level of literacy during the Civil War. At Libby Prison, Richmond newspapers could be purchased, and shipments of books came in from the United States Christian Commission.

The Boston Notice

The Boston Notion (1839-1842) was a three foot tall newspaper that occasionally printed double sheets humorously called Double Notion.



Barbara Blumenthal
Rare Book Specialist
(413) 586-2906