University of Wisconsin–Madison
Assistant Professor of Book History and Print Culture in the Information School


Where possible, my published work has been deposited in the Humanities Commons’s open access repository: CORE.
My ORCiD is
My GoogleScholar profile can be found here.

The Intimacy of Paper in Early and Nineteenth-Century American Literature. University of Massachusetts Press Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book series (Forthcoming). 

“As Senchyne demonstrates, the intersections between print and paper, between ostensible foreground and background, are surprisingly generative, with implications for how we read (and hold and look at) printed works. Senchyne here offers both a richly contextualized history of rag paper production in early and 19th-century American culture—with close attention to domesticity, labor, gender, and geography—and a series of astute readings of texts both familiar and obscure. Working against those who see paper as mere substrate, as a “mute vehicle of text,” he writes paper back into the story of American literary history, showing how it “creates meaning,” with implications for book history and literary criticism alike. Meanwhile, Senchyne proposes an alternative periodization for American literary studies—one based on the materiality and technology of paper production rather than on the increasingly threadbare dividing lines that the nation’s armed conflicts have provided. Within this rather long temporal span, Senchyne moves back and forth with aplomb, attending to key distinctions (hand-made paper versus mechanized production, colonial markets and politics versus nineteenth-century circumstances) but also offering a keen sense of continuity vis-à-vis the ongoing preoccupation with paper’s material origins. The project will appeal to Americanists—both historians and literary scholars—as well as to those working in the fields of book history, media studies, and material culture studies.”

“Jonathan Senchyne finds new interpretative possibilities in the main ingredient of books, paper, not just a substrate for writing and printing but a form of expression in its own right. He takes it one step further to discuss the role of rags, the main ingredient of paper in the preindustrial and early industrial periods.He shows how paper makes meaning and how its rag content became a recurring theme in American literature, from doggerel verse celebrating domestic manufactures up to canonical works by Melville and Thoreau.”

Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African American Print, (co-edited with Brigitte Fielder) University of Wisconsin Press, Series in the History of Print and Digital Culture. (Forthcoming 2019) [LINK/Preorder]

From the editors’ introduction: “The essays that follow explore how race and racialization are constructed and encountered within information infrastructures ranging from digital databases of early black print to the visual and material cultures of black artists. Taken together, the essays collected here also ask the important question of how race and racialization shape information infrastructures. The reflexive relationship between African American expression and the infrastructures it moves through – and, importantly, changes – is the centerpiece of the work collected here. In the midst of increased interest in African American print culture over the last decade, the scholars writing here challenge various fields to think not only about individual exemplars – particular black publications, authors, and artists – but also to be attentive to how expressions emerge out of and are received within the larger techno-social platforms that make them possible. Book history and print culture studies have long sought to understand the production and consumption of texts within the broad “communications circuit” beyond an idealized reader-author relationship. In the cognate field of textual digital humanities, the book historical questions of how texts come to be used and read have developed into a critical self-questioning of how we as scholars gain access to and create knowledge within such networks. This “infrastructural turn” in the digital humanities comes at the urging of scholars such as Alan Liu who challenged the field to be critical of its own relation to technology and the social structures of knowledge production in the twenty-first century university. The essays that follow make both of these turns. They are attentive to the historical technologies of print or circumstances of authorship that they take up, while also emphasizing the larger contextual systems that enabled or stymied any particular text or event. For example, while it is exciting and necessary to do recovery work on early black writing and print, it is equally necessary to study the historical library bibliographical standards or contemporary digital architectures that kept such works “hidden” and in need of recovery today. Throughout this volume, the authors also challenge us to think of overlapping or intersecting infrastructures. An information architecture like the digital database that executes commands using boolean operators is complicated by the intersecting technologies of race in the nineteenth century wherein an African American person might sign her name with an “X” or an “*.” These overlapping frames requires us to ask larger questions about how racialized people mediate themselves into the world and whether our tools for research and habits of thought are equipped to see these possibilities. Whether parsing what it means to “become a hashtag” or a contemporary artist’s remediation of nineteenth-century advertisements that required a special typographical character depicting the silhouette of a “runaway slave,” the work collected here insists on the necessity of thinking technologies and techniques of racialization together. The intersection of these two systems of meaning making – of making race and making expression – is where this volume begins. This process of making meaning is both cumulative and contextual, historical and presentist; racial experience is structured through a past whose resonance reaches into the present and the ever-changing moment of the “now.” How racial expression exists in the world is particularly interesting when the invisible systems of meaning-making that we call infrastructure and these structures of distributing violence and opportunity called racialization come together.” Featuring essays by P. Gabrielle Foreman, E. James West, Laura Helton, James Casey, Beth McCoy, Jasmine Montgomery, Kinohi Nishikawa, Barbara Hochman, Jesse Goldberg, John Ernest, Rian Bowie, Leif Eckstrom, Britt Rusert, Aria Halliday, Michaël Roy, and Bryan Sinche.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.31.04 PM“Bottles of Ink and Reams of Paper: Clotel, Racialization, and the Material Culture of Print” Early African American Print Culture eds. Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. [LINK] [LINK]

“This essay argues that greater attention to the significance of the material culture of print, especially in early African American print culture, shows how technologies of racialization emerge in conjunction with technologies of printed words and images. The stereotype is perhaps the most familiar case. In one sense it offers quick reproduction of legible text, and in another it offers quick reproduction of a legible social type. In the rest of this essay, I examine how another technology of legibility, black/white dualism, structures both print legibility and racial legibility. This essay proposes that the material culture of whiteness in antebellum print culture participates in nineteenth-century racial formation by modeling how whiteness is to be seen while unseen, providing the structural backdrop against which marks or types become legible. I will focus on the materiality of paper (and to a lesser extent, ink) because, as Brown himself suggests in the opening sentences of the 1867 edition of Clotel, these materials transmit the author’s writing about racial categorizations of blackness and whiteness while they also shape the sensus communis about whiteness, blackness, and structures of legibility and visibility. Reading print relies on making meaning out of the difference between black and white, and in the antebellum period where black ink and white paper were racially coded, the black/white dualism underwriting print legibility further naturalized black/white racial dualism by implying the possibility of “reading” bodies in relation to one another.”


Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.40.05 PM“Paper Nationalism: Material Textuality and Communal Affiliation in Early America” Book History Vol 19 (2016) 66-85. [LINK] [LINK]

“Theories of the public sphere and of imagined political communities of shared reading have had lasting effects on the theoretical conceptualization of Americanist book history, but they also largely overlook the materiality of texts in ways that early and nineteenth-century American readers and writers did not. This essay reads early and nineteenth-century American texts about paper that show how affiliation and political community could inhere within material texts. Further, it argues that an orientation toward textual materiality can help us reveal publics that are more inclusive of women, nonwhites, and nonelites.”




Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.44.54 PM“Between Knowledge and Metaknowledge: Shifting Disciplinary Borders in Digital Humanities and Library and Information Studies” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, eds. Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Kline, University of Minnesota Press, 2016. [Open Access Link] [LINK] [LINK]

“The emergence of the digital humanities in specialized disciplines and librarianship alike necessitates a recalibration of this allocation of knowledge and practice. DH in the disciplines has brought discussion of metaknowledge—data structures, archival and editorial standards, digital curation and representation—into the graduate education of disciplinary specialists. But what about in LIS graduate education, where metaknowledge training has long been the standard model? To train digital humanities librarians, unique from digital librarians or generalist academic librarians, LIS programs and students need to spend more than a figurative six hours on a humanities subject compared to 147 hours organizing and representing information about it. I take Dickinson’s temporal division of knowledge labor as symbolic of divisions that have been fairly consistent in LIS education and practice from Dickinson’s time until ours.”

“Rags Make Paper, Paper Makes Money: Material Texts and the Creation of Capital” Technology and Culture 58.2 (April 2017) 545-555. [LINK] [LINK]

“Because nineteenth-century paper was made from rags, the materiality of paper money became a likely ground from which to debate the nature of value in modern capitalism. On one hand, if paper money was backed by nothing but itself, then it was worth little more than itself: a gathering of lowly rags. On the other hand, the process of turning trashed rags into valuable paper modeled how capital could seem to grow out of nothing. Two nineteenth-century literary narratives provide examples of how rags performed considerable social and metaphorical work in the construction of an epistemology of capitalism and its “paper technologies.”


“Vibrant Material Textuality: New Materialism, Book History, and the Archive in Paper” Studies in Romanticism 57.1 (Spring 2018) 67-85. [LINK]

“Here I look to the ways both material text studies might be prompted by, and improve upon, thinking in new materialism. The result is that paper could be read for how histories and narratives seep into the paper record and require accounts of agentic materiality lest they be lost or muted. In what follows, I use stories about rag paper as points of departure for thinking about the material turn in both contemporary theoretical discourse and book history together. Both, I think, attempt to understand the meanings and effects of material actors. Taken together, however, they can provide greater insight into the meanings of texts as objects, and a more complete sense of what is in our archives. Finally, I argue that book history’s disciplinary habits of moving between a text’s material presence, or bibliographic code, and its linguistic code, might provide a model for literary critics pondering current theoretical work in new materialism and the agency of things.”

“George Moses Horton, ‘Individual Influence’” transcription and critical introduction. PMLA 132.5 (October 2017) 1244-1250. [LINK] [LINK]

Transcription of and introduction to newly discovered George Morton Horton manuscript, “Individual Influence.””Individual Influence” is an essay in Horton’s hand, collected in the papers of Henry Harrisse with documents related to the 1856 Chapel Hill “Black Republican” abolition controversy, about the balance of influence between the “terrestrial” and “celestial,” the worldly and the spiritual influences.


“Print Culture” Henry David Thoreau in Context, ed. James Finley (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017) 110-119. [LINK] [LINK]

“Thoreau’s relation to print culture was complicated and at times contradictory, but from his writing life to his family business, he was shaped by it. Scholars note that he was both successful and a failure as a professional author. He published books and articles made possible by technological changes in papermaking and printing to his west on the Housatonic River, and business and market developments in publishing to his east in Boston. Some of these changes brought him a measure of money and renown, and others left him surrounded in his own home by an “inert mass” of unsold paper and print. He wanted to publish in the periodical press and with successful book publishers, and he sold graphite to printers to supply the making of plates. Yet, at the same time he also argued that print offered an insufficient secondhand experience of the world of bodies and things. Nineteenth-century American print culture offered challenges and openings to Transcendentalist thinkers. Noting the ever-expanding scale of print production of print in their lifetimes, Emerson lamented that one could no longer hope to read everything printed, and Thoreau argued against reading anything except the world itself. Both continued to publish their work in books and periodicals. “Much is published, but little printed,” Thoreau writes in “Sounds,” leaving readers to wonder what it meant to leave an impression on the world in the middle of the nineteenth century (W 111).”

(as second author, with Mei Zhang) “Libraries and Publisher Price Control: The Net Price System 1901-1914 and Contemporary E-book Pricing” Libraries: Culture, History, and Society 1.2 (2017) 171-193. [LINK] [LINK]

“This paper explores how librarians have responded to publisher and distributor controls over the valuation of books in of two different, yet related, historical periods. The paper introduces the history of the net price system, a book price control system employed in the early twentieth century, and historicizes library, publisher, and distributor relations within this system. It describes tensions between stakeholders that led to the net price system, reactions to this new arrangement, and its impact on library book buying practices. Turning to similarities in digital book pricing in the present, the paper focuses on how stakeholders negotiate their interests relative to the “fragility,” or uncertain market value, of cultural commodities such as books in either paper or electronic format. Finally, the paper explores how libraries, publishers, and distributors each struggle to gain power in library book pricing.”

“Under Pressure: Reading Material Textuality in the Recovery of Early African American Print” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory (forthcoming)

“Enslaved printers created vast amounts of documentation when they literally created documents with their minds and bodies at the press. Yet the presence of these people remains largely illegible because our ways of reading print privilege its alphabetic content. That is, we tend to read for the work of writers and editors, not printers…. From its first issue in October 1756 until the late 1780s or early 1790s, [the New-Hampshire Gazette] was printed by an enslaved African American man, Primus Fowle. I offer a survey of issues in book history, print culture, and information studies that combine with questions in the history of slavery to produce the specific aporia where Primus Fowle’s work rests.”


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