The Touch of the Word: Evangelical Cultures of Print in Antebellum America
“The Touch of the Word: Evangelical Cultures of Print in Antebellum America” analyzes the reception of evangelical print media among everyday Americans in the antebellum period. I focus on the practices of readers who received publications produced by the American Tract Society, the publishing giant that circulated over five billion pages of books, tracts, and newspapers between 1825 and 1860 in hopes of converting the nation to Christianity. While scholars typically approach printed media as containers for words, I argue that the antebellum reading public encountered proliferating religious print as a visual, tactile, and affective experience in ways not usually associated with Protestantism, let alone evangelicalism. The product of intensive archival research in over a dozen repositories, “The Touch of the Word” tells a new story about popular religion by recovering three predominant ways in which Americans sensorially encountered the material power of religious print media: as burdens, as objects of desire and consumption, and as sites for appropriation and play.
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