|Street scene in Philadelphia, 1882.|
Image: George Augustus Sala / New York Public Library.
He positions 19th century urban America within a framework of mass society, in which residents were relatively atomized and anonymous, and thus print was used to address a large, impersonal readership. Indeed, due to the incredible size and diversity of the population in cities like New York, Henkin argues that printed artifacts took on a far more integral role in urban America than they did in the small towns and rural communities of the era. In a sense, the material culture of print was the glue that held these booming metropolises together; writing and reading were what made the physical cityscape as well as the economic, political, and social life legible to all its inhabitants. This fact is indicated by, among other things, the much higher rates of literacy, plus the larger newspaper and mail circulations, found in cities of the era.
|Newsboys in Newark, New Jersey, 1909.|
Photo: Lewis Hine.
|Billboards in New York City, 1937. |
Photo: Berenice Abbott / New York Public Library.
|The Bill Poster's Dream, 1862.|
Image: B. Derby / New York Public Library.
Although Henkin briefly acknowledges the uneven power and access involved in urban texts like signage, no mention is made of the regulation and active policing of public space that might have otherwise restricted the lower classes and political radicals, in particular, from displaying or distributing print materials. (Much of this regulation likely wasn't codified into law until the 20th century when things like graffiti and noise ordinances become more commonplace, but censorship and suppression of print in public certainly must have existed, even if only informally. But it is not addressed.) The cost of printing, which would have been another barrier to access, is also not discussed; the assumption seems to be that all people who wanted it had access to printed materials, but that surely is not the case.