The Eccles Centre fellowship supported my monograph on early American print culture and political caricature between 1790 and 1830, says Allison M. Stagg, Eccles Centre fellow 2015. There has been scarce scholarship on late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- century political American caricature and my research sifts through largely uncatalogued and rare material, including the caricatures themselves, letters, diaries, and newspapers.
I am grateful to the Eccles Centre for awarding me a Visiting European Fellowship in North American Studies in 2015. The fellowship enabled me to travel from Berlin to London in early January 2016 and to spend a dedicated period of four weeks at the British Library. The fellowship supported my primary research on early American print culture; I am at present completing a monograph on early American political caricature prints published between 1790 and 1830. My research is focused on analyzing primary documents and sifting through largely uncatalogued and rare material, including the caricatures themselves, letters, diaries, and newspapers. It was for this
purpose, to work on early American newspapers, that I was awarded the fellowship.
There has been scarce scholarship on separately published late eighteenth- and early nineteenth- century political American caricature, despite their frequent inclusion as illustrations in modern texts on history, politics, art, and geography. Satirical images from this period provide important yet heretofore unrecognized models that can better inform scholars on national identity and artistic exchange. This research void contrasts sharply with topical publications on late eighteenth and early nineteenth century European caricatures. Recent scholarship, such as Diana Donald’s The Age of Caricature: Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III (1996) and Vic Gattrell’s City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth Century London (2006) explore the dynamic and complicated relationships found in British satirical print culture and high art, social classes, and politics, demonstrating that images had the potency to impact, rather than merely reflect, cultural tensions. Recent research, found primarily on English and French caricature, underscores the importance of an analytic study on American satirical print culture, and affords the occasion for a comparative study between political satirical prints published in America and Europe directly after the American Revolution.
My current research project connects historical, political, and art history scholarship by critically examining early American satirical prints, concentrating primarily on iconographical cues and historically specific circumstances, which have been frequently misidentified or misconstrued. To do this, newspapers and other primary documents are required. Over the course of my fellowship, I returned to the newspapers in the BL collection in order to locate specific information on caricatures. This also included using the Readex database of early American newspapers, an invaluable tool for any scholar working in early American print culture. The database allows for researchers to enter keywords to better locate relevant newspapers, narrowing time spent combing through the physical object or pointing you in new, previously unknown direction of enquiry. Advertisements and published editorials are particularly relevant to my research as they provide a wealth of information on early American caricatures. I have been able to find dates of publication, the price for sale of an individual caricature, and artist’s names for caricatures from this period.
While a fellow, I spent the majority of my time going through advertisements in Philadelphia newspapers, attempting to locate dates publication for a number of caricatures believed to have been published during the War of 1812. I am happy to report that several discoveries were made and I am pleased to include these in the final book manuscript.
My short time at the British Library was wonderfully productive and I only wish that my fellowship was for a longer duration. The British Library has an outstanding collection of objects necessary for my own research, but it is really the members of staff that makes the BL completely unique. I have yet to find a better place to work. Thanks are due to Matthew Shaw and Phil Davies for their generosity and obvious joy at talking about American subject matter, and to the all the wonderful staff members in the Rare Books reading room. Five years ago I completed my Ph.D. at University College London and as a graduate student, I researched and wrote the majority of my dissertation in the Rare Books reading room. It was such a pleasure to walk into the reading room as an Eccles Fellow, and have many of those staff members that had been so present during my Ph.D. welcome me back. Many thanks to the Eccles Centre for providing these funding opportunities to scholars working on American topics.
Allison M. Stagg holds an IPODI postdoctoral fellowship in the department of Art History at the Technische Universität Berlin.