Pet Book Report #3: The Civil War in Song and Story

The Civil War in Song and Story occupies a genre that falls in between the overlapping worlds of scrapbooking and editorial exchanges that Garvey explores in the selections we read. The newspaper anthology is in some ways a precursor to the commercial clipping bureaus of the 1880s; like the bureaus, the Civil War anthology does the work of the “winnowing process” of sifting the nation’s papers for items on a particular topic of interest for the reader (34). It was a scrapbook of the press during the war years, which readers could use in lieu of scrapbooking the war themselves or which they could use a much more managably-sized publication than the “newspapers…worthless in piles” that Moore drew from which they could then extract material for their own scrapbooks (48).

As I said in my first post, The Civil War in Song and Story is itself a compilation of the Rebellion Record, an ongoing pamphlet that was published weekly, monthly (and advertised cloth covers for binding through any bookseller near you), and finally in twelve printed volumes. So what would’ve induced the reader to purchase the Rebellion Record instead of curating their own information from the papers? What was vital to readers of the Rebellion Record clearly wasn’t receiving up-to-the-minute information; indeed, in the first collected volume, Moore writes of his goal in publishing the first pamphlet, “It was observed that we did not aim either to ‘supersede or to keep pace with the newspapers, but to subject them, both North and South, to the crucible of time; following them at such distance as may be required to verify and classify all that is best worth preserving.” Moore conceived of his purpose in collecting articles, poems, and documents as a kind of curation of the news which would be free from the “trappings of timeliness,” the way a newspaper clipping of what was once news and now is “no-longer-news” stopped being a record of events and began being a “record [of] the experience of encountering” that event (28-29). In other words, Moore’s anthology was a scrapbook with hindsight: unlike the scrapbook-maker at home, who could only speculate what their future self would most want to remember about how the war was reported, Moore offered a record of living through the war that was freer from the embarrassments of premature celebrations that the tide had turned and minute details of troop movement and supply numbers that might’ve seemed vitally important to the reader in the moment but which they might regret wasting their scrapbook space on in a decade.

Allowing Moore and his Rebellion Record to curate at least some of the output of the press had other advantages for readers: Moore had access to a wider ranger of papers, not necessarily more than the reader’s local editor but certainly more than the average reader. Moore also represented another editorial eye that would ensure only “those items…[that] have had their corners knocked off, have proved their worth by their circulation” would make it to the readers (36). And Moore also sought to position his works as having an objectivity which might be lacking from the curation efforts of individual scrapbookers or editors. He takes pride in his claim that articles from the “secession press” were “reprinted verbatim, without alteration, or comment.” In his footnotes, where he explicitly takes ownership of fact-checking in at least two instances (as when he notes that “the incident upon which this ballad [“Barbara Fritchie”] is founded took place literally as it is told,” or when he takes issues with a poet’s line suggesting that Confederate prisons might show mercy and free union soldiers by making the argument in the footnote to “Driving Home the Cows” that Union soldiers were far more likely to die in Southern prisons and Confederate soldiers far more likely to be freed and allowed to return to their homes), he demonstrates that the anthology isn’t content to be a record of what people said about the Civil War, but at least on some level aims to get at the truth of what happened during the war (496; 511).

There are a lot of other ways in which I’d like to explore the relationship between anthologies and scrapbooks (I’m personally disappointed by the fact that I have so many things still unsaid abut authorship), but for word count purposes, I’ll limit myself to what the difference between anthologies and scrapbooks imply about the nature of publication.

The anthology “mov[ed] materials from the flickering ephemerality of an old newspaper into the permanence of a book: giving it the earmarks of value” (49). In this way it was like scrapbooks and unlike editorial exchanges, which clipped articles to be reprinted in equally ephemeral papers under a different masthead. But unlike scrapbooks (and like editorial exchanges) it thought of the material it preserved not as “an item of printed matter” but as pure text (36). Of the methods of managing information that we’ve looked at for the last week–newspaper exchanges, scrapbooks, commonplace books, and, for me, anthologies–only scrapbooks retain the power to preserve not “only copied words, but pieces of newspaper…the mediated experience” (28). (Commonplace books could record the physicality of items that were pasted into their pages, like ticket stubs, engravings, or letters, but given that Garvey seems to understand the transition from commonplace books to scrapbooking as a change from copying to pasting, I think that it’s not an overreach to say that unlike commonplace books, the capacity to record the medium was built into the design of scrapbooks.)

To me, this illuminates a fundamental difference in scrapbooks and exchanges/anthologies as modes of publication. Text can be duplicated; materials can’t. A key purpose of the scrapbook might’ve been a “shift in audience–transporting the clippings either to other people…or to a future self” but that audience would always be constrained by the induplicability of the scrapbook (49). In contrast, newspapers and anthologies were created for mass production and distribution; this was essential to the formation of the “imagined community of newspaper readers” during the Civil War which Garvey describes as being a major reason that newspapers became a fundamental part of domestic life (6). This is a divide that goes beyond our understanding of print/manuscript as mass production/uniquely individual creations, and, for me, gets to the heart of the question of what constitutes publication, and whether or not a publication is the same as Tenger and Trolander’s “unique authorial product” (1040). They write, “We need a way to distinguish personal copies of media products from those intended for publication, and it would be best if that definition were not tied to a particular medium”

(1040). Manuscripts could be mass produced (or at least produced in limited runs) by scriptoria; most of the material pasted inside scrapbooks was printed. But the standard that they seem to settle on, though not in so many words, whether or not the work is intended for “circulation and consumption beyond its author,” or a second reader, seems to me to fail to capture some of the nuances of how we informally understand “publication” as a reading community (1040). I think that comparing Moore’s anthology and the private scrapbook gets us closer. The Civil War in Song and Story and the scrapbooks that Garvey describes are put together in much the same way: culled from impermanent newspaper and collected to fill the pages of a permanent book. The fundamental difference between them is not that the anthology was intended for multiple readers and the scrapbook for a single reader; Garvey provides multiple examples in which a scrapbook might’ve been circulated outside its maker (as when she discusses scrapbooks as “an ideal gift for an invalid child or adult”) or consumed outside its maker (as when she explains the lack of memory cues in most scrapbooks as the maker imagining that they “would be present to hover at the reader’s elbow”) (50). All of the differences–in the presence of absence of the physicality of the original form of the text, in the editor’s note or the lack of maker’s marks, in how much of the constructed narrative is meant to communicate something about the compiler’s life experience in each case–rest not in the presence of a second reader, but a second copy, which I think is a potentially exciting way to think about publication in a wider context. (And also raises questions about what constitutes a “copy,” especially in the age of ebooks that might never have a physical form at all.)

(Sorry about the spotty citation; I’m working largely off of various digitized copies of the first volume of the Rebellion Record and issues 2, 4, and 10 on a computer too slow to load full pages.)

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