John O’Brien’s Literature Incorporated Wins the Louis Gottschalk Prize

It is one thing to write a book. It is quite another for that book to receive widespread acclaim from one’s peers, as is the case with Literature Incorporated: The Cultural Unconscious of the Business Corporation, 1650-1850, the most recent work by John O’Brien, NEH Daniels Distinguished Teaching Professor in U.Va.’s Department of English. Literature Incorporated has been awarded the Louis Gottschalk Prize, presented annually “for an outstanding historical or critical study on the eighteenth century” by the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.

One need not be aware of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United or of Mitt Romney’s statement that “corporations are people” to benefit from a close reading of Literature Incorporated. Its subject is the corporation, “an abstraction that gathers up a long history of institutions and practices as varied as city governance, guild organization, state-sponsored colonial exploration, money lending, insurance, slave trading and university funding.”  Its method is to trace the trope of incorporation in a wide range of Anglo-American texts, including “economic tracts, legal cases, poems, plays, essays, novels, and short stories.” And its goal “is to discover some of the ways in which language has ‘repeated’ the influence of the corporation to us, given it form in our imaginations.”

The U.Va. Library is proud to have earned a place in the book’s Acknowledgements. Indeed, most of the works discussed in Literature Incorporated (and many more that inform and amplify its arguments) can be found in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Here is a modest selection, which we invite you to come explore in more depth.

King as corporation, comprised of the bodies of his subjects. Detail from the engraved title page to Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London, 1651). (E 1651 .H658; Tracy W. McGregor Library of English Literature)

Literature Incorporated begins with Thomas Hobbes’ work of political theory, Leviathan (1651). Its famous engraved title page “offers an image of incorporation, of the people of a realm incorporated into the sovereign.” Although Hobbes viewed private corporations as potential rivals to government, O’Brien shows how Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, among others, appropriated Hobbes’ language in support of corporations.

The Carolina Company’s vision for its American colony, drafted in large part by John Locke. The Two Charters Granted by King Charles IId to the Proprietors of Carolina (London, 1698). (A 1698 .G746; Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History)

Among the earliest English corporations were entities such as the Carolina Company, chartered by the sovereign to promote colonial settlement and trade. The philosopher John Locke was instrumental in developing the English mercantilist system, and O’Brien traces Locke’s crucial role in drafting the company’s Fundamental Constitutions (1669; final edition 1698), in which the Carolina proprietors envisioned the society they hoped to establish in the New World. Indeed, Locke’s empiricist philosophy permeates the document.

Frontispiece and title page to an early edition of Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers (London, 1735). (PR3704 .C66 1735)

Another such company, the South Sea Company, was at the heart of one of the greatest financial bubbles of all time, the South Sea Bubble of 1720. The speculative frenzy and resulting financial crash can be traced in many contemporary literary works, such as Sir Richard Steele’s play, The Conscious Lovers (1720). To the familiar plot lines of marriage and mistaken identity Steele added innovative complications concerning property rights. Steele also found himself accused publicly, through his involvement with the Drury Lane Company, of creating a theatrical equivalent of the South Sea Bubble to unfairly inflate the play’s ticket prices.

Tobias Smollett on why a novel needs a “principal personage,” from The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (London, 1753). (PR33694 .F54 1753 v.1)

The 18th century also saw the rise of insurance companies, which offered protection from risk and the fickle winds of divine providence. O’Brien demonstrates how contemporary English fiction’s “well-known investigations of risk and reward look different when they are read in the context of insurance history.” A perfect example is Tobias Smollett’s Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751), in which the plot is driven by Peregrine’s involvement with two different insurance policies. O’Brien also invokes Smollett’s famous statement, in the preface to The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753), that a novel requires “a principal personage to attract the attention, unite the incidents, unwind the clue of the labyrinth, and at last close the scene by virtue of his own importance.” In O’Brien’s words, the protagonist of a novel “resembles the corporation itself, a prosthetic person who helps bring the broader organization of a specific kind of economic activity into representation.”

Frontispiece to The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (London, 1789). (CT2750 .E7 1789; Gift of Mrs. Emily D. Kornfeld)

During the late 18th century, the London Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade waged a successful abolitionist campaign. O’Brien traces how “the society became a corporate voice that found itself emulating the very entities that it sought to attack,” for example, through its frequent use of an emblem featuring a supplicatory slave on bended knee. However, one key abolitionist publication—The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)—deliberately separated itself in form and content from this corporate voice, instead establishing itself “as a kind of corporate representative [of] ‘the African.’”

Beginning of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, The Gold-Bug, which leads off his Tales (New York, 1845). (PS2612 .A1 1845 copy 3; Gift of D. N. Davidson)

Literature Incorporated concludes with a discussion of Anglo-American literary responses to the fiscal and banking crises of the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s. In particular, O’Brien offers a close reading of The Gold-Bug, the lead-off story in Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales (1845) and his most popular with contemporaries.

And to wrap up: hold the date! Another recent recipient of the Louis Gottschalk Prize—David Hancock, Professor of History at the University of Michigan—will deliver this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Lecture on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. in the auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. His talk, “The Man of Twists and Turns: Personality, Portrait & Power in the Re-Shaping of Empire,” concerns the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, the British prime minister who helped negotiate an end to the American Revolution. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the U.Va. Library.

First Floor Exhibitions Explore Slavery and Abolition

The Harrison/Small First Floor Gallery is excited to announce our two summer exhibitions: “My Own Master: Resistance to American Slavery” and the mini-exhibition “‘Read, Weep, and Reflect’: Creating Young Abolitionists through Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Together these two exhibitions extend some of the themes explored in our Harrison Gallery exhibition, “Who Shall Tell the Story: Voices of Civil War Virginia. ”  Come in out of the heat and spend some time with these marvelous exhibitions. Some images to tempt you follow…


The larger exhibition, “My Own Master,” is of particular note because it is the first exhibition in memory that the University of Virginia Library has mounted on the topic of slavery (a fact discovered in discussions with long-time Special Collections staff). Though artifacts relating to slavery have been included and the topic discussed in past exhibitions, slavery has not been the sole subject of an exhibition here.  We are very pleased to end that tradition this summer. Even more exciting, in 2018 we will mount a major exhibition on the topic of slavery at the University of Virginia in the Harrison Gallery, in support of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.

“My Own Master” showcases thirty remarkable items from the collections demonstrating some of the ways that blacks–slave, free, and freed–fought against slavery. Curator Petrina Jackson describes the exhibition’s project as follows: “When the white abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay published his four-volume A Popular History of the United States in 1876, he covered slavery and abolitionism in the final volume. He wrote, ‘the African in America whether bond or free had learned the habit of submission and had rarely shown any spirit of revolt.’ Gay wrote this even though he labored closely with black abolitionists who risked their freedom and their lives to secure the freedom of their enslaved brethren. He likewise documented the harrowing stories of fugitive slaves, who wagered everything to gain control of their personhood, their bodies, their lives. “My Own Master” challenges the notion of black passivity and shows African Americans as active agents in breaking the bonds of slavery.”

mom3The exhibition displays artifacts that document a variety of forms of rebellion: running away, planning insurrections, writing abolitionist works and manifestoes, and buying one’s own and one’s family’s freedom. It concludes with a recently acquired broadside printed by African-American leaders in Richmond a year after the city surrendered.


Portraits of black abolitionists from books in our collections are featured in the gallery and on the poster.

FullSizeRender (10)


Our mini-exhibition, “Read, Weep, and Reflect: Creating Young Abolitionists through Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was curated by undergraduate Wolfe Docent Susan Swicegood (CLAS 2015, Curry 2016). Curator Molly Schwartzburg asked Susan to develop an exhibition around a recently acquired early puzzle about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, which is our second such puzzle. Susan tracked down a wonderful range of children-related publications and “tie-in products” from the nineteenth century. It is not to be missed!


The new puzzle is on the left.


Games, theater tickets, and more!

uncle3Come on by and take a look!

This Just In: New McGregor Library Acquisitions

The opening last week of Collecting American Histories: the Tracy W. McGregor Library at 75—the major new exhibition of highlights from our world renowned McGregor Library of American History—prompts us to describe a few of the many acquisitions made for the McGregor Library in recent months.


Noticia certa, e manifesto publico da grande batalha, que tiveraõ os francezes, e inglezes, junto ás ribeiras do Obio em 9 de julho de 1755. Com a noticia individual de todas as acçoens obradas nesta expediçaõ. Morte do celebre General Braddock, e de outros officiaes, e soldados, ficando muitos prisioneiros … Lisbon: Domingos Rodrigues, 1755.     (A 1755 .N67)

The French and Indian War began badly for Britain. Sent to rout the French from western Pennsylvania, General Edward Braddock’s forces suffered a disastrous defeat on July 9, 1755, at the Battle of Monongahela near present-day Pittsburgh.  Braddock was among the hundreds of British casualties before a young junior officer—George Washington—was able to lead an orderly retreat.  The McGregor Library contains some important primary sources concerning the battle—two are included in the 75th anniversary exhibition now on view—and this very rare, ephemeral pamphlet is the latest addition. News of Braddock’s defeat spread quickly by letter, word of mouth, newspapers and other printed accounts. This newsletter conveyed the news to a Portuguese audience. Following a brief description of the battle (no mention is made of Washington, however) and the diplomatic aftermath, it lists the names of British officers who were killed or wounded.

M1[Thomas Cooper, 1759-1839?] Extract of a letter from a gentleman in America to a friend in England, on the subject of emigration. [London?, 1794?]     (A 1792 .G45)

Likely the first edition (of two published in England ca. 1794) of this concise description of the United States. Written from the perspective of an Englishman contemplating emigration, it offers carefully reasoned arguments for and against settling in specific states. Particular consideration is given to the frontier regions of New York and Kentucky, though the anonymous author concludes that Pennsylvania is the better option. Indeed, that is precisely where the probable author, Thomas Cooper, settled later in 1794 after touring the United States; the letter was likely addressed to, and published at the behest of, Joseph Priestley, who also emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1794. An economist and liberal political thinker, Cooper soon developed a thriving Philadelphia law practice which helped to earn him the esteem of Thomas Jefferson. In 1819 Cooper was the first professor appointed to the faculty of the as-yet-unopened University of Virginia, but he resigned in 1820 following controversy over his religious views. Later he served as president of the University of South Carolina.

M5Christian Gottlieb Glauber, 1755-1804.  Peter Hasenclever.  Landeshut, 1794.     (A 1794 .G53)

Privately printed in a small number of copies, this is a biography of Peter Hasenclever, a German entrepreneur who, by establishing several business enterprises in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York between 1764 and 1769, became Colonial America’s leading industrialist. With the coming of peace following the Seven Years’ War, Hasenclever raised over £50,000 from English backers to open a network of iron mines and ironworks and a potash manufactory, and to raise hemp and harvest timber. His enterprises were staffed by the over 500 German workers who heeded his invitation to emigrate. Hasenclever spent lavishly on his businesses, only to be plunged into bankruptcy in 1769 when his English partners withdrew financial support. After returning to Germany, Hasenclever was able to rebuild his fortune in the textile trade. The biography concludes with a lengthy appendix of letters written by Hasenclever during his American sojourn.

M3Hole in the wall; or A peep at the creed-worshippers. [Philadelphia], 1828.     (A 1828 .H65)

This rare and unusual tract was an important salvo in the bitter schism, or “Great Separation,” between orthodox Quakers and their Hicksite adversaries. By the 1820s significant tensions had arisen between Philadelphia’s wealthy Quaker merchants and the Quaker farmers of southeastern Pennsylvania, who were attracted to the teachings of Elias Hicks—tensions comparable to those between New England Congregationalists and Unitarians. Unable to settle their differences at the 1827 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the two camps set up competing Meetings, with the orthodox Quakers adopting and enforcing a doctrinal creed. This pamphlet, which vigorously promotes the Hicksite view, is “embellished” with three accomplished satirical engravings by the anonymous author.

M4Frances Wright (1795-1852). Course of popular lectures, historical and political, Vol. II.  As delivered by Frances Wright Darusmont, in various cities, towns and counties of the United States. Philadelphia: Published by the author, 1836.     (A 1836 .W75)

During the 1820s and 1830s, Fanny Wright was perhaps the most notorious woman in the United States. Born in Scotland, Wright visited the United States from 1818-1820, recording her observations in the bestselling Views of society and manners in America (1821). Having befriended Lafayette, Wright accompanied him on much of his 1824-1825 tour of America. She then launched a career as a radical political and social reformer. An ardent feminist, freethinker, and friend of labor, Wright visited Robert Owen’s utopian community at New Harmony, Ind., before setting up her own settlement, Nashoba, near Memphis. The objective of this multi-racial community was to promote the abolition of slavery by preparing slaves for freedom. By 1830 it had failed, and Wright henceforth promoted her views through journalism and a career as America’s first prominent female public speaker. This very rare pamphlet in its original wrappers prints the text of three lectures from Wright’s 1836 lecture tour: two praise Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian republic and condemn the contrasting Hamiltonian vision, and a third outlines her abolitionist views.

M2Robert Hubbard (1782-1840).  Historical sketches of Roswell Franklin and family: drawn up at the request of Stephen Franklin. Dansville, N.Y.: A. Stevens for Stephen Franklin, 1839.     (A 1839 .H85)

A rare and very early work of American local history, published in a small town some 40 miles south of Rochester, N.Y.  Written by the local minister at the behest of the Franklin family, most of the book is a biography of the family patriarch, Roswell Franklin (d. 1791 or 1792), drawn primarily from family oral tradition. Born in Woodbury, Conn., Franklin fought for the British in the West Indies and Cuba before moving his family to northeastern Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley in 1770. With the outbreak of revolution, Franklin and his fellow patriots found themselves in a frontier war zone, besieged by British forces and their Iroquois allies. Included here is a vivid account of the 1778 Battle of Wyoming, in which Franklin was one of few patriots to survive. Subsequent chapters describe the family’s role as pioneers, following the expanding frontier northwestward into west central New York, and the tremendous contrasts between Roswell Franklin’s time and America in 1839.