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Matthew Brown

“Competition, Cooperation, and Knowledge Production

in Early 18th Century British America: The Case of Franklin”

Matthew Brown, University of Iowa


The settings of Boston and Philadelphia in early eighteenth-century British America are useful for understanding a nascent urban culture in the early modern period. My research on early American print history illuminates the formation of urban culture in these peripheral ports. Emergent in these settings are central traits of city life which bear on how knowledge is constructed and transmitted: multiple prints shops, rival newspapers, relations between strangers, and public spheres. These traits are predicated in part on the intensified market economies that denote port city life. Print-house competition, the threat of strangers, and public debate are agonistic phenomena reinforced by market relations. Yet city life is also informed by alternative economies that shape knowledge production. Giving, sharing, and bartering—usually associated with interpersonal or local exchange, or situated in village or court—have their place in the print ecology of early American cities. The early book trades career of Benjamin Franklin will help exemplify these dynamics of agon and consensus, of competition and cooperation.

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