Leon Jackson is Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina. His areas of specialisation include early national and antebellum literature and the history of the book.
His recently published The Business of Letters (Stanford 2008) is a study of authorship in early national and antebellum America that seeks to shift scholarly focus away from an emphasis on the professionalization of writing and toward a more nuanced and historically grounded understanding of authorial exchange practices. His core argument is that in the early nineteenth century, authorship was transacted not through a single ‘marketplace,’ but rather through multiple economies, each with their own rules, logics, and sometimes even currencies. He argues, moreover, that the core historical transformation in the economic practice of authorship was not from amateur to professional writing, but from economies characterized by social embeddedness to more impersonal forms of authorial exchange.
His new project, Scarlet Letters, is a cultural history of embarrassment and shame in nineteenth century America. Drawing on an eclectic variety of sources including city mystery novels, penny papers, blackmail letters, etiquette manuals, educational treatises, private diaries, credit reports, court records, and reported gossip, he tries to reconstruct the experience of being-for-others in a world increasingly defined by anonymity and mediated by the printed word. At present he is pursuing his interests in print culture, working at present in two review essays, one on the history of the book and recent studies of antebellum American literature, the other on the ways in which African American Studies and print culture studies have – and have not – intersected.