Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) both past and present named after the early nineteenth-century British mathematician. Here in our corner of early American studies, I want to mark the occasion by working through a question that I’ve worked on in my own writing for years: how do we effectively integrate women into the history of printing in early America?
It’s hard to write about early American print culture or intellect without thinking a lot about geography. Scholars like Trish Loughran, Richard John, John Fea, John Brooke, and Mary Kelley have suggested, in all sorts of ways, that it’s often wise to understand “the” early American public as a web of fundamentally local reading and writing publics. Intellectual culture meant something different from what it means in an age of mass media. But tricky questions come up when you try to write a local history of ideas or culture. Just how local can we reasonably go? How much detail can we actually use in an intellectual map of the early United States without getting lost in coincidences and irrelevance?