History and Mission

The Center, a joint program of the Information School, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, was founded in 1992 following several years of discussions between the founding co-directors, Wayne Wiegand and James Danky, and Carl Kaestle, the first Chair of the Advisory Board. Wiegand, Danky, and Kaestle, were part of a national conversation about reading, writing, and publishing. This conversation grew out of a sense that the traditional history of the book was limited as it did not account for the reader as well as the larger social processes of texts.  We emphasized our interest in all forms by using the then-new term “print culture.” The preeminent American Antiquarian Society, sponsors of A History of the Book in America Program, limits its collections to the period before 1875, so we determined that our Center would concentrate on the period after 1875.

While the Center occasionally hosted lectures that focused on earlier centuries or other continents, we knew our expertise lay in studying the ways American culture produced and consumed texts.  Between 1992 and 2011 the Center was known as The Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America.  In 2011, however, the title changed to the current Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture, in recognition that print culture research often transcends national borders, and that the Center should be fostering discussion and analysis about both paper and digital forms of print. Studying print and digital cultures not as a rupture between past and future, but rather as related and sometime continuous forms is a hallmark of our contemporary scholarship.

In 1999, the Center developed a book series proposal for the University of Wisconsin Press. Since 2004, the Center has produced all of the publications in the Print Culture History in Modern America series through the Press beginning with 2004. Currently limited to volumes originating in the Center’s biennial conference, the series fosters research and writing on the mediating roles that print has played in American culture since 1876. Its scope encompasses studies of newspapers, books, periodicals, advertising, and ephemera. Special attention is given to groups whose gender, race, class, creed, occupation, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (among other factors) have historically placed them on the periphery of power but who have used print sources as one of the few means of expression available to them.

Early in 2003, Wayne Wiegand left Madison for a named chair in Library and Information Science and a joint appointment as professor in American Studies and Florida State University.  For the next three years, Jim Danky remained as Center Director, before stepping down in October 2006.  Christine Pawley, then a professor (and from 2009 Director) of the School of Library and Information Studies, took over as Center Director for the next six years.  Then in Fall 2012, Greg Downey, a professor in both the School of Library and Information Studies and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, was named Center Director upon Pawley’s retirement from UW-Madison. Downey led the Center for three years, and upon being appointed Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, named Jonathan Senchyne director.

For a more extended account of the Center’s history between 1992 and 2007 see Christine Pawley, “Success on a Shoestring:’ A Center for a Diverse Print Culture History in Modern America” (Library Trends, 56, no 3 (Winter 2008) 705-719

Mission Statement

For centuries Americans have been informed by print; all people in America’s multicultural and multi-class society have used or been influenced by print, sometimes for common purposes, sometimes for different purposes. The goal of the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture is to help determine the historical sociology of print in all its culturally diverse manifestations.

As a joint program of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the School of Library and Information Studies, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, the mission of the Center is to:

  • encourage the interdisciplinary study of print and digital culture history on campus and serve as an interdisciplinary focus for scholarly research by scholars from such diverse fields as literature, journalism, publishing, education, reading and library history, economics, sociology, the history of science, political science, and gender and ethnic studies;
  • facilitate research into the valuable print and digital culture research collections owned by the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Historical Society systems which focus on newspapers, periodicals, advertising, printed ephemeral materials, digital collections, and books (including school and college texts, children’s literature, trade and scholarly monographs, and mass market paperbacks)
  • stimulate research in the print and digital culture history of groups whose gender, race, occupation, ethnicity and sexual preference (among other factors) have historically placed them on the periphery of power but who have used print and digital sources as one of the few means of expression available to them;
  • work with the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, state centers for the book, and appropriate professional organizations on joint programs, exhibits, colloquia, symposia, and publications;
  • raise funds for scholarships, fellowships, and lecture series to assist the study of history of print and digital culture;
  • aid in the development of an international perspective on print and digital culture, including the reception of American publishing abroad, and foreign publishing in the United States, both in English and other languages.

The Center’s functions include:

  • Sponsoring a colloquium series during the school year;
  • Mounting an annual lecture;
  • Organizing a biennial conference on themes related to print and digital culture history;
  • Offering an annual Danky Fellowship to support research in print and digital culture history using the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Wisconsin;
  • Administering a Ph.D. Minor in the History of Print Culture;
  • Editing a book series, History of Print and Digital Culture, published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Complete Operating Procedures Document