Document Type

Open Access Article

Author Biography

John J. Garcia is Director of Scholarly Programs and Partnerships at the American Antiquarian Society and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography.


This article pursues two lines of inquiry: first, recovering the presence of Black labor in the history of the book in colonial North America, the British Caribbean, and the early United States, with a second and complementary discussion of why critique must be foregrounded in the field formation of critical bibliography. Free and enslaved Black men and women helped make early American books possible. Their presences are to be found at the edges and vicinities of print cultural production, in roles such as papermaking, wagon driving, and forms of domestic labor that extended to the libraries and reading practices of white slaveholding societies. This article further contends that critique, specifically the modes of reflexive inquiry proposed by Michel Foucault’s “historical-philosophical” archival practice and Theodor Adorno’s negative dialectics, could connect the archival tools of bibliography to reparative scholarship and political dissent. This essay’s recovery of Black women and men in the history of the book is therefore a critique of long-standing assumptions that bibliography and book history is a largely white topic, and the essay challenges scholars to examine their own investments in bibliography, which has a long history of exclusionary practices.

(In the issue section "Uncovering Labor")