Len von Morzé

Sabbatical Fellow


“A Multilingual Public Sphere: Language Politics and the Non-Anglophone Book Trade in the Early U.S. Republic

Len von Morzé is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he was Chair of the English Department from 2017 to 2021. In addition to an edition of Charles Brockden Brown’s early periodical writings, he is working on a book project provisionally entitled A Multilingual Public Sphere. This project follows several recent studies in bringing literary-critical tools to bear on non-Anglophone authors and readers, and seeks to join these scholars in continuing to expand the canon of an early American literature that was for a long time monolingual. In contrast to many recent studies, however, this project draws on the history of the book to treat the materiality of texts as evidence of cultural phenomena—in this case, of the ways that linguistic difference, and sometimes ethnicity, became visible and invisible in early America. Looking closely at periodical culture as well as the production and importing of books, the project asks how German printing and reading, in particular, shaped opinion in ways that may justify the use of the concept of the “public sphere.” How might we account for the extraordinary labor of producing bilingual and even trilingual periodicals in the first decade of the nineteenth century? How did early experiments with visual art communicate to multilingual publics? How can we explain the apparent lack of political anxiety about the potential Babel of competing tongues that lurked in a new democracy? Along the way, the project considers the alphabetization of Indigenous languages and the representation of dialect as ways that a new “whiteness” was materialized in print; printed works created parallel ethnic publics united and divided by translation.


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