A New Literary History of America (Magill's Literary Annual 2010)
Literary historians normally subscribe to the notion that literary history must be occasionally rewritten to reflect not only changes in the literary scene but also changes in the perceptions of its audience. Editions of the first large-scale work on American literature after World War II, Literary History of the United Statesoften identified as “Spiller,” after the first in its list of six editors, Robert E. Spillerappeared in 1947, 1953, 1963, and 1973. The work’s last two revisions, appearing at intervals of ten years, suggested to its editors that the passage of a decade should signal the time for a fresh look at American literature. When a new edition of Spiller did not appear in the 1980’s, the Columbia Literary History of the United States sought to supplant it in 1988. Like Spiller, it had well over a thousand pages. An interval of twenty-one more years has brought A New Literary History of America from a coalition at Harvard University led by editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors.
With respect to mere size, the three works do not differ substantially. A New Literary History of America is somewhat shorter in page count, but given its slightly larger format, its length in words is similar to those of its predecessors. The number of editors for each volume keeps increasing. Counting editors variously referred to as associates, advisers, and board members, the fourth edition of Spiller has nine, the...
(The entire section is 2046 words.)
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