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This is the intertwined economic and cultural histories of private support for the arts and humanities before and contemporaneous to the rise of the German-style research university in the United States. In many ways, this recovers the nineteenth-century precursor to the more recent crowdsourcing and crowdfunding movement. It investigates how the California bookseller Hubert Howe Bancroft’s for-profit historical enterprise used subscription publishing to raise the necessary capital and to elicit cultural support for its end-to-end production of what its contributors hoped would be the definitive history of Pacific North America, from Alaska to Panama and inland to the Rocky Mountains, from antiquity to their present. The company adapted its existing subscription publishing infrastructure to canvass western North America, crowdsourcing the production of the core manuscript collection of what became the University of California, Berkeley’s eponymous Bancroft Library. A team of employees worked collaboratively to index the growing library and to write the thirty-nine volumes of The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft. Book agents sold advance subscriptions to the full series to elite and common people in western North America, the eastern United States, and Europe.

I argue that while its industrial means of intellectual production damaged the reputation of Bancroft’s enterprise and its histories among popular and scholarly critics in the twentieth century, the company built a diverse and expansive public support for its enterprise by proudly advertising those methods. Before the modern research university offered a steady funding source for scholarly knowledge, people worried more about whether an important work could be completed than about how it would be completed. By appealing to enduring public sympathies for subscriptions, broadly construed, as a reliable way to support and to associate with learned societies and important intellectual and cultural works, Bancroft & Company summoned a diverse, transnational public to its cause.


This is Travis E. Ross' dissertation submitted to the faculty of the University of Utah, in partial-fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy