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[Detail] Illustration of the shield of Virginia, from the eighteenth century

Literary Reviews

As early as the 1870s, brief quotations from reviews extolling the virtues of a book were being extracted and printed in a book's front matter (today these quotations would be referred to as "blurbs"). When J. Thomas Scharf published "The Chronicles of Baltimore," he culled several "Recommendations as Extracted from the Baltimore Newspaper Press" to print in his book, including such statements as:

Baltimore American— "His exhaustive researches leave but little for the writers who come after him to do, except to copy that which he has gleaned from ancient manuscripts."

Baltimorean— "It will be, by large odds, the most perfect, thorough and complete history of the city ever published. No Baltimorean, or son or daughter of a Baltimorean, will content themselves without a book which promises to be so valuable."

("Recommendations as Extracted from the Baltimore Newspaper Press" in "The Chronicles of Baltimore")

Read the entire set of quotations and write a brief description of what you expect this work to be like based on the quotations. Then examine the chronicles.

  • Does the work meet the expectations created by the quotations? Why or why not?
  • What would you say about the work if you were reviewing it?
  • What might account for the work not meeting your expectations based on the quotations—Differing views of what history books should be like in 1876 and the early 2000s? Selective quoting from reviews? Varying levels of interest in the subject matter?

Pick a contemporary history book on a topic of interest to you and examine any quotations on or in the book. How are they similar to or different from the quotations provided with "The Chronicles of Baltimore"? Do they more accurately reflect the book? Why or why not?

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