Abstract

Too few humor scholars have taken advantage of new resources and research methodologies for studying humor as it circulated in newspapers and magazines in the nineteenth-century US. This article argues that tracing reprints of comic material in periodicals unearths popular nineteenth-century US humor. Such recovery is important because the jokes that readers and editors read and recycled reveal both their fascinations and fears. Additionally, subsequent reprints reshape meaning to fit a different moment for a different audience. To exemplify this approach, this article performs readings of one viral joke that was reprinted over a hundred times in American periodicals between 1856 and 1877. It identifies publication clusters and trends, notes how the joke morphed over time, and considers its shifting meanings as it appeared in different publication outlets and contexts at different times alongside different news items.

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