Back in March, the New Republic posted a piece bemoaning the recent trend in overly long Acknowledgments sections in books , but it turns out the practice of thanking a lengthy list goes way back. When Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian man who was snatched from his home into slavery in the mid 1700s, penned his self-published autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, the first several pages of the first edition was packed with 311 names.
According to James Walvin, who has written a biography on Equiano, the use of subscribers was a “well-tried method.” Walvin illuminates:
The subscription system of publication had a long an honourable tradition, and was, in essence, a variant of the old aristocratic patronage of writing and publication. By the late eighteenth century, subscription had become an accepted way for unknown writers to break into print. The list of subscribers was printed in the books, at once flattering them and revealing the author’s connections with distinguished patrons.
In Equiano’s case, the list indicated ties to the British royal family, abolitionists and other powerful supporters that helped make it easier for him to gain entree to new markets across Europe, and ultimately publish nine editions of his book. Formerly enslaved, Equiano died a bestselling author with his story translated into Dutch, German and Russian.