Beginnings

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As I adjust to my new position as Interim Director of Undergraduate Studies, I’ll also be teaching two courses this semester: one new, the other familiar.  In the latter, I’ll be of the team responsible for the online section of English 203: Introduction of World Literature, a course enrolled by more 500 students.  The new course, meanwhile, is a graduate seminar on Book History, a course I’ve been looking forward to for the past year.  I’ve copied the course description below, but check out the course website for a more detailed list of readings, resources, and assignments.

ENG 644: Methods in Book History

Course Description
This course provides a broad survey and introduction to theoretical issues in the history of the book. As our culture transitions from print to digital media, interest in the book as a material artifact has exploded, leading to a dynamic field of study that now encompasses both traditional disciplines like bibliography, antiquarianism, philology, and textual scholarship, as well as more recent theories in communication studies, material culture, and media theory.

This course will survey a few significant trends in book history through theoretical readings, historical scholarship, and literary case studies, with specific attention placed on reverse engineering the book as technology of writing—a material artifact for storing, processing, and transmitting the elementary bits of culture (the sounds, letters, and other notations that constitute texts, narrative, information, and history). Topics to investigate will include: the history of alphabetic writing; the invention of moveable type; the history of literacy and alphabetization, specifically as it registers in children’s literature; the circulation of information and other media in the Enlightenment; the industrialization of book production in the nineteenth century; the rise of authorship, copyright, and other publishing institutions; the evolution of design, format, and other diagrammatic interfaces of the book; the role of readers in the production of community; and the influence of digital technologies in reshaping the basic elements of literacy and publishing.

Critical and historical essays will include foundational work by Michael Foucault, Walter Ong, Roger Chartier, Jerome McGann, D.F. McKenzie, Elizabeth Eisenstein, and Peter Stallybrass, as well as selected readings in literary and media theory by Friedrich Kittler, Lisa Gitelman, Meredith McGill, Andrew Piper, Matthew Kirschenbaum, and N. Katherine Hayles. Literary case studies will include Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and Mark Twain’s No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, in addition to a few poems and short stories. Course requirements include active participation in discussions and writing assignments, a reading journal, an oral presentation, a short history of an archival object, and a final paper based on materials from the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Required Texts:

  • David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, ed. The Book History Reader. Second Edition: 978-0415359481 (Amazon); First Edition: 978-0415226585 (Amazon)
  • Michelle Levy and Tom Mole, ed., The Broadview Reader in Book History, 9781554810888 (Amazon)
  • Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, 978-0393935615 (Amazon)
  • Mark Twain, No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, 978-0520270008 (Amazon)
  • All other required readings listed on the course schedule (available through Dropbox folder).

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