ENGL3717: Special topics: materiality of the book

Term: Fall 2018

Course description: Literary scholars usually think of their objects of study as “texts,” an all-purpose word which denotes a piece of literature in the abstract. A poem, for example, may be republished in countless collections, but there is, theoretically at least, one text. In this course, we shall focus on books over texts. We will trace the history of the production of books in the west, from the medieval manuscript to the ebook: how they were written, published, and distributed. We will study technologies of book production and how they shape, and are shaped by, the texts being produced, from the scribe’s quill, iron gall ink, and calf’s skin, to mass production in a global economy. We will explore the various disciplines and sub-disciplines related to literary studies such as history of the book, bibliography, and textual studies. Our focus throughout will be the physical object: how it is made, how it finds its way to the reader’s hand, and how it informs our reading. This will be a hands-on course; I will try to warn you ahead of time the days when you might want to bring a smock or apron.