COURSE TITLE: The History of Books: Literacy, Technology and Passionate Readers
NAME OF INSTRUCTOR: Elizabeth Willson-Gordon
CREDIT WEIGHT AND WEEKLY TIME DISTRIBUTION: credits 3(hrs lect 3 - hrs sem 0 - hrs lab 0)
COURSE DESCRIPTION: From monks in monasteries writing manuscripts to digital books and online discussions, this course will explore the changing technologies of communication and the impact these technologies have on social interaction, cultural products, and human thought. Courses on Book History are offered in history departments, in digital humanities programs, in graduate library programs, and in English departments. This course offers an in-depth study of a number of literary texts (both fiction and non-fiction) coupled with the historical study of books as objects. The analysis of the content of these texts will be enhanced by the study of their form and the larger economic, historical, and cultural context for the texts. We will therefore also pay attention to ink, paper, book covers, and typography.

Prerequisites: ENGL 215 and at least three credits of English at the 300-level.
  • The Book History Reader ed. David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery
  • The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (Penguin)
  • Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (Any Edition)
  • Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf (Norton)
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Mariner)
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Harper)
  • Other readings will be available via moodle
Journals (7 total) 10%
Short paper (1000-12000 words)15%
Research Paper30%
Course Professionalism and Engagement 10%
Final Exam 20%
COURSE OBJECTIVES: This course will help students to understand and appreciate books as physical objects as well as cultural constructions. We will examine texts from a range of historical time periods and geographic locations. The class is roughly organized around phases of development in book technology. Each section is anchored by a literary text and supplemented by other readings and activities. Each work, in addition to illuminating a time period, has been chosen because of the treatment of literacy within the book. In examining the profound shifts from manuscript culture to print culture to digital culture we gain an understanding of history that illuminates the present moment. We will explore the ways in which eighteenth-century periodicals prefigure Twitter, and how the release of the final volume of Charles Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop had the cultural impact of the release of J. K. Rowling’s final installment of the Harry Potter Series. The texts we will read had, and have, passionate and engaged readers. We will chart the readers’ reactions, read reviews, and look at letters written to the authors and editors as well as examining and sharing our own responses to them.

Book history studies has its roots in the study of scripture and many of the key moments in print history involved  productions of the Bible and other religious texts. In addition to examining these roots, this course will explore the interpretive layers surrounding a text and provide students with specialized literacy skills. In so doing, this course will encourage students to read in new ways, skills that are broadly applicable, but are specially suited to reading as a faith enhancing practice.

As a 400-level course, the reading load for this class is substantial

  • January       
    • 9 Introduction: Syllabus, Required Texts, Assignments; What is Book History?
    • 11 Robert Darnton “What is the History of Books” in BH Reader
    • 14 Journal 1 Due; From Orality to Literacy: Walter Ong “Orality and Literacy: Writing   Restructures Consciousness” in BH Reader
    • 16 Jessica Brantley “The Prehistory of the Book” (Moodle)
    • 18 Manuscript culture: Marcel Thomas “Manuscripts” in BH Reader
    • 21    Journal 2 Due; The People of the Book (There is some disturbing content in this novel)
    • 23    No Class—IS Conference
    • 25    The People of the Book
    • 28    The People of the Book
    • 30    The People of the Book
  • February  
    • The People of the Book and Introduction to Genette’s Paratexts (Moodle)
    • 4 From manuscript culture to print culture (Moodle)
    • 6 Christianity and the Codex (Moodle)
    • 8 Segger Archive Visit
    • 11 Journal 3 Due; Eighteenth-Century authorship and publishing: The rise of periodicals and coffee house     culture (Moodle) and Richard Altick “The English Common Reader: From Caxton to the Eighteenth Century” in BH Reader
    • 13 Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator (Moodle)
    • 15 Jonathan Rose “Reading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of  Audiences” in BH Reader
    • 18     No Class—Reading Week
    • 20     No Class—Reading Week
    • 22     No Class—Reading Week   
    • 25     Journal 4 Due; Victorian Readers, circulating libraries, serial publication (Moodle) and Kate Flint    “Reading Practices” in BH Reader
    • 27    Dickens The Old Curiosity Shop
  • March
    • 1 The Old Curiosity Shop, The immense popularity of Dickens—readers’ letters and reactions
    • 4 Short Paper Due; The Old Curiosity Shop, film and television adaptations
    • 6 Twentieth-Century Authorship and Publishing: small presses and mass market  publishing: “Modern Times” (Moodle)
    • 8 Archival Visit/Paper Discussion
    • 11     Journal 5 Due; Woolf’s Jacob’s Room
    • 13     Jacob’s Room
    • 15  Jacob’s Room and the Modernist Archives Publishing Project
    • 18   Journal 6 Due; Graphic Novels and memoir: Bechdel’s Fun Home: a tragicomic
    • 20   Fun Home: a tragicomic
    • 22      Fun Home: a tragicomic and censorship (Moodle)
    • 25      Paper Abstracts Due; Twenty-first century book publishing: advertising, celebrity authors, and book clubs (Moodle)
    • 27     Fanfiction and “Special Books for Special Readers” (Moodle)
    • 29     Bookstores (Moodle)
  •   April
    • 1   Journal 7 Due; Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
    • 3    Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
    • 5    Research Paper Due; Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
    • 8     Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” and Foucault’s “What is an Author?” in BH Reader
    • 10  The Future of the Book: digital texts, e-books, online literacy: Poster’s “The Digital     Subject and Cultural Theory” in BH Reader and “The Digital Revolution” (Moodle)
    • 12   Book “Pot luck”
    • 15   Research Findings
    • 17   Review Class

Required texts, assignments, and grade distributions may vary from one offering of this course to the next. Please consult the course instructor for up to date details.

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