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History of the Book

ENGL 034.601
Wednesdays 4:30-7:30 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector IV: Interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Sciences of the College's General Education Curriculum


This course asks how a text's packaging influences what it means. We'll explore the history of bookmaking, placing it alongside the development of other print media -- from magazines and newspapers to pamphlets, broadsheets, tablets, and Kindles. What might it really mean to judge a book by its cover—or the pages or pixels that make it up?

Surveying the British and American traditions, we will trace how books have been produced, sold, and read from the invention of printing to the digital age. Our aim will be to read important books -- including Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, William Blake, Herman Melville, Lord Byron, and Shelley Jackson -- in new ways. We'll pair short historical and theoretical readings with these texts, analyzing their material features, their production, and thus their connection to the study of literature. We will ask ourselves how we must interpret them differently, in light of their material conditions and form

Assignments will include a presentation, a description and analysis of a rare book, and a final paper.