The idea for this class emerged from a simple observation shared in conversation by several of the people who are teaching it together. Viz., finding information at a time when both information resources themselves and the institutions that house and make them accessible have experienced enormous growth is a problem for all scholars.
It is a particularly daunting problem for those starting out in early modern fields -- art history, political, social, or cultural history, the history of science, literature, music history, philosophy, or any other subject with interests in periods ranging roughly from the high middle ages until the French Revolution. Recent developments in web-based and electronic and digital media, which serve only to increase the amount of information (and mis-information) available to students, have not served to make it any less daunting.
TEXTS -- printed books, manuscript books, other kinds of manuscript survivials, and the varied illustrations or images ("texts" for our purposes) that a multitude of techniques exist to create, transmit, and preserve alongside or separately from "verbal" texts -- are central to all of the humanistic disciplines that study aspects of the early modern. Their very centrality poses students related issues. If finding secondary sources of information about the texts we study is troublesome, then finding the primary texts themselves can be at least as tricky. How to access the wealth of such materials, scattered as they are throughout the world and but fitfully, if at all, represented in print or web-based facsimiles, is only the most obvious of these difficulties.
In addition, studies during the past few decades of what is variously called the history of books and printing, l'histoire du livre, or print culture -- among many other terms -- indicate another range of issues that also ask for attention. How these texts came to be so scattered is a reflection of the ways in which they were produced, used, consumed, and, ultimately, valorized or forgotten once the original impetus that led to their creation was satisfied. The physical and economic conditions under which these works came into existence, as well as multiple shifts in taste, fashion, and scholarship's interests, have all affected the ways in which they are now found and the conditions under which they exist and are allowed out for use.
Texts pose yet another important issue that students are not always asked to confront. The forms in which students and readers -- undergraduates; graduate students; faculty; general readers (if any such critter can still be imagined) -- encounter them are always mediated and constructed. Mediation and construction are sometimes conscious and deliberate, more often unconscious and inadvertent, processes. But they always affect whatever a user reads or looks at.
The final project for this class will therefore ask students -- in consultation with faculty from the disciplines most relevant to their area of interest -- to edit a text. That process should bring together the information-finding skills honed during the first weeks of the class. It should also permit students to see the value of obtaining information about the conditions under which the text at issue came into being in the form in which the student is working with it. It might also suggest what discussion of a text's significance for the history of scholarship in its field needs to know about developments within scholarship's own history, and why.
The success of this course depends entirely on your willingness to be engaged by the topic, the material, and by each other. You need to keep up with the reading and exercises. Above all, talk to one another during our class meetings. The instructors will facilitate discussion and suggest some broader historical, cultural, and methodological contexts for the materials that we read and work with, but a good deal of the direction and momentum of our conversations will be for you to determine.
A final project -- preferably but not necessarily editorial in nature, and also related to students' dissertation research plans -- will be decided in consultation with relevant faculty.
Before that project comes due, however, it will be obvious even from the partial syllabus below that every week will involve a variety not only of readings but also of exercises. The class will lack point for those who are unwilling to keep up week by week with both. Your active and informed participation in our discussions will be, quite simply, a sine qua non of any success this class may have.
Texts will be short. This is a class in which emphasis is placed most heavily on doing and only relatively lightly on reading. Texts will be distributed by photocopies distributed in class the week before they come up for discussion or else placed in Rosengarten Reserve for your use.