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History of the Book

ENGL 497.601
instructor(s):
R 4:30-7:10

This course is designed as an introduction to selected topics in the history of texts in the early modern period for graduate students in the humanities. It is NOT a soup-to-nuts course on the "history of the book" as conventionally understood and presented in universities today. Rather, it is an attempt to get at discrete issues in the history of texts -- their creation, production, dissemination, and reception -- by way of the texts themselves as material artifacts. Many lack of content. The issues are abstract, the readings amorphous and baggy. To paraphrase Dr. Phish: is there a course in this class?

What we try to do, on the other hand, is literally to give the course content: content to read, content to handle and to study. Thus, one of the essential components of the course will be the need to consult original or early manifestations of selected texts. The texts we have selected are all in English. Yes, while this may be parochial, it is also practical. It guarantees the ready availability of certain texts and allows us to avoid dealing with issues of translation for the linguistically-challenged. The repertoire includes a variety of literary, historical, scientific, and religious texts -- something for everyone. If you have a "favorite text" or textual problem that is not on the syllabus, we can probably find a way to accommodate you. We are neither rigid nor committed to our own canon of privileged artifacts. For us, these texts are lab specimens, the stuff of analysis and experiment. Thousands of others could have been -- and can be -- used. The history of books is a large and spacious tent; it is by definition inclusive and democratic.