Cultures of the Book
The book: it’s a soothingly familiar technology, one we all know how to operate. Open the front covers to reveal the text; turn the page to continue reading. Yet even the most seemingly ordinary aspects of the book, like titles and page numbers, had to be invented. In this course, we will work to defamiliarize the book, investigating how the form we know to today came to be. Working closely each class period with rare books and manuscripts at Penn and other Philadelphia libraries, we will conceptually pull apart the material codex into its constituent parts and examine them in a variety of social, historical, and literary contexts. While we will be focusing primarily on the Western book, we will also consider the history of the book in Mesoamerica and Asia, tracing the emergence of paper and moveable type back to Imperial China. We will also work comparatively to examine the codex in relation to other forms, like scrolls, palm leaf manuscripts, and hard disk drives. Students will have the opportunity to work closely with a rare artifact and contribute directly to an ongoing public humanities project on the history of the book.