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  • Monday, October 8, 2018 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center, 6th Floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

Priyasha Mukhopadhyay is an Assistant Professor of English at Yale University. She works at the intersection of South Asian literature, the history of the book, and postcolonial studies. She is currently working on a book manuscript (which bears the same title as her talk), Unread: A History of the Book in Colonial South Asia. She is the co-editor of The Global Histories of Books: Methods and Practices (Palgrave, 2017).

About the talk: 

In the years between 1857 and 1914, printed paper circulated in unprecedented quantities through South Asia in the form of books and documents, both in English and local languages. Yet, was anyone reading the texts that were thought to drive the empire’s cultural, economic, and political projects? This is the question that my current book project explores. Turning to the colonial literary and historical archive, we find a world of unlikely readers: bored soldiers, savvy peasants, impatient office clerks, and aspirational women. These were people, I argue, who had always been marginal to reading publics, and yet derived their understanding of what it meant to inhabit empire through close and even intimate relationships with everyday forms of print. But in their hands, the emblematic documents of empire routinely went unread.

In this talk, I use the example of the panjika, the Bengali-Hindu almanac, to think through what an unread book in colonial South Asia might look like. Drawing on publishing records, literary accounts, and readers’ annotations, I show how the panjika emerged as a text that was meant to be used repeatedly, but was only read superficially and selectively, if at all. In doing this, I will touch upon some of the larger methodological questions and challenges with which my book project engages: What constitutes the act of reading? Is a book ever left unread? And finally: What can the history of reading gain by taking seriously instances of not reading?

All are welcome! Those who do not hold University of Pennsylvania ID cards should bring another form of photo identification in order to enter the library building.


Sep. 17: Nicholas Herman (Penn): “The Book-Shaped Object in Renaissance Europe”

Sep. 24, 25, 27 - Rosenbach Lectures: Carlo Ginzburg (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa): Fossils, Apes, Humans: A Chapter in the History of Science, Revisited

- Sep. 24: “Paleontology and Connoisseurship”

- Sep. 25: “Gods, Humans, Apes: Art History and Evolution”

- Sep. 27: “Medals and Shells: On Morphology and History, Once Again”

Oct. 1: Whitney Trettien (Penn): “Digital Book History”

Oct. 8: Priyasha Mukhopadhyay (Yale): “Unread: A History of the Book in Colonial South Asia”

Oct. 15: J.M. Duffin (Penn): “Draining the Swamp of Arcane Legal Text: Reclaiming the Geography of Eighteenth Century Philadelphia”

Oct. 22: Katie Chenoweth (Princeton): “Printers’ Devices, or, How French Got Its Accents”

Oct. 29: Sarah Guérin (Penn): “On Ivory, Wax, and Paint: New Insights on Devotional Booklets”

Nov. 5: Margo Natalie Crawford (Penn): “The Textual Production of a Shared Black Edge

Nov. 12: David Norbrook (Oxford): “‘But a copie’: Lucy Hutchinson’s Life in her Texts”

Nov. 19: Samantha Sommers (Ohio State): “Reading in Books”

Nov. 26: TBA

Dec. 3: Mitch Fraas (Penn): “Boilerplate: Documentation, Paperwork, and the Persistence of Form across the Early Modern and Modern Worlds”

Dec. 10: Arthur Kiron (Penn): “Hidden in Plain Sight: Christian Readers of Rabbinic Literature in the Colonial Americas”