Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

  • Monday, November 19, 2018 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

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

We will be welcoming Samantha Sommers for a talk entitled: “Reading in Books: Reading Materially in William Wells Brown’s Clotel.” Sam writes:

The array of texts that William Wells Brown incorporates into his novel Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter (1853) offers a rich case for theorizing the role of the material page in representations of reading. Every few pages, Clotel includes a visually distinct document that Brown sourced from contemporary print culture. In line with my larger project of Reading in Books, I reconceive of Brown’s recirculated texts as implied scenes of reading. I organize my presentation around three scenes that place recirculated texts at the center of the action. These examples reveal Brown’s assertion that the politics of a text are contingent upon an act of reading. When his characters pull snippets of print out of their pockets and read their content aloud, the newspaper articles and advertisements that Brown includes are represented via material texts that operate as props within the fiction. Through this elaborate method of recirculation, Brown challenges us to acknowledge that a piece of text does not have a single stable meaning. He attributes any political effect of reading to the inclinations of the reader, and in doing so, contests critical narratives that privilege reading as a mechanism for the formation of a liberal subject.   

Sam Sommers received her Ph.D. in English from UCLA in September 2018. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century American and African American literature, book history, print culture studies, and the history of reading. In her work, Sommers explores the potential for a book history approach to guide interpretation of literature. This year she is part of the inaugural cohort for the President’s Postdoctoral Scholars Program at The Ohio State University. 

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: Gary Dyer (Cleveland State): “John Hunt's Lord Byron"

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”