English 298/301--History of Books and Printing, 1800-1950
Instructor: Daniel Traister
Spring 1995

Office: Special Collections, Van Pelt Library
Phone: 215 898 7088 / Fax: 215 573 9079
E-mail: traister@pobox.upenn.edu

Return to Daniel Traister's Home Page.
Here are some online resources specifically directed to this course and here are Traister's general history of books and printing resources.



This course examines printing, book production, and the production, dissemination, and reception of print cultures after 1800. As modern industrial technologies increased both the abundance of cheap paper and the speed and output of the printing press, industrializing societies became increasingly literacy-dependent. We will read historical studies which describe these changes and examine the impact on western cultures and societies of the increased availability of printed matter and the rise in literacy rates. We will also read some texts suggestive of various ways in which "literary" writers responded to the literary production conditions of their times and the possibilities now open to, and the demands now constricting, them.

Readings will concentrate on the history of, and on products deriving from, the Anglo-American tradition. Students are encouraged, however, to consider the growing number of studies tracing developments in other cultures, as well.

This course is intended to introduce some of the issues that the concatenation of changes mentioned above raises, issues including, but not limited to: (1) how changes in the physical conditions of production altered or reflected the changing role of print within society; (2) how authors, printers, publishers, and reading publics redefined the ways in which they interacted with one another; (3) how the rise of mass literacy impacted upon the kind of materials produced for mass audiences; (4) how various economic and intellectual interests converge and diverge in the "republic of letters"/"marketplace of ideas"; (5) how new conditions enabled writers and publishers to target printed products at selected market segments (by gender, class, interests, reading levels, and so forth) in ways not always possible at earlier times. Readings will include standard historical/bibliographical books and articles, as well as a number of literary works that embody certain themes of interest to this class.

A word of important advice

The instructor urges--NOTE that "urges" is NOT equivalent to "requires"!--students to read the following works, or as much of them as possible, during the first two to three weeks of the course. They are readable. They also provide contexts for thinking about some of the issues raised by the works to be read during the semester.

  1. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The printing revolution in early modern europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983). THIS IS AN ABRIDGEMENT OF ONE OF THE TWO MOST SEMINAL MODERN BOOKS ON PRINTING HISTORY; IT IS AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK.

  2. Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The coming of the book, trans. David Gerard (London and New York: NLB Verso, 1984). THIS IS THE OTHER OF THE TWO MOST SEMINAL MODERN BOOKS ON PRINTING HISTORY; THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PAPERBACK EDITIONS.


Course mechanics

This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 P.M. to 3 P.M. in Bennett Hall 225. If class size permits, we will move to the Lea Library, located on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We may occasionally reschedule or relocate in order to accommodate the showing of movies or tapes.

The instructor's office is nearby, in the Department of Special Collec- tions, sixth floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. You can reach him by telephone (215 898 7088) or in person at that location. He is normally in the office between 9 and 5 weekdays, but please telephone before showing up. You can also communicate by e-mail (directly at traister@pobox.upenn.edu or through the class list at traister298@english.upenn.edu).

Members of the class must submit two response papers, each 1 to 2 pages in length and no more. The syllabus calls for a single-topic response from every member of the class due at the 4th session (January 26th). Other response topics are suggested for other weeks. Choose ANY OTHER and submit it at the class for which it is relevant. Responses will not be accepted after the class which discusses the materials they discuss. Responses are NOT graded but must be turned in. (The instructor will use them to indicate writing problems, if any.)

Students must write and submit by March 2nd a 4-5 page description of a nineteenth-century book. How this description is to be done will be discussed in class. On May 9th (during exam week) a FINAL PAPER of some 10-15 pages is due. (There is no final examination.) This essay should consider some materials not otherwise read in class and use primary materials of some sort in doing so. CHOOSE A TOPIC AND WRITE THIS PAPER ONLY AFTER DISCUSSING IT WITH THE INSTRUCTOR. Follow MLA or Chicago format rules in its preparation. Death (preferably yours) is the acceptable excuse for lateness. In general, the instructor appreciates good writing. Not only does he look with disfavor upon poorly-written essays, he will also actively, eagerly, and with malice aforethought, lower their grade. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking. USE THE WRITING CENTER IF THIS IS AN AREA IN WHICH YOU KNOW--OR LEARN--THAT YOU NEED HELP.

This class will work through both discussion and (more rarely) lectures. Your attendance will make a difference in its success--and your attendance and participation in your grade. Ground rules: talk; interrupt; open your mouths. Be polite but do not let politeness get in the way of making your points. NOTE: The instructor is eager but (perhaps) not lunatic; he has noticed that he is asking you to read a lot. Do as much as you can. He hopes that relatively light writing and no exam requirements will help make the reading load a bit more palatable (and possible).

Course books

Required books

Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions, trans. H. J. Hunt (Penguin)
Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford)
George Gissing, New Grub Street (Penguin)
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (Penguin)
Mario Puzo, The Godfather (Signet)
Susannah Rowson, Charlotte Temple, ed. Cathy N. Davidson (Oxford)
Danielle Steel, Message from Nam (Delacorte)

Reserve and recommended books

The instructor appends below a list of books on reserve in the Rosengarten Reserve Room (Van Pelt Library, basement level) or books that he recommends for your general self-improvement.


Week 1--17 and 19 January:
Introduction to the course

Week 2--24 and 26 January
Looking at books

General response topic (due 26 January):

Week 3--31 January and 2 February
More looking at books

Week 4--7 and 9 February
Early bestsellers

Response topic:

Week 5--14 and 16 February
The Republic of Letters / The Literary Marketplace

Week 6--21 and 23 February
The Republic of Letters / The Literary Marketplace, part 2

Response topic:

Week 7--28 February and 2 March

7 and 9 March

Week 8--14 and 16 March
Impacts of literacy

Week 9--21 and 23 March
Impacts of literacy, part 2

Response topic:

NOTE: Meetings in Washington and Chicago will take the instructor out of town this week. Substitutes MAY be arranged (TBA).

Week 10--28 and 30 March
The Republic of Letters / The Literary Marketplace, part 3

Week 11--4 and 6 April
The Republic of Letters / The Literary Marketplace, part 4

Response topic:

Week 12--11 and 13 April
Mass markets

Week 13--18 and 20 April
Mass markets, part 2

Response topic:

Week 14--25 and 27 April
Targeted / segmented markets