English 298/401
History of Books and Printing, 1800-1950

Instructor: Daniel Traister
Spring 1997


Office: Special Collections, Van Pelt Library
Phone: 215 898 7088 / Fax: 215 573 9079

E-mail: traister@pobox.upenn.edu

Click here for online resources directed at this course.
Click here for general history of books and printing resources.
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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; printed products became characteristic of industrialized societies, and the ability to "navigate" those products increasingly came to characterize their inhabitants. In this class, we will

Readings include both works of history and historical bibliography and a number of "literary" works that vivify certain themes relevant to the subject of this class. Both will concentrate on the history of, and on products deriving from, the Anglo-American tradition. Interested students are encouraged to consider the growing number of studies tracing developments in other languages and cultures, as well.

This course is intended to introduce some of the issues that the concatenation of changes mentioned above raises. These issues include, but are 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," or the "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.

A word of important advice

The instructor urges students who have not taken English 297, the "first half" of this course, to read the following works, or as much of them as possible, during the first two to three weeks of the course. NOTE that "urges" is NOT equivalent to "requires"!

Not only are these books readable but also they provide helpful historicizing contexts for thinking about some of the issues raised by the works to be read during this "second" semester.

  1. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The printing revolution in early modern europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983). This text 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 text is THE OTHER OF THE TWO MOST SEMINAL MODERN BOOKS on printing history; it is also available in paperback.

  3. Philip Gaskell, A new introduction to bibliography (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1972). This text is MOST IMPORTANT FOR PHYSICAL, TECHNICAL, AND PRODUCTION DETAILS in the period before 1800. Try to read those sections for background. NOTE that this is one of your REQUIRED TEXTS, so you will have a copy of this book!

Course mechanics

This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. in the Lea Library (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 Collections (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 his whereabouts vary so 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).

Students are responsible for several one- to two-page response papers intended to facilitate class discussion. The syllabus calls for a single-topic response from every member of the class due at the 4th session (January 23rd, the second class of the second week). The syllabus lists other topics for other weeks. Students will be assigned a regular rotation--its frequency will depend on the number of students in the course--and will be responsible for reading their responses aloud at the class for which each is relevant. TIMELINESS MATTERS: the instructor will not accept responses after the class which discusses the materials they were supposed to discuss and WILL assign a failing grade to missed responses. Such stringency reflects the fact that classes will be in some significant part dependent upon the presentation of these responses. Students had better be in a documentably near-death state if they don't show up to deliver assigned responses. Written versions should be available for the instructor at the class at which they are presented.

Students must write and submit by March 3rd a four-to-five page description of a nineteenth-century book. How this description is to be done will be discussed in class.

On May 8th (during exam week) a FINAL PAPER of some ten-to-fifteen pages is due. The final essay should consider some materials not otherwise read in class and use primary materials of some sort in doing so. Sample topics may be considered here. 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. Click here for information about the writing center; and click here for the instructor's composition links.

There is no final examination in this class. The instructor reserves the right to spring quizzes unannounced--and he will do so if the class gives evidence that it is falling behind with the assigned readings.

This class will work largely through discussion, often prompted by your response papers, and (more rarely) through lectures. Your meeting of deadlines for responses and your attendance will make a difference in the success of this class--and your promptness, attendance, and participation will make a difference 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 entirely 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 few or no exam requirements will help make the reading load a bit more palatable (and possible). He is interested in your responses to the books he has assigned: when you love (or hate) something, don't keep your reaction a secret from him.

Course books

Required books

Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions, trans. H. J. Hunt (Penguin)
Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall, ed. Joyce W. Warren (Rutgers)
Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oak Knoll)
John Grisham, The Runaway Jury (Dell)
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (Penguin)
Mario Puzo, The Godfather (Signet)
Susannah Rowson, Charlotte Temple, ed. Cathy N. Davidson (Oxford)

Reserve and recommended books

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


Week 1--14 and 16 January:
Introduction to the course

Week 2--21 and 23 January
Looking at books