HISTORY 598.601 / ENGLISH 497.601
Spring 2000


Michael Ryan and Daniel Traister

Thursday, 4:30-7:10 PM

Henry Charles Lea Library, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library (both)

215 898 7552 (MR) and 215 898 7089 (DT)
fax: 215 573 9079 (both)

ryan@pobox and traister@pobox
Traister's website
Resources in the History of Books and Printing from Traister's website

This course is designed as an introduction to selected topics in the history of texts in the early modern period for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in the humanities. It is NOT a soup-to-nuts course on the "history of the book" as conventionally understood and presented in universities today. Rather, it is an attempt to get at discrete issues in the history of texts -- their creation, production, dissemination, and reception -- by way of the texts themselves as material artifacts. Many history-of-the-book courses suffer from a simple lack of content. The issues are abstract, the readings amorphous and baggy. To paraphrase Dr. Phish: is there a course in this class?

What we try to do, on the other hand, is literally to give the course content: content to read, content to handle and to study. Thus, one of the essential components of the course will be the need to consult original or early manifestations of selected texts. The texts we have selected are all in English. While this approach may be parochial, it is also practical. It guarantees the ready availability of certain texts and allows us to avoid dealing with issues of translation for the linguistically-challenged. The repertoire includes a variety of literary, historical, scientific, and religious texts -- something for everyone. If you have a "favorite text" or textual problem that is not on the syllabus, we can probably find a way to accommodate you. We are neither rigid nor committed to our own canon of privileged artifacts. For us, these texts are lab specimens, the stuff of analysis and experiment. Thousands of others could have been -- and can be -- used. The history of books is a large and spacious tent; it is by definition inclusive and democratic.


The course requirements are simple:

  1. do the readings,
  2. participate in class,
  3. prepare assigned oral presentations -- sessions in which you lead the class,
  4. and write a paper of ca. 15 pages (due at the end of the term).

Your grade will reflect a balance of these elements.

Books Available for Purchase

The following should be available at the Pennsylvania Book Center (34th & Sansom Streets):

  1. Elizabeth Eisenstein, The printing revolution in early modern Europe (CUP)
  2. Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The coming of the book, trans. David Gerard (NLB; Verso)
  3. Carlo Ginzburg, The cheese and the worms: the cosmos of a sixteenth-century miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980; rpt. Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1982)
  4. D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (CUP)
  5. Jonathan Swift, The battle of the books and A tale of a tub (OUP)
  6. Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (Penguin)
RECOMMENDED titles are:

  1. Alvin Kernan, Samuel Johnson & the impact of print [originally published under the title, Printing technology, letters, & Samuel Johnson] (Princeton) -- perhaps o.p. under either title
  2. Mark Rose, Authors and owners: the invention of copyright (Harvard)

Depending on course enrollment, other titles on the syllabus below will be ordered as appropriate.

Schedule of Readings and Classes

  1. Week 1 -- January 20
    Weeks 2-6: These five classes will consider varieties of background issues. Consider them as preparatory for the classes that you will direct during the second half of the class. A paper assignment due at the Week 6 class (February 24) concludes this part of the class.

  2. Week 2 -- January 27
    Background 1
    : Read Eisenstein, The printing revolution in modern Europe
      Exercise: compare a scientific manuscript with a scientific printed book (the instructors will provide your exemplars), and discuss what you can SEE.

  3. Week 3 -- February 3
    Background 2
    : Read Febvre-Martin, The coming of the book
      Exercise: compare a printed book from a printing center with a printed book from one of printing's margins (the instructors will provide your exemplars), and discuss what you can SEE.

  4. Week 4 -- February 10
    Background 3
    : Read Febvre-Martin, continued
    Read Adrian Johns, The nature of the book: print and knowledge in the making (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), chapter 1 (bulkpack)
      Exercise: the instructors will provide examples of printed books in various sizes and formats; what do these differences tell you about the books and their audiences?

  5. Week 5 -- February 17
    Background 4
    : Read McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts and EITHER Grafton OR chapters from the Chartier collection (choice remains to be made!)
      Exercise: the instructors will provide a few exemplary commonplace books; consider these carefully and see what conclusions you can reach about the ways in which readers apprehended what they read.

  6. Week 6 -- February 24
    Background 5
    : Read Ginzburg, The cheese and the worms
    Read selections from Robert Darnton, (bulkpack)
      Exercise: The instructors will provide exemplars of the Index librorum prohibitorum; pick a few examples from pages to be assigned to you individually and discuss what qualities took these books to the pages of the Index.

      Paper 1 (approximately 5-6 papges): The instructors will provide a selection of books to be found on a truck in the Reading Room of the Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Choose one of them (ask for assistance from staff in marking your choice so that two of you do not wind up discussing the same book!). Discuss it at some length. What do you see? What kind of book is it? What do its subject, its size, its provenance, its binding, and any other characteristics you may observe, tell you about it?

      You might wish to choose an alternative topic on your own. Do so only after consulting the instructors.
    Students are responsible for preparing and running each of the following classes. How you approach the books assigned for each week, what points you would like to make about them, how -- if more thn one of you is involved -- you want to work together or separately: these are all your decisions. The instructors will be happy to work with you as you consider possibilities and, if necessary, to advise you about your choices. They will not do the work for you nor will they happily suggest the possibilities for discussion that you should be proposing and then working out: this is your class.

    A consumer advisory: being absent for the class you are responsible for would be an extremely injudicious decision.

    A more intellectual word of advice: the opportunity to work closely with a defined text and a defined problem might very well suggest a term paper topic that develops naturally from your work for the class you prepare.

  7. Week 7 --March 2
    Exemplars 1
    : Read Merryland (bulkpack)
    Read selections from The invention of pornography: obscenity and the origins of modernity, 1500-1800, ed. Lynn Hunt (New York: Zone Books, 1993) (bulkpack)

  8. Week 8 -- March 9
    Exemplars 2
    : Read selections from Elias Ashmole, Theatrum chemicum Britannicum . . . (London 1651) (bulkpack)
    Re-read Eisenstein on printing and the scientific revolution

  9. Week 9 -- March 16

  10. Week 10 -- March 23
    Exemplars 3
    : Read Jonathan Swift, The battle of the books and A tale of a tub

  11. Week 11 -- March 30
    Exemplars 4
    : Read Swift, continued

  12. Week 12 -- April 6
    Exemplars 5
    : Read Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

  13. Week 13 -- April 13
    Exemplars 6
    : Read Sterne, continued

  14. Week 14 -- April 20
    Exemplars 7
    : Read Voltaire, Candide, trans. Tobias Smollett

  15. Week 15 -- April 27
    Final papers (approximately fifteen pages in length) are due today.
      This paper might arise (as has already been suggested) from your classroom presentation. It might as easily represent another direction of inquiry altogether. In any case, please embark on NO paper topic without first consulting the instructors.

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