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This seminar brings together from various disciplines scholars who work on the history of the book and the study of material texts in order to place the technical and bibliographical study of text objects in dialogue with cultural studies and both the textually- and the materially-oriented humanist disciplines more broadly.  Over recent decades, book history has emerged as a necessarily and productively interdisciplinary field; with this in mind, this seminar focuses on the interpretation of material textual objects from an array of disciplinary perspectives.  Our aim is to provide a clearinghouse for emerging methods and work, and a nexus for scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to discuss and pursue shared interests in the study of the book and the material text.

Past Meetings

Alexis Hagadorn

Professor Hannah Weaver

Cat Lambert

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

10/23/2020 Online Meeting
2:00 PM
Teaching Remotely with Distinctive and Special Collections: Strategies and Successes
Ryan Cordell, Northeastern University

Megan Cook, Colby College

Kaoukab Chebaro, Emily Runde, and Michelle Wilson, Columbia University


Emily Runde (Columbia University): “Teaching with Columbia’s Collections: Manuscripts Decontextualized and Recontextualized”

Megan Cook (Colby College): “A Lo-Fi Toolkit for Undergraduate Manuscript Studies in the Age of Zoom”

Ryan Cordell (Northeastern University): “Teaching Hybrid-Remote Letterpress”

Kaoukab Chebaro (Columbia University): “Teaching Remotely with the Muslim World Manuscript Project: Listening to all the echoes in the garden”

Michelle Wilson (Columbia University): “Immaterial Culture: Podcasting Special Collections”

11/12/2020 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Hidden in Plain Sight: Identifying Evidence of Curtains in Medieval Manuscripts in the Morgan Library & Museum
Morgan Adams, Columbia University


Building on an important study of curtains in medieval manuscripts by Christine Sciacca, this essay examines the physical evidence of lost curtains in nearly forty manuscripts in the Morgan Library & Museum. Aside from a few examples in which manuscript curtains survive in situ, most have been lost. However, important physical evidence about them remains. This essay provides a brief introduction to the concept of curtains in medieval manuscripts to help us imagine how curtains would have looked and functioned in manuscripts. Next, extant curtains in the Morgan’s collection are examined as a framework for interpreting the evidence of lost curtains. Working from the Morgan’s examples, the essay then provides a typology of the physical features suggestive of lost curtains and discusses the challenges to interpreting this evidence. Finally, research areas that could be advanced by systematic study of curtain evidence in manuscripts are identified through examples from the Morgan collection. The primary aim is to help scholars recognize and describe curtain evidence so that they may more thoroughly document these features in manuscripts, thereby contributing to object-based interpretation of manuscripts by art historians, codicologists, and conservators alike.

03/23/2021 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Wood, Ink, Paper: Production and Use of 15th-century European Blockbooks
John McQuillen, The Morgan Library


Blockbooks were short highly illustrated texts printed entirely from woodblocks, predominantly in the Netherlands and Germany during the 1460s and 1470s. They were an early competitor to typographic printing but quickly lost out due to their limited production capabilities. In the majority of editions, the woodblocks are not signed by the carver or printer; they are not dated, nor do they identify the place of production. What do we do, then?

This seminar presentation will introduce the blockbook genre: its common texts, method of production, materials, contemporary use, and modern research potential. The materiality of each copy is of the highest importance, as, like snowflakes, no two blockbooks are identical. Blockbooks were printed from standing woodblocks—the first print-on-demand books—thus, every copy of a single edition (produced from the same set of blocks) was not necessarily printed at the same time or place. For that reason, each copy of an edition must be closely examined in comparison with other copies of that edition in order to ascertain a relative date of production for each copy. Often, the only evidence of production date and place is offered by the watermark in the paper on which the copy is printed, and that watermark must also be compared with other copies and other editions in order to determine relationships in production. The European blockbook stands between traditional bibliographic (typographic) and art historical (printed image) scholarship, and for this reason, it has often fallen through the research cracks. Yet these objects still provide opportunities to explore the quickly shifting landscape of commercial book media in 15th-century Europe, as well as modern collecting practices and provenance research.

04/16/2021 Online Meeting
12:00 PM
meeting postponed
Rianne Subijanto, Baruch College, CUNY