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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 Joseph Howley

Cat Lambert

Meeting Schedule

12/14/2021 Online Meeting
5:00 PM
Line-Making as life-writing: eighteenth-century commonplace book design
Julie Park, New York University

02/10/2022 Online Meeting
5:00 PM
Viewing, Reading, Touching: Trompe l'oeil 1500/1900
Noam Elcott , Columbia University

Jeffrey Hamburger, Harvard University


This paper proceeds from the observation that words are central to canonical art in the West before 1500 and after 1900, but not in the intervening centuries. Anchored in late Medieval Christianity and modern intellectual property law, the paper focuses on the cultural techniques of viewing, reading, and touching as interrogated in Flemish illuminated manuscripts circa 1500 and avant-garde collages around 1900.

04/14/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
Reconstructing a Sixteenth-Century Ottoman College Library
A. Tunç Şen, Columbia University


Which books were located in the libraries of sixteenth-century Ottoman imperial colleges? This talk will explore two unique inventories drafted in the first half of the sixteenth century to list all the available items in the collection of the leading imperial college in Istanbul. Not only do these inventories provide information about the titles and authors of nearly 2000 volumes neatly arranged according to their respective scientific disciplines. But, more importantly, they present as detailed codicological information as possible regarding the paper type and color, script, binding, decoration, copyists, titles and subsections, number of folios, or missing pages of the manuscripts. Since the imperial college operated as an endowed complex for many centuries, most of the books registered in these sixteenth-century inventories have come down to our time, ready to be located in the major manuscript collections in Istanbul. Drawing on this information presented in these inventories, I will delineate the scholarly horizons of early modern Ottoman schoolmen, portray the material qualities making up the collection, and explore the voices and traces of Ottoman college professors and students in the extant copies.

05/05/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
5:30 PM
The Materiality of Syllabi: Book History and the Teaching Archive
Rachel Sagner Buurma, Swarthmore College

Laura Heffernan, University of North Florida


In order to write The Teaching Archive: A New History of Literary Study we worked in more than a dozen archives containing the papers of college and university teachers. The syllabi, course descriptions, lecture transcripts, discussion notes, and graded assignments in these archives point towards a past, present, and future for English literary studies significantly different than those existing disciplinary histories of literary studies suggest. In this talk, we will begin by quickly tracing the trajectory of our book as it moves from the early twentieth century through the 1970s, using the syllabi of T.S. Eliot and Simon Ortiz and the class notes of Caroline Spurgeon, J. Saunders Redding, and Josephine Miles to show how English classes offered at a wide array of institutions have long been hospitable to the historicist methods, broadened canons, and even quantitative approaches that we tend to associate with more recent decades. We will also show how our research in these archives revealed, over and over again, how supposedly new ideas about student-centered teaching, flipped classrooms, and undergraduate research are actually longstanding practices of literature teachers. We will discuss how we've used the methods and theory of book history to meet the challenges we've faced in using teaching papers to (partially) reconstruct the classrooms in which they were used, and hope to speculate along with you about how libraries and other repositories might develop practices to support the collection and cataloging of archives that preserve the history of teaching.