Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar: Texts and Technologies

Jan van der Straet, The Invention of Printing, plate 4 in Nova reperta.
Jan van der Straet, The Invention of Printing, plate 4 in Nova reperta. Ioan. Stradanus inuent. Phls Galle excud.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012 to Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 – 5 pm

Texts and Technologies: From Manuscripts to Early Printed Books and Beyond

Instructors

David Halsted, University of Illinois at Chicago
Edward Wheatley, Loyola University

About the Seminar

How does the experience of reading a medieval manuscript differ from reading an early printed book–or a Kindle? Manuscripts and books are artifacts we can situate in historical times and places. Early texts have carried information from their creators and readers through the centuries. A medieval manuscript can tell us how scribes corrected gaps or errors in their texts; early books can tell us how their printers combined tradition and innovation in book design and business practices. It is a rare experience and a privilege to work directly and hands-on with these cultural treasures and landmarks, and that is what participants in the 2012 Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar will do.

The seminar is based on the study of texts and technologies for reproducing and disseminating them, from earliest surviving examples to 1800. We will study materials from the library’s rich collections, ranging from workaday student copies of medieval school texts to illuminated manuscripts once owned by royalty, from rare printed works by the earliest European printers to such treasures as the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, and from unique ephemera to texts as widely distributed as the Bible. Students will examine the creation, production, distribution, and reception of texts while considering both continuities and changes in the shifts from orality to literacy and from scribal to print culture. The seminar will also explore the implications of the digital revolution for the study and presentation of early textual material. Examining historical methods of textual organization and production from the perspective of contemporary digital practice will allow students to consider the design decisions of scribes, printers and publishers in a new light: they faced and resolved issues of information organization and retrieval just as authors and publishers of online content do now.

The course will begin with such subjects as texts before the book, the making of a manuscript, basic paleography, manuscript illumination, binding techniques, monastic books, and the secularization of book production in guild culture. The classes devoted to early printing will examine Gutenberg and his circle, early centers of printing in Europe, paper production and distribution, the nascent book trade, early practices of textual editing, the importance of printing during the Reformation, and the rise of literacy. The final weeks of the course, focusing on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, will allow exploration of censorship, copyright enforcement, innovations in both the printing industry and the book trade, and the development of national identity and popular culture through print.

Throughout the course students will benefit from being a part of the intellectual community of the Newberry, which includes curators of manuscripts and early printed books, conservators of early materials, and scholars with years of expertise in the library’s holdings. Applicants are encouraged to explore the Newberry’s online catalog to see how their areas of academic interest are represented.

Students may find this reference sheet helpful in their studies at the Newberry.

About the Instructors

David Halsted is Director of Online and Blended Learning in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he also teaches early modern history. He has worked as a university instructor and administrator and as a software architect and entrepreneur.He is the author of Poetry and Politics in the Silesian Baroque and has published articles in Daphnis, Humanistica Lovaniensia and Neophilologus. As a programmer he has worked with data-driven Web applications, service-oriented architectures and business models, cloud computing and adaptive online teaching and learning systems. His chief interest is in the relationship between information, systems of information storage, transmission and manipulation, and broader cultural change.

Edward Wheatley is professor of English at Loyola University. His research interests include the history of book and manuscript production as well as disability studies in the Middle Ages, and he has published articles on topics ranging from Shakespearean drama to the films of Spike Lee. He is the author of Mastering Aesop: Medieval Education, Chaucer, and His Followers (2000), and Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Medieval Constructions of a Disability (2010). He has also served on the editorial board of The Journal of the Early Book Society.