Advanced Seminar in Book History and Print Culture


An advanced seminar required for all doctoral students in the BHPC Program, this course (BKS2000H — Advanced Seminar in Book History and Print Culture) will vary in content from year to year depending upon the expertise of the faculty member appointed to lead it. The term-paper research project will be open to work in all disciplines, periods, and languages in consultation with the instructor.

Prerequisite or corequisite for BHPC students: BKS 1001H. May be available without prerequisite to students outside the program by permission of instructor.

2021-2022 Seminar:

Critical Approaches to Digitized and Born-Digital Texts

This seminar combines two topics which specialists often treat as separate: 1) the digitization of printed and manuscript books and documents from the past; and 2) the study of born-digital texts from the present (and very recent past). By now, however, many digitization projects have themselves become historical artifacts, and their curation requires many of the same forensic skills that other scholars have been honing in their study of born-digital texts. Digital archives in all forms thus require us to think holistically and across disciplines. The intersection between book history and the digital humanities is populated by numerous subfields, including platform studies, critical code studies, media archaeology, publishing studies, digital curation, and archival studies—not to mention the flourishing industry of digitization projects, large and small. Yet all of these fields engage with the production, transmission, and reception of texts, which places them in continuity with the older textual disciplines (e.g. bibliography, book history, textual criticism, and scholarly editing). Whether we are considering a digitized medieval manuscript or contemporary literary app, we face the challenge of understanding a digital object as both text and artifact.

Students in this course will adapt methods and principles from the various branches of textual scholarship to understand how digitized and born-digital texts work, who shapes their construction and reception, what meanings they make, and why they matter as digital heritage. Students will be encouraged to introduce their own examples in the class, reflecting their own disciplinary and historical interests. We will also explore subtopics including the politics of digitization, the gendering of technologies and labour, the hazy borderline between digitization and art, definitions of digital materiality, theories of cultural memory, and recent changes in the printing, publishing, and bookselling industries (especially in light of COVID-19). No prior coding knowledge is expected, but students will be encouraged to work in both technical and theoretical modes, and as a class we will explore beyond our historical and disciplinary comfort zones.