Books and Their Readers to 1800 and Beyond

Summer Seminar in the History of the Book
June 12- June 15, 2006
Jay Fliegelman
Leah Price

The Seasons, by James Thomson. A young boy laying at the base of a tree plays a flute-like instrument while a girl holds open a book for him.This seminar deals with the meaning and forms of signatures, marginalia, gift inscriptions, and other marks of ownership, especially as they illuminate the emotional and intellectual relations to artifacts. We will examine books as parents, children, friends, mentors, loved ones, prompt texts for performance, witnesses, cultural capital, and sources of authority and authorization. The latter case is part of the work of commonplace books, though transcribed or edited extracts serve multiple personal ends. Working with specific artifacts, the class will engage the charged vocabulary of things, commodities, possessions, and belongings and will ask the question in what way is a book "owned." One point of departure is the assumption that any collection of books is an autobiography written with objects rather than words and focuses on collecting as both preservation and the conferral of new meanings onto texts. All of these concerns turn on the history of reading and the complexities of readerly identification with its edification, dangers, and pleasures. Drawing heavily on the interest of class members, the pay-off of the class will be the multiplication of the kinds of questions one can ask of books in their incarnational mixture of materiality and meaning.

More information on the seminar was published in the July 2006 issue of The Book.

About the Faculty: 

Jay Fliegelman, English, Stanford University, and Leah Price, English, Harvard University. Jay Fliegelman is the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Literature and American Studies at Stanford University, where he has won multiple teaching awards. He is the author of Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800 and Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language, and Performance and is now completing a book called Belongings: Dramas of American Book Ownership, 1630-1860. Leah Price is Professor of English at Harvard University. She is the author of The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel and co-editor of Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture, as well as a special issue of PMLA on "The History of the Book and the Idea of Literature." She also co-directs two seminars at the Harvard Humanities Center, one on Victorian Studies and the other on the History of the Book.

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