Skins, Paper, and Screens: Technologies of the Book and Literature

ENG451: Senior Seminar
MR 10:50-12:05

Course Description and Objectives:

The increasing popularity of eReaders has prompted wide discussion (and some anxiety) about the future of the book. As we will see in this course, the development of eBooks is just the most recent turn in the long and fascinating history the book, a technology that has been central to Western civilization for well over a thousand years. This seminar will set out on an exploration of that history, paying special attention to how drama, poetry, histories, and narratives of various kinds have been recorded and presented in books. We will thus take a very different approach to our study of literature than you may have found in other courses—instead of beginning with the written works, we will start with the technology, materials, and crafts that have enabled the distribution of texts over time. Our study will thus lead us from the earliest development of books within manuscript culture to the invention of the printing press and through to contemporary experiments in graphic fiction, eLit, and digital narratives. Readings will come from writers of all periods of English and American literature, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Gaiman (students will also have the opportunity to bring books related to their own interests to the course). We will ask: How are we as readers influenced by the medium in which we encounter a text? How is literature shaped (quite literally) by the form of the book? What kinds of reading practices are encouraged by different materializations of texts? Work for the course will consist of regular contributions to a course blog, hands-on exercises with books of various kinds, a collaborative seminar project, and final research projects that will be publicly presented at the end of the term.