Book History



The book is a technology that has been perfected over a thousand years. It is the medium that enables Literature and literary studies. Yet, the book is often not itself the subject of study and discussion in English classrooms. This course puts the book front and center, reorganizing literary studies and British Literature, in particular, around the medium and its impact. This course focuses on the history of the printed book in the West (since the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century), understanding the evolution of this medium to be inseparable from the development of Western literary culture, literary aesthetics, and reading practices.

We will read central texts of Book History scholarship and a canonical but highly-experimental early British novel in order to explore what is gained by approaching the history of the book as literary studies. What might we learn by considering the evolution of codexical elements like title pages and wood-pulp paper? What impact did the invention the author figure and copyright have on literary studies? The goal of this course is to give students a different way– a medium-specific way– of approaching literary studies and to show how book history can support our understanding of the contemporary medial shift to digital screens and devices.


Learning Outcomes

  • Identify the physical aspects of the book medium
  • Recognize the book as a technology that has evolved over centuries
  • Compare scholarly arguments and central publications in the field of Book History
  • Understand the impact of copyright laws on the development of the field of Literature.
  • Practice media-specific analysis on a book as a means of literary analysis