Histories and Futures of the Book: Exploring Reading and Writing in the Digital Age

Histories and Futures of the Book is a 2013-14 interdisciplinary lecture series in manuscript, print, and digital culture taking place in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society for Textual Scholarship (STS), March 20-22, 2014, at the UW. Organized by Jeffrey Knight (English) and Geoffrey Turnovsky (French & Italian), the lecture series and conference welcomes distinguished scholars from across the country whose work on the materiality of books and media intersects with big-picture debates about the place of the humanities, innovation in graduate education, and public scholarship.

“The STS approached us about hosting their annual meeting in Seattle, and we felt that it was a good community-building opportunity,” says Knight. “UW has a national reputation in the history of the book, textual scholarship, and allied fields due to the innovative Textual Studies Program that was founded here in 1997, one of the first graduate programs in the country to look forward to the digital future. Since then, specialists in print culture, manuscripts, authorship, reading, publication, and libraries have joined the faculty, and we wanted to create a shared intellectual space that would also benefit students and the curriculum.”

Though the annual meeting of the STS does not take place until March, the related lecture series is already under way. It launched in October with a talk by Tung-Hui Hu (English, University of Michigan), who presented on server farms and the ideology of The Cloud. The second lecture in the series takes place at 3:30 pm on Nov. 15 in Allen Auditorium with a presentation on print modernity in colonial India by Ulrike Stark (South Asian Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago).

Two lectures take place in December as well. On Dec. 2 at 4:00pm in HUB 145, noted scholar Leah Price (English, Harvard University) discusses books as social media, and on Dec. 10, Andrew Piper (German and European Literature, McGill University) considers bibliographic and topological reading. His talk begins at 4:30pm in the Yukon Pacific Room at the UW Club.

Lectures continue through Winter and Spring 2014 quarters, with topics including editing and reading in a digital environment, publishing and race in the twentieth century, poetry and print in nineteenth-century America, collaboration and intellectual work in early modern Europe, and reading in women’s prisons. Knight and Turnovsky decided on a diverse line-up of topics and speakers based on the research interests of scholars across the UW—particularly those in humanities departments, in the Law and Information Schools, and in the UW Libraries. Their goal has been to connect to as many clusters of faculty and student interests as possible while also building bridges to professionals in book fields and the community. “Not surprisingly for the home of Amazon, Seattle has a big stake in the future of the book,” says Knight.

Central to all lectures in the series is the changing nature of the book in light of all that depends on it: libraries and access to knowledge, archives and cultural memory, conceptions of literacy, and the university itself—credentialing, the dissertation, tenure.

In their own research, both Knight and Turnovsky work at the intersection of cultural history and textual studies. Turnovsky’s first book, The Literary Market: Authorship and Modernity in the Old Regime (2010), focuses on the relationship of authors to the market. In his current research, he is exploring the history of reading. In Bound to Read: Compilations, Collections, and the Making of Renaissance Literature (2013), Knight examines the practice of reading and literary histories. His latest project focuses on the history of libraries. Both scholars’ projects engage with contemporary concerns about reading and writing in a digital age—something, they feel, all book history projects must do.

Knight hopes that those attending the lecture series will gain a broader understanding of the breadth and usefulness of the fields of inquiry presented by the speakers. “There is nothing more fundamental to the humanities than reading, writing, the book, the library,” he says. “As all of these things change and develop in the digital era, we have a responsibility to understand their histories, and to help define their futures.”

See a complete list of speakers, dates, and topics for the 2013-14 Lecture Series.

For additional information, visit www.simpsoncenter.org/text


Histories and Futures of the Book is sponsored  by the Simpson Center for the Humanities; Textual Studies and Law, Societies, & Justice Programs; UW Libraries; Law School; Information School; Departments of English, Comparative Literature, Asian Languages & Literature, Germanics, and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies; Division of French & Italian; Ketcham Endowment; Hilen Endowment; Honors Program; and the Pipeline Project.

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