J. R. de J. Jackson Lectures

The annual Jackson lectures were endowed to honour the memory of Professor J. R. de J. (Robin) Jackson, Professor Emeritus of the University of Toronto. In his long and distinguished career at Victoria College, Professor Jackson made many contributions as a scholar of Romantic poetry, theory, and criticism, and especially as an editor of the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Jackson lectures celebrate his life and career through wide-ranging public lectures and student-focused workshops, given by inspiring scholars in the fields of book history and literary studies.

The Eighth Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
Isabel Hofmeyr (University of the Witwatersrand and New York University)
“Hydrocolonial Print Cultures: Coast, Custom House and Dockside Reading”
Monday, 7 October 2019, 4:15 pm
Victoria College Chapel, 91 Charles St. W, Room VC213
Presented in association with the Friends of the Victoria University Library
Abstract and Biography

What does the oceanic turn mean for our understanding of book and print cultures?  There is of course a long tradition of work on print cultures, port cities and transoceanic networks.  Yet, much of this work takes the ocean as a backdrop, more surface than volumetric depth.  Oceanic scholars have been urging us to go below the water line, to think in more ecological and material terms about the seaness of the sea and how this might be factored into our particular disciplinary concerns.

This paper takes up this challenge by thinking about the literary consequences of the colonial Custom House which assumed responsibility for copyright policy and censorship.  The paper places the Custom House in the context of the ecology of the littoral and the port city, showing how these helped shaped the protocols and procedures of Customs officials and hence the way in which they read and dealt with printed matter.  The work is framed within a larger theoretical rubric, hydrocolonialism.

Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. She has worked extensively on the Indian Ocean world and oceanic themes more generally. Recent publications include Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading (2013) and a special issue of Comparative Literature (2016) on ‘Oceanic Routes’ co-edited with Kerry Bystrom.  She heads a project called Oceanic Humanities for the Global South with partners from Mozambique, Mauritius, India, Jamaica and Barbados.

The Seventh Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
Paula McDowell (New York University)
“Marshall McLuhan’s Eighteenth Century”
Thursday, 14 March 2019, 4:15 pm
Victoria College Chapel, 91 Charles St. W, Room VC213
In Association with the Friends of the Victoria University Library,  the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology, and the Toronto Eighteenth Century Group.
Abstract and Biography

Marshall McLuhan is remembered today as a media theorist, but he was a literary scholar by training and an English professor by occupation. Attention has been paid to McLuhan’s contributions as a literary critic of modernism, and his doctoral thesis on Renaissance author Thomas Nashe has recently been published. But his lifelong relationship with eighteenth-century authors such as John Locke, Isaac Newton, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Laurence Sterne, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and William Blake has gone virtually unremarked.

Drawing on archival research at such venues as the Library and Archives Canada and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, this lecture will address McLuhan’s reading and writing about eighteenth-century literature, from his college years in Canada and Great Britain, to his decades as a professor and literary critic in North America, and finally, to his explosion onto the international stage after the publication of The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media.

The lecture argues that McLuhan’s reading of eighteenth-century texts shaped his (and by extension, our) views on media shift and social and cultural change, and it addresses compelling questions that this largely unacknowledged history raises. Given McLuhan’s emphasis that “the medium is the message,” how did the material form, as well as content of works such as Pope’s “epic of the printed word,” the Dunciad, influence his (McLuhan’s) thinking about the psychic and social effects of print? More broadly, if this media theorist’s understanding of the “consequences” of media shift was fundamentally shaped by his literary reading, what are the consequences for us as critics, theorists, and teachers today?

Paula McDowell specializes in eighteenth-century British literature and media and in the History of the Book. With the support of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the National Humanities Center, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, she has published The Women of Grub Street: Press, Politics and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace, 1678-1730 (Oxford, 1998), Elinor James: Printed Writings (Ashgate, 2005), and articles on models of the Enlightenment, the epistemology of ephemera, the eighteenth-century novel, and many other topics. Her latest book, The Invention of the Oral: Print Commerce and Fugitive Voices in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, 2017), was awarded the John Ben Snow Prize by the North American Conference on British Studies for the best book by a North American scholar on any aspect of British studies from the middle ages to the eighteenth century. It examines the oral/literate binary as a heuristic — a tool for understanding that itself has a history — and argues that the concept of “oral culture” was in fact a back formation of the explosion of print commerce. She is currently writing a book on the scholarly life and reading of professor and media theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) and on the literary and humanistic origins of media studies.

The Sixth Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
Lisa Gitelman (New York University)
“On Not Reading”
Thursday, 28 September 2017, 4:15 pm
In Association with the Faculty of Information and the Department of English
Abstract and Biography

Reading is said to be “at risk” in the 21st Century, presumably because of the digitally mediated environment amid which we browse, multitask, and, well, read. Predictions of doom follow from the decline of reading, although there’s very little consensus about what reading is, what its particular virtues are, or how best to find out. This talk won’t solve these problems. Instead it seeks to sketch the present cultural location and extent of reading. How do we—if we can hypothesize a “we”—encounter reading? More particularly how do we encounter reading in profile or in silhouette, picked out against a backdrop of not reading?

Lisa Gitelman, Professor of English and of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, is a media historian whose research concerns American print culture, techniques of inscription, and the new media of yesterday and today. She is particularly concerned with tracing the patterns according to which new media become meaningful within and against the contexts of older media. Her most recent book is entitled Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents and was published by Duke in 2014. Before that, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture was published by the MIT Press in 2006. She holds a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and is a former editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University. She has taught at the Catholic University of American and at Harvard University, and has held fellowships and awards from the American Antiquarian Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Center for Cultural Analysis, Rutgers University, the Leslie Center Humanities Institute, Dartmouth College, and the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Study.

The Fifth Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
James Raven (University of Essex)
“How Can There Be a History of the Book? A History of Book History”
Thursday, 29 September 2016, 4:15 pm
In Association with the Friends of the Victoria University Library
Abstract and Biography

For some contributors to the history of the book, the subject appears bounded and specific, for others it is more indefinite, more a label than a discipline. This lecture explores how these differences relate to parent disciplines and the training of respective contributors from literary, historical, bibliographical, codicological, digital, library and conservation studies. In ways akin to the elision between  ‘the history of art’ and ‘art history,’ there are in the English-speaking world subtle semantic differences between ‘the history of the book’, the ‘history of books’ and ‘book history’, but the greater challenge is whether any of these descriptors  are sufficiently robust to dispel questions about originality, integrity and coherence. In contemplating future directions, the lecture will consider the approach of some of the founding practitioners, surveying the insistence upon interdisciplinarity and examining the limits to this ambition. It will probe the further complications of the ‘history of print culture’ and question whether ‘book history,’ until recently apparently practised mostly in and about the Western World, can be global in ambition.

James Raven is Professor of Modern History at the University of Essex and a Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge; he was previously Reader in Social and Cultural History at the University of Oxford and a Professorial Fellow of Mansfield College. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries, and a member of the American Antiquarian Society, he has also held visiting appointments in the United States, France, Italy and Britain. His scholarship in social and cultural history and cultural studies was recognized with the award of LittD from the University of Cambridge in 2012. His recent publications include Bookscape: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800(Chicago, 2014), based on his British Library Panizzi Lectures for 2010; Publishing Business in Eighteenth-Century England (Boydell, 2014); and Lost Mansions: Essays on the Destruction of the Country House (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Numerous earlier books and articles examine social, economic and communications history, historical mapping, approaches to media and literary history, the spatial organisation of knowledge, historical bibliography, and colonial cultural history. He has also published on specific aspects of urban, business and popular and intellectual history, and is a regular reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. As part of a major long-term project re-examining the spatial history of Enlightenment global networks, he is completing a book on reading and commercialisation, and he is also currently completing research for an OUP history of chancing, gambling and state lotteries. He directs the Cambridge Project for the Book Trust and the Mapping the Print Culture of Eighteenth-Century London project, and is now launching a major European network project on the historical geographies of communications and social media (building on an earlier European Science Foundation workshop, ‘Knowing About Mediation’, involving participants from 14 EU countries).

The Fourth Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
Johanna Drucker (UCLA)
“Analogue and Digital Histories of the Alphabet”
Thursday, 8 October 2015, 4:15 pm
In Association with the Faculty of Information
Abstract and Biography

Who knew what when about the origin and development of the alphabet? Answers to this question take us into a history of bibliographical antiquities, paleographical investigation, and graphical modes of knowledge transmission. The various “histories” that emerge from this record have distinct chronological foundations that embody belief systems about the age of the earth and the human record that have changed over time. Examining the analogue evidence of textual and visual information, as well as reflecting on the meta-level of historical process, offers insights and challenges for the ways we use digital humanities tools to visualize knowledge. This talk draws on the rich inventory of printed texts, manuscript records, inscriptions and evidence of antiquities to look at various alphabet histories in light of traditional and digital tools.

Johanna Drucker is the Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies at UCLA. She has published and lectured widely on topics related to digital humanities and aesthetics, visual forms of knowledge production, book history and future designs, graphic design, historiography of the alphabet and writing, and contemporary art. Her recent titles include SpecLab: Projects in Digital Aesthetics and Speculative Computing (Chicago, 2009) and the jointly authored Digital_Humanities (MIT, 2012) with Anne Burdick, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp. A collection of her essays, What Is? was published by Cuneiform Press in 2013, and Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (2014) appeared in the Harvard University Press MetaLab series. In addition to her academic work, Drucker has produced artist’s books and projects that were the subject of a retrospective, Druckworks: 40 years of books and projects, initiated at Columbia College in Chicago. Her artist’s books are represented in museum and library collections throughout the United States and Europe. In 2014 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Third Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
Leah Price (Harvard University)
“How To Lose Your Place In a Book”
Thursday, 23 October 2014, 4:15 pm
In Association with Victoria College and the Friends of the Victoria University Library
Faculty of Information, 140 St. George Street, Room 728
Abstract and Biography

“Literature is my Utopia,” Helen Keller quotably declared. Today, serious readers often credit the printed book with the power to annihilate space and time. The datelined newspaper and the digital book provide foils for that rapture, so far feebly emulated by e-reading interfaces that eschew an onscreen clock. Yet placeless reading is as hard-won a technology as ubiquitous computing. Over the millennia in which written matter has become smaller, lighter, and more foldable, reading has gradually unmoored itself from dedicated, even sacred times and places. Where readers had come to texts, texts began to come to readers. More recently, the paperback’s miraculous ability to reconcile durability with disposability and portability with impermeability has made bed, bath and beyond the frontiers that every subsequent reading technology is challenged to conquer: Kindle advertisements declare the iPad’s unreadability at the beach as conclusively as a 1958 expert predicted that microfilms would replace books only once “some genius develops a way for reading them everywhere that books can be read: in the subway, in the bathtub, in a fishing skiff.” This talk traces a history of changing attitudes toward reading on the move, from 1800 to the present, and concludes by asking how new technologies of site-specific reading are challenging the book’s function as a space in which to lose yourself.

Leah Price teaches English at Harvard University. Her books include How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton UP, 2012) and The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel(Cambridge UP, 2000). She edited Unpacking my Library: Writers and their Books (2011); Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture (with Pamela Thurschwell); and (with Seth Lerer) a special issue of PMLA on The History of the Book and the Idea of Literature. She writes on old and new media for the New York Times Book ReviewLondon Review of BooksTimes Literary SupplementSan Francisco Chronicle, and Boston Globe. She is at work on a new book, Out of Print: Reading after Paper.

The Second Annual J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
Adrian Johns (University of Chicago)
“The Cultural Origins of the Printing Revolution”
In Association with the Faculty of Information
Thursday, 3 October 2013, 4:15 p.m.
Podcast

The Inaugural J. R. de J. Jackson Lecture
William St. Clair (School of Advanced Study University of London)
“Image and Word: towards a political economy of book illustration”
In Association with the Friends of Victoria Library
Wednesday, 3 October 2012, 4:15 p.m.
Podcast