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Current Program

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
Faculty of Information, 140 St. George Street, Room 728
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.

Jessica Brantley (Yale University)
“The Late Medieval Book of Hours and the Idea of the Literary”
Thursday, 2 November 2017, 4:15 pm
In Association with the Friends of the Victoria University Library
Victoria College Chapel, 91 Charles St. W, Room VC213
Abstract and Biography

More books of hours remain in modern libraries than any other kind of book from late medieval England: almost eight hundred manuscript volumes, and many thousands of printed ones. From Europe at large the number of manuscripts alone has been estimated at around ten thousand. Their survival rate suggests (though of course it does not prove) that these books were very widely read, and even that a late medieval reader would have been more likely to encounter a book of hours than any other kind of bound volume. This truism–that the book of hours was a “bestselling” volume in the late Middle Ages–has utterly failed to affect the reading and interpretation of other kinds of late-medieval texts. But any history of medieval reading practices must include a consideration of what Eamon Duffy calls “the most intimate and important book of the late Middle Ages.” And any history of late-medieval English literature–this is my further argument–must come to terms with the material histories of reading that render literary culture legible.

In this talk, I explore the importance of the material and textual genre of the hours for English literary history. Rather than offering a history of art or a history of prayer—the more common rubrics for approaching these volumes—the talk excavates the histories of literature that are manifest in this uniquely important textual archive. My study therefore explores the evidence for connections both broad and specific between books of hours and vernacular literary culture in late medieval England. As compendia of multiple texts and systems of images, books of hours reveal a rich hybridity of representation to be a central feature of late-medieval reading: reading absent texts alongside present ones, vernacular captions alongside Latin prayers, static images alongside developing narrative and—not least—pictures alongside words. Because these prayerbooks were so wildly popular, their construction of a both paratactic and simultaneous relation among multiple systems of signification informed the most common reading experience of the late Middle Ages. Their complex understanding of what it meant to read—of how a person should engage with a book—can have enormous consequences for our sense of how medieval literary culture worked.

Jessica Brantley is Professor of English at Yale University, where she has taught since 2000. Before that, she studied at Harvard University (A.B.), Cambridge University (M. Phil.), and UCLA (Ph.D.). Her interests include Old and Middle English literatures, manuscript studies, text/image relations, and the history of the book. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in all of these subjects, and she is currently the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the English Department at Yale. Professor Brantley’s research examines the cultures of medieval reading as they are preserved in manuscripts. Her first book, Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England (Chicago, 2007), shows that the format of a late-medieval miscellany reveals surprising connections between the private reading of a meditative lyric and the public performance of civic drama. Other projects in process include a handbook on Medieval Manuscripts and Literary Forms, an edited volume of essays entitled Late Medieval English Alabaster: A Reassessment, and a monograph provisionally entitled The Medieval Imagetext: A Literary History of the Book of Hours.

Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto)
“What was the Cost of Books in Chaucer’s Time?”
Thursday, 11 January 2018, 4:15 pm
In Association with Massey College
Upper Library, 4 Devonshire Place
Abstract and Biography

This paper argues that historical analysis of the cost or price of medieval books is confounded by the quantity and quality of the available evidence. Medieval scholars depend on very small data sets to address this question, and even the data that are available have been stripped by time of key contextual information. In the absence of a reliable empirical approach to the question, I turn to other forms of inquiry. Some of these are grounded in the close analysis of the physical forms of the medieval codex. I am also interested in ideas about value, and about evidence itself, that I find in some of Chaucer’s writing.

Alexandra Gillespie is a Professor at the University of Toronto in English and Medieval Studies, where she teaches medieval literature, bibliography, and manuscript studies. Her research is concerned with medieval and early modern texts and books; she is especially interested in the shift from manuscript to print, the relationship between book history, literary criticism, and literary theory, and the digitization of medieval books. Her publications include Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate, and Their Books, 1473-1557 (Oxford, 2006) and The Production of Books in England, 1350-1500, edited with Daniel Wakelin (Cambridge, 2011). Professor Gillespie currently serves as Chair of the Department of English and Drama, University of Toronto at Mississauga; she also directs the Old Books New Science (OBNS) Lab, which brings together undergraduate research assistants, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and technologists with interests in digital scholarship, digital text editing, computational approaches to humanities research, and medieval book history (manuscript and print).

Jonathan Senchyne (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
“Slavery and the History of the Book in America”
Thursday, 1 March 2018, 4:15 pm
In association with the Department of English and the Faculty of Information
Jackman Humanities Institute, 170 St. George Street, Room 100a.
Abstract and Biography

In The History of Printing In America (1812), Isaiah Thomas briefly records the life of Primus Fowle, an African American who was enslaved by Daniel Fowle in Boston and Portsmouth. Thomas writes, “This negro was named Primus. He was an African. I well remember him; he worked at press with or without an assistant; he continued to do press work until prevented by age. He went to Portsmouth with his master, and there died, being more than ninety years of age; about fifty of which he was a pressman.” Though he “did press work,” the broadsides, newspapers, and other sheets that came off his press were marked “Daniel Fowle, Printer” or “Printed by Daniel Fowle,” never formally crediting Primus Fowle. What are the logics of both print and slavery that occlude a figure like Primus Fowle? What would it mean to account for enslaved printers within our vast archives of early American print? Senchyne argues for the importance of reading typography, accidents, breakages, and other non-alphabetic marks in recovering the presence of enslaved printers like Primus Fowle.

Jonathan Senchyne is an assistant professor of book history and print culture in the Information School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is also the director of the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture. He has a Ph.D. in English from Cornell. He is currently completing a book on the meaning-making dimensions of paper in early and nineteenth-century American literature entitled Intimate Paper and the Materiality of American Literature, under contract with the University of Massachusetts Press’s series on Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book. With Brigitte Fielder, he is coeditor of Infrastructures of African American Print (University of Wisconsin Press). Senchyne’s essays have appeared or are forthcoming in PMLA, Book History, Technology and Culture, Studies in Romanticism, Early African American Print Culture, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, and elsewhere. He has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Antiquarian Society, and the New York Public Library. With Martin Foys, Senchyne is co-PI on grants from CLIR and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to develop and implement DM: Digital Maxima, an open source platform for creating architectures of linked, annotated, and searchable data among digital surrogates of archival texts and media.

Upcoming Events

  1. Orientation for Incoming Students

    Monday, September 17 @ 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
  2. Librorum

    Wednesday, December 5 @ 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
  3. Annual General Meeting

    Wednesday, April 10, 2019 @ 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM

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