Fall 2024


3:00 pm - 5:45 pm

CompLit 201X/NEC 201: The Material Text and the History of the Book

David Stern, Peter Stallybrass

This seminar is intended to introduce students to the history of the book in the West as a physical artifact– and to the growing scholarly field around the history of the book– through hands-on study of books from Harvard’s incredibly rich Special Collections Libraries. Professor Peter Stallybrass (University of Pennsylvania, emeritus) will co-teach the seminar with Professor Stern as a regular weekly visiting participant. The course will study the material text from its earliest stages in cuneiform tablets through ancient scrolls, hand-written medieval manuscripts of many types, early and late printed books down through children’s books of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and conclude with modernist artists’ books of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries including recent ones utilizing digital technology. The heart of the course will be weekly assignments in which students in groups of three will intensively examine books in Houghton Library’s Reading Room and then report on them in the weekly seminar through PowerPoint presentations. Books studied in class will include papyrus fragments of Homer and the Bible, Hebrew scrolls; early Qur’an leafs; Greek and Latin codices; Books of Hours and many other illuminated and decorated medieval manuscripts; the Gutenberg Bible; Copernicus, Galileo’s and Vesalius’ scientific works; censored books; the First Folio edition of Shakespeare; Alice in Wonderland; and Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés. For the final paper, each student will choose a book from one of Harvard’s Special Collections and write a biographical study of its “life.”

In Person