Fall 2023

Dana-Palmer Seminar Room


3pm - 5pm

CompLit 119X/REL119/NEC 107: History of the Book: Using Harvard’s Treasures to Study the Material Text

David Stern

You have been reading books since first grade if not earlier, but how much do you actually know about the physical object you’ve been reading—the book, the material artifact?  Drawing on a great deal of recent scholarship and the incredible treasures in Houghton Library’s Special Collections, this course will study the history of the book in Western culture from its earliest stages in cuneiform tablets through ancient scrolls, hand-written medieval manuscripts of all types, early and late printed books down through children’s books of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and 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 each will be asked to intensively examine books in Houghton’s reading room and then report on them in the weekly seminar. Books studied in class will include papyrus fragments of Homer and the Old and New Testaments; 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 Houghton’s collection and write a biographical study of its “life.”

4 Credits

In Person