Wellesley Faculty and Staff Symposium Explores Book Studies

January 16, 2014

Three-Day Multidisciplinary Program Takes 360-Degree View of Books and Texts

5 faculty and staff gather round old printing press

On January 16, an interdisciplinary group of Wellesley faculty and staff conclude an innovative three-day book studies workshop entitled “Teaching with Books and Other Textual Technologies.” The workshop was organized by Assistant Professor of English Sarah Wall-Randell, Theodora Stone Sutton Professor of Classical Studies and Professor of Classics Ray Starr, Curator of Special Collections Ruth Rogers, and Book Arts Program Director Katherine Ruffin, all of whom are involved with the Wellesley Book Studies Program.

The program, and its participants, investigate texts with a variety of questions: the history and future of the texts we read, the different media that transmit text and that will transmit in the future. As the description of the workshop noted, “The materiality of textual media, whether scroll or codex, page or pixel, can never be separated wholly from texts’ content: Meaning is produced in their interaction.”

“The seminar has been so exciting and productive because book studies is fundamentally interdisciplinary, combining tools and approaches from history, art, literary study, philosophy, media studies, chemistry and materials science, to name only some, and so when we get scholars and practitioners and artists from many different departments together, we can study the book from a full 360-degree perspective,” said Wall-Randell.

Participants explored strategies for book-oriented teaching and research. Individuals led short presentations about their research work or teaching as it relates to books or other media. Presentation topics ranged from papyrus fragments and Herrick’s Hesperides to 20th-century Japanese magazines, digital texts, and customer reviews of books on Amazon.com. Rogers introduced the group to Wellesley’s extraordinary collections of rare books, with a focus on artists’ books, her own specialty. With Ruffin, the faculty and staff tried their hands at the processes of letterpress printing, paper-making, and hands-on conservation in the Book Arts Lab and the Conservation Facility (pictured).

“This is not a new field, as evidenced by the growing number of both undergraduate and graduate programs in book studies internationally,” said Rogers. “In fact, much of this type of research and teaching is already being offered throughout the curriculum.” The goal of the program is to connect students to existing courses, to support those courses with hands-on experience through labs, rare books bibliography, and lectures on specific topics in the field.

“Book Studies is necessarily both theoretical and hands-on, physical, which makes it pretty special,” added Wall-Randell. “It's important and invigorating for those of us who are usually more engaged with immaterial ideas to dig into the materiality of things--to set type and make paper, as we did under the tutelage of Katherine Ruffin.”

The workshop was sponsored by the Provost’s Office and Library & Technology Services, and made possible by the generous support of the Friends of the Wellesley College Library “Innovations in Reading and Scholarship” Fund.

Participants

Faculty

Library & Technology Services


 


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