2014-2015 Book History Colloquium at Columbia University


The Book History Colloquium at Columbia University, open to any discipline, aims to provide a broad outlet for the scholarly discussion of book history, print culture, the book arts, and bibliographical research, and (ideally) the promotion of research and publication in these fields. Our presenters include Columbia faculty members and advanced graduate students, and scholars of national prominence from a range of institutions.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.

All sessions take place 6pm in 523 Butler Library, Columbia Morningside Campus, unless otherwise noted.

Fall 2014


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SEPTEMBER 23 (TUESDAY)

Cover Design and the Visual Enactment of Literature

Peter Mendelsund, book designer

Introduced by Ben Marcus, fiction writer and Professor, Columbia University School of Arts

Drawing on a life-long engagement with reading and a celebrated career as a book designer, in this talk Peter Mendelsund will discuss his two August 2014 publications—Cover, which focuses on his book cover designs and What We See When We Read, an illustrated phenomenology of reading that explores how we visualize images from reading works of literature.

Peter Mendelsund is a book designer, Associate Art Director at Alfred A. Knopf Books, and author of Cover (Powerhouse, 2014) and What We See When We Read (Doubleday, 2014). Designer behind the recognizable The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series covers, he has also designed book jackets for writing by Joyce, Kafka, Dostoevsky, de Beauvoir, and Foucault, Martin Amis, Tom McCarthy, Ben Marcus, Jo Nesbø, and James Gleick. Tom McCarthy has said about his cover designs that “He’s the exact visual correlative of what I think contemporary literature should be, but usually isn’t doing.” The Wall Street Journal notes that Mendlesund creates “the most instantly recognizable and iconic book covers in contemporary fiction.” Mendelsund blogs about reading and design at Jacket Mechanical.

Co-sponsored with the Columbia University Creative Writing Department


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OCTOBER 20 (MONDAY)

“The Bank of Industry”: Rewards of Merit and the “Emotional Capitalism” of Nineteenth-century Children’s Print

Patricia Crain, Associate Professor of English, New York University

The reward of merit is one of very few dedicated childhood print genres. A premium handed out in the nineteenth century schoolroom, the reward of merit imitates other nineteenth-century documents, especially currency, stock certificates, transportation and entertainment tickets, and voting ballots, as well as parlor prints.  They exhibit the full array of nineteenth-century visual iconography and advertise, often self-consciously, the printer’s art. This paper explores the reward of merit’s iconology, and the ideology of making the classroom into a site of mock-capital exchange, one that imagines childhood as the place to transact the business of what one set of rewards calls “the bank of industry.”

Patricia Crain teaches in the English Department at New York University and is the author of The Story of A: The Alphabetization of America from The New England Primer to The Scarlet Letter (Stanford, 2000), as well as articles on children and print culture in the nineteenth century.  Her current book on children and reading in America is forthcoming in 2015 from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Co-sponsored with the Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History, Columbia University


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OCTOBER 28 (TUESDAY)

Traces in the Stacks: 19th-Century Book Use and the Future of Library Collections

Andrew Stauffer, Associate Professor of English and Director of NINES, University of Virginia

The Book Traces Project engages the question of the future of the print record in the wake of wide-scale digitization. College and university libraries increasingly reconfigure access to nineteenth-century texts through public-domain versions via repositories such as Google Books on the assumption that copies of any given nineteenth-century edition are identical. The Book Traces Project argues otherwise, focusing attention on the customizations made by original owners in personal copies of books to be found in the open stacks of university libraries, and showing that these books constitute a massive, distributed archive of the history of reading. Marginalia, inscriptions, photos, original manuscripts, letters, drawings, and many other unique pieces of historical data can be found in individual copies, many of them associated with the history of the institution that collected the books.

The Columbia University Libraries will sponsor a Book Traces-related “treasure hunt” in the Butler Stacks on October 8. This talk will review the findings from that day, discussing compelling examples that were discovered by Columbia students and faculty. Stauffer will offer some hypotheses about what these books have to tell us about their original readers, about the interface of the printed book in the industrial era, and about the nature of the Columbia collection in comparison to that of the University of Virginia.

Andrew Stauffer is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and Director of NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship). He specializes in 19th-century British literature and the Digital Humanities. Stauffer launched the Book Traces project in 2014, following two years of sending students into the general stacks of the University of Virginia libraries to discover unique copies of nineteenth-century editions of Romantic and Victorian poetry. He has published articles on various Romantic and Victorian writers, including Byron, Dickens, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His book Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism was published by Cambridge University Press in 2005, and he is currently working on a book entitled, "Postcard from the Volcano: The Troubled Archive of Nineteenth-Century Literature."


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NOVEMBER 13 (THURSDAY)

Catalogue as Map in the Library of Ferdinand Columbus

Seth Kimmel, Assistant Professor of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Columbia University

Ferdinand Columbus (Christopher’s second son) was an avid bibliophile who amassed one of the largest libraries of the sixteenth century. The series of catalogues that he devised to navigate his collection have long captivated historians of the book. Yet Ferdinand was an accomplished cartographer as well as a librarian. Along with a team of experts based in his hometown of Seville, Ferdinand helped to compile Peninsular topographical data and to keep the Crown’s world map up-to-date, even as he worked tirelessly to build his book and print collection. Drawing on Ferdinand’s catalogues as well as a series of testaments composed around the time of his death, this presentation examines the intertwined relationship between bibliography and cartography in the early modern period.

Seth Kimmel is an Assistant Professor in the department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University. His research focuses on Early Modern Iberia, theories of secularism and religion, the history of reading, and cultural exchange and conflict among Iberian Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Kimmel’s current book project is an intellectual history of New Christian assimilation. The book argues that canon law, Oriental Studies, and history writing were all transformed by hotly contested debates over eradicating Islam and Judaism from the Iberian Peninsula and converting non-Christians elsewhere in the Spanish empire.

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