2017-2018 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.

Unless otherwise noted, all sessions take place at 6:00pm in Butler Library, Room 523, on the Columbia University Morningside Campus. These talks are free and open to the public. However, please note that as of August 2016 registration is required. To pre-register, please use the buttons below each event. Non-Columbia affiliates should register as guests.

Questions? Email Karla Nielsen.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Roger Chartier

Molière's Don Juan: Textual  Mobility, Textual Genealogy and Material Text

In this talk Professor Chartier considers the different phases or modalities of textual mobility through a study of Molière’s play Le Festin de pierre (known as Don Juan), and specifically by focusing on the last lines of the play spoken by Sganarelle: “my wages, my wages, my wages.” 

Chartier begins with an examination of authorship, including the attribution of Molière’s name to several editions of a play he never wrote, Dorimon’s Festin de pierre.  Next he considers the text of the first two editions of Le Festin de pierre: the 1683 Parisian edition, which was heavily censored by editors and the police, and the 1683 Amsterdam edition, which presented a version of the play closer to how Molière’s company performed it in 1665. Next he extends his examination to the different forms of publication of the play, either in a separate editions or within the publication of Molière’s complete works (for example, in the Paris edition in 1682 or in Amsterdam in 1693).  

Fourth, he explores the rewriting of the work: for example, Molière’s Festin de pierre in prose rewritten in verse by Thomas Corneille’s Don Juan and also the migration of the “same” plot from one language to another, including Don Juan’s story from El Burlador Sevilla to Il Conivato di pietra and to the French plays by Dorimon, Villiers, Molière, Rosimon, or Thomas Corneille. Finally, he will raise the question of the interpretations given to the work by its spectators or readers. 

Roger Chartier is a Professeur in the Collège de France and Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. His research centers on the history of education, the history of the book and the history of reading. Recently, he has focused on the relationship between written culture as a whole and literature (particularly theatrical plays) for France, England and Spain. He is the author of many books, including (listed by their English translation) The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Duke University Press Books, 1991),The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries (Stanford University Press, 1994), Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995) and Inscription and Erasure: Literature and Written Culture from the Eleventh to the Eighteenth Century'' (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).



Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shannon Mattern

Cabinet Logics: An Intellectual History of Media Furniture

While the physical properties of our reading materials, and our material engagements with them, have evolved over the millennia – and particularly within the past decade – we still rely on physical supports, furnishings, to scaffold our interactions with them. Even “the cloud” that seems to float above us today relies on heavy architecture for its operation. In this talk I’ll focus on the furniture we design and build (or buy, or appropriate, or kludge together) to make, store, support, organize, and preserve our bibliographic objects. These structures scaffold our media technologies, inform the way human bodies relate to those media, and embody certain assumptions about what and how we know things through these objects.

We’ll examine how these media-furnishings function as material supports for the delivery of and engagement with media resources, while they also frame organizational logics, access policies, and technical protocols. We’ll discover how our task chairs, desks, shelves, and cabinets give shape to epistemology, politics, and affect — how they render complex intellectual and political ideas material, aesthetic, and empirical.

Shannon Mattern is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities, Deep Mapping the Media City, and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (forthcoming Nov. 2017), all published by University of Minnesota Press. She also contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to Places, a journal focusing on architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and she collaborates on public design and interactive projects and exhibitions. You can find her at wordsinspace.net.

FALL 2017

Arturo Schomburg Image from the Arthur Alfonso Schomburg Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Laura Helton

“Five dollars for a letter written by a Negro”:

Arturo Schomburg’s Library and the Price of Black History

“History must restore what slavery took away”: such was the urgent—if haunting—imperative of history as reparations, articulated in 1925 by Arturo Schomburg.  At a moment when the very idea of black historicity aroused doubt, Schomburg, an Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile in New York, built an unprecedented “race library” documenting the African diasporic past.  As he scoured antiquarian book markets for rare finds, Schomburg envisioned a collection that would bear value, both literally and figuratively, for the black present. And yet, what did it mean to purchase black history, when so many of its artifacts recorded the commodification of human subjects?  How could a history shot through with racial violence ever repair “what slavery took away”?

This talk examines the contested place of slavery in archival economies at once affective and pecuniary.  Schomburg acquired—but just as often eschewed—materials related to slavery and penal labor: bills of sale; duty receipts; abolitionist prints; prison records; and advertisements for the capture of fugitive slaves.  As he did so, he wrestled with the ethics of black history’s “price.”  In tracing how Schomburg bought, and ultimately sold, his library, this talk shows how early African American archives recast the market’s devaluation of black lives and letters.

Laura Helton is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Delaware, where she teaches print and material culture studies, African American literature and history, and public humanities.  Her book manuscript, Collecting and Collectivity: Black Archival Publics, 1900-1950, examines the emergence of African American archives to show how historical recuperation shaped forms of racial imagination in the early twentieth century.  In 2015, she co-edited a special issue of Social Text on “The Question of Recovery: Slavery, Freedom, and the Archive.”  A recipient of the McNeil Center’s 2016 Zuckerman Prize in American Studies, she has held fellowships at the Center for Humanities & Information at Penn State University and at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia.  Her interest in the social history of archives arose from her earlier career as an archivist. 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Jonathan Rose

Wrestling with the Author

Wherever historians look, in all periods and every culture, we find readers reading independently. They choose their books, they create their own meanings, they interpret texts idiosyncratically and skeptically. In short, they argue with the author. In a wide-ranging excursion across centuries and continents, Jonathan Rose tracks the remarkable history of the ornery reader.

Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) and continues to serve as an editor of Book History.  His book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (2nd ed., 2010) won the Longman-History Today Historical Book of the Year Prize and the American Philosophical Society Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History. His other publications include The Edwardian Temperament 1895-1919, The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation, and The Literary Churchill: Writer, Reader, Actor. With Simon Eliot, he will soon publish a second expanded edition of A Companion to the History of the Book. He is now editing (with Mary Hammond) The Edinburgh History of Reading.  In January 2018 Oxford University Press will publish his latest book, Readers’ Liberation, from which this lecture is excerpted.