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Though modern day notions of the book tend to be conceptualized in the form of paginated codices, “book” is a capacious term. The physical form of the book, which changes through time and endless technological developments, has a rich history that forms the basis of bibliography and the basis of how our societies consume information today.

This site is a compilation of the research conducted across the Fall 2018 and Fall 2020 classes of Professor Whitney Trettien’s Cultures of the Book undergraduate seminar. The Fall 2018 page, Material Book Cultures Through the Ages, emphasized observing materiality, especially in the form of numerous objects from the University of Pennsylvania's Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts collection, unraveling discussions on the creation of meaning beyond content, from parchment and pagination to mimeographs and HTML, various book technologies were explored through presentations before being turned into research papers. In 2020, our class heavily utilized Amaranth Borsuk's text "The Book" as a central framework for our understanding of what a “book” is. This central text considered the complex history of the book as a technology, as well as the various methods of analysis scholars employ when studying the book. Moreover, Borsuk’s writing also pushed us as a class to challenge our notions of what makes a book a book, allowing us to better understand the true breadth of scholarly considerations of the book as a technology. Among other topics, we focused on:

  • substrates: how do paper, parchment, and palm-leaf, among other materials, inform us of the contexts in which works were created?
  • inscriptions: what implications do para-texts such as footnotes and apparatus such as binding have on the way content will be consumed?
  • and platforms: in what ways do devices, software / hardware, and operating systems contribute function transitionally to give voice to content?

2018 Contributions[edit]

This page contains a compilation of resources from the Kislak Center gathered by the 2018 class.

Material Book Cultures Through the Ages

2020 Contributions[edit]

Remote Book History Resources


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