Creative Commons licensed photograph, "Underwood," by Flickr user Canned Muffins

Lab #7

Deciphering Physical Books

In-Class Lab Activities

Station 1: Bibliography

Key questions: How can we use physical clues in historical books to uncover the histories of their production? What can we discern about their composition, format, and printing—and what literary-historical conclusions can we draw based on these observations?

Station 2: Editions of Morse’s Geography

Key questions: What happens to “a book” as it proliferates through multiple editions? Can we reconstruct a history of a text in/across culture/s through a set of physical artifacts?

Station 3: A Mystery

Key questions: What the heck are these books anyway? And once you figure that out, what might they tell us about some functions of books in mid-nineteenth and early twentieth-century American society?

Looking Forward, Dodo Stack (Altered Book) “Looking Forward, Dodo Stack (Altered Book)” by robfos

Fieldbook Prompt

This lab and this week’s readings have asked you to think about the presence of books in society: the functions they serve beyond reading, and/or the ways their physical constructions can broadcast ideas about both their contents and their readers. Books are as much cultural artifacts as carriers of information—though they resonate very differently to different communities of readers (or non-readers). For this fieldbook, draw on our lab exercises and readings to unpack the meaning of a contemporary textual artifact: one related to your own life, perhaps, or one you’re interested in investigating. How does your chosen text manifest physically? How does its format relate to its contents and its cultural meaning(s)? In what ways does its format (and the cultural ramifications of its format) resemble the historical-textual artifacts you worked with in our lab and learned about in our readings, and in what ways is it distinctly modern? Important note: as you consider what object to investigate, remember that “digital” does not mean “non-material”—digital devices still exist in the physical world!