Wynken de Worde on Teaching Book History


Wynken de Worde is always a pleasure to read, but two recent posts by its administrator, Sarah Werner, Program Director for Undergraduate Teaching at the Folger Shakespeare Library, will be of particular interest to those teaching book history.  In these posts, Werner discusses her undergraduate research seminar, “Books and Early Modern Culture,” taught at George Washington University and the Folger, and even includes a syllabus.  She writes of having reshaped the course this summer; it currently falls into three parts: books as physical objects; relationships between books and culture; and books as vehicles for texts.

She discusses her interest in incorporating more ephemeral work, like news sheets, in the course, and in her most recent post, she even provides a printable news sheet with numbered folds, together with clear instructions addressed to advanced undergraduates for how to understand the folds.  This news sheet can be printed and distributed for use in class.  Werner’s posts will be helpful both to those beginning their careers as teachers of book history and those who would like to refresh their approaches to teaching such a course.  They also show the way for how blogs can serve as valuable archives for the most ephemeral of printed texts, the course syllabus.

Readers interested in discussing Werner’s posts should go directly to Wynken de Worde, where a valuable discussion is underway.  But on this blog, we might discuss more generally how such blogs can enrich the teaching of book history.  One thing that comes to mind is the ease with which manuscripts might be made available as pdfs, thereby facilitating a discussion of the interplay between printed and manuscript texts.

5 Responses to “Wynken de Worde on Teaching Book History”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    That the Folger created the position of Program Director for Undergraduate Teaching and now hosts courses in book history for undergraduates is a welcome development. In the early days of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP)–almost two decades ago–not everyone attending panels devoted to teaching book history agreed that the mix of special collections and undergraduate studies would work or should be encouraged. When I offered a series of introductory book history courses with a colleague, Eric Lindquist, at Maryland in the late 1990s, I was unable to receive permission for one of my undergraduates, a senior, to work at the Folger–even if I accompanied and “supervised” him. Yet, more and more institutions and libraries like the Folger are opening their doors to undergraduates. This policy only makes sense and may also help generate more interest in bibliography among those who will become our future scholars.

    This semester I am offering for the first time at West Chester a course in book that is not tied to literary studies. During the first two weeks Iour readings have included overviews and discussions of descriptive, analytical, and historical bibliography. Without access to actual hand-press books, these readings would have no doubt only drawn yawns. But the hands-on experience of handling actual copies of books from the hand-press period has made this topic accessible and interesting. Soon we’ll be moving from clay tablets, papyrus, and illuminated manuscripts to the advent of the printing press, and tools such as Sarah’s wonderful printable news sheets and the fascimiles available for purchase from UVA’s Rare Book School will further facilitate these lessons.

    As for the course syllabus as ephemera, we are in the process of creating PDF archives of syllabi for every course taught in our department. While many may have used course bologs or course delivery systems such as Blackboard or Desire to Learn as repositories for their syllabus, this move is institutionalizing the electronic housing of teaching records.


  2. Anna Battigelli Says:


    Two points.

    I would like to hear more about the book history course not tied to literary studies.

    I’m also interested in the understandable caution about allowing undergraduates into rare book rooms. The tension between wanting to share rare books and artifacts with students and also wanting to protect and preserve the books and artifacts is probably a wise tension for librarians to have. But it also seems inescapable, even when the only readers permitted into an archive are advanced scholars. Does adding students compromises or enrich the archive?


  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:


    To answer your first question briefly, a key difference is the reading we do. In an 18th-century literature course that adopts a print culture lens, we are of course reading a number of literary texts. In this course, however, we do not have any literary texts that we are reading–although we might read a piece by a literary scholar who works, say, on the history of reading. And students are exposed to textual studies. The bulk of the reading is historical and theoretical, and we begin with clay tablets and make our way up to digital culture. A focus on key terms–author/authorship, “book,” lieracy/illiteracy, reading/reader, publishing/publisher–provides coherence.

    The caution that existed before in having undergrads use special collections (and even regular collections) has seemed to be dropping off considerably these days. The Library of Congress, for instance, now actively recruits undergrads to use its collections. The BL has also seemed to have undertaken such an initiative given the population I see there today (some in the Rare Book division, too, I might add). I’m under the impression that most special collection libraries in universities today are delighted to have undergrad class and individual undergrad students come. The Folger’s initiatives suggest that such collections are also re-thinking their policies. To me, this shift makes sense. With the right introduction and training on handling these works, I see no reason why a junior or senior at a university could not explore such holdings.


  4. Sarah Werner Says:

    Anna, Thanks for the kind comments about my blog and my recent posts on teaching! I would love to see more use of blogs to discussing teaching book history, whether that be in general terms or sharing of specific resources. I think lots of us probably have favorite tools that we turn to, and I would love to learn more about those.

    I think you’re both right that a key issue is bringing students into special collections to handle rare materials. The Folger has been very welcoming to my students, and I work carefully with the curators to ensure that the materials we use are in good shape–books are preapproved in advance, and we keep the door constantly open for conversations about how to get this arrangement to work for everyone. The constant checking-in keeps everyone from being nervous. There’s also a real benefit, I think, to having students handle books in a class setting: they can be trained on good book handling skills in a way that a lot of researchers never get.

    Eleanor’s course sounds in many ways similar to the ones I teach: they’re not quite literature courses, in that we don’t as a group read any “literature” together (though students in my class might choose to focus their individual projects on, say, Donne or Mary Wroth or Spenser). I find it a really energizing way of teaching. The three-part structure of the course (which I’ve been doing for a few years now) makes sure that we have terms and questions in common and opens up ways of thinking about books and texts that might be harder to explore in a strictly literature course.


  5. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I like the idea of archiving syllabi and other teaching resources. I also like the idea of having a forum to discuss teaching, which is one reason I so enjoyed your most recent posts. Rather than having each of us work in isolation, it makes great sense to share ideas and resources.

    Is there specific teaching material, beyond syllabi and Steve Karian’s ESTC guide, that we should be archiving electronically?


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