MLA 2019 SHARP Panel: “New Perspectives in Book History”

Panel 484, 12 – 1:15 p.m. Sat. 5 Jan., Hyatt Regency Roosevelt I, Chicago, Illinois

Description: Panelists explore new perspectives that are altering the way we do book history, such as global perspectives and digital humanities, ephemeral book objects in twentieth-century book history, MercadoLibre, and the promise of 3-D technologies for book history.

Speakers

Nora Benedict, Princeton U

Sheila Liming, U of North Dakota

Alison Fraser, U at Buffalo, State U of New York

Kevin O’Sullivan, Texas A&M U, College Station

Amy Chen, U of Iowa

Respondent & Presider

Erin Ann Smith, U of Texas, Dallas

Abstracts:

Nora Benedict, “Mercadolibre and the Democratization of Books: A Critical Reading of New Material Affordances and Digital Book History”

The image of the “scholar-collector” is a constant in book history. In fact, many of the best bibliographers and book historians have unearthed crucial findings due to their ability to amass impressive collections of their own, from which they have gleaned novel findings. In our digital era, this reality is even more apparent, especially within the context of Latin America, whose rich history of book production and circulation in the twentieth century remains, for the most part, understudied. That said, the growth of online marketplaces, most notably MercadoLibre, which has virtually no competitive pressure from similar sites such as eBay or Amazon, is revolutionizing the way scholars research and engage with their materials. From never-before-seen publishers’ catalogues and type specimens books, to entire runs of rare paperback editions from the early part of the twentieth-century, MercadoLibre provides access to print materials that, more often than not, exist outside of the scope of most library catalogues – both national and international.

In this paper, I will provide an overview of my current digital project on Victoria Ocampo’s Editorial Sur, a twentieth-century Argentine publishing firm, and the ways in which my work is fundamentally shaped by not only the print materials that this firm produced, but also their (digital) availability on MercadoLibre. In other words, at the heart of my project is a concern for curating collections – along with detailed metadata about their physical features – that exist in both a physical space, and a digital, freely available space, and, in the process, giving voice to often neglected literary traditions and marginalized global publishing histories. Inherent in this dualism of MercadoLibre, and other online marketplaces, is the question of what we consider an archive in the digital era of book history, and how we ethically determine best practices for approaching and using these resources.

Sheila Liming, “The Reprint as Review: NYRB Classics Editions and the Business of Canonical Renovation”

In his influential essay “The Shaping of a Canon, U.S. Fiction 1960-1975” (1987), Richard Ohmann arrives at a stunning conclusion: nearly one fourth of all the books reviewed over a period of fifteen years by the New York Review of Books were published by the same firm, Random House. Ohmann then proceeds to show how the business of reviewing during this era shaped understandings of taste and “value” with regards to new works of literary fiction.

In the early 2000s, the New York Review of Books launched its “NYRB Classics” series, seeking to introduce reprint editions of “lost” literary classics to the contemporary literary marketplace. Where it had previously made its mark as an intellectual powerhouse through book reviewing, the NYRB now engaged in a process of re-reviewing, which involved using increasingly cheap printing technology in order to renovate the previously sacred space of the English language literary canon. In doing so, the NYRB Classics series also began to exert pressure on readers’ notions of the term “classic” which, far from a Kermodian insistence on “perpetuity” and “transcendence,” began to appear associated with neglect, disregard, or abandonment.

In this presentation, I survey the inroads that the NYRB Classics series has made into reshaping the western literary canon. I style that discussion as a kind of update to Ohmann’s findings, which were published more than thirty years ago. In particular, I focus on how the NYRB Classics series has sought to de-westernize the western canon by shining a light on forgotten portions of the world literary marketplace. This situation differs sharply from the one described by Ohmann in his 1987 article and, in my research, I use quantitative methods (including data visualization) to show how the NYRB is, today, actually revising a canon that it helped establish thirty years previously, during the first “wave” of what are now known as the “canon wars.”

Alison Frasier, “Homemade Books:  Ephemeral Book Objects in Twentieth-Century Book History”

This paper argues that twentieth-century book historians should consider ephemeral, homemade objects like scrapbooks, clippings files, and photo-albums, a feminist redetermination of what we consider to be valuable in the study of book history.  More acutely than any other type of writing, scrapbooks and clippings call into question what we traditionally understand to be the labor of making and insist on refocusing our attention to process when we consider the product (or book).  The “homemade” quality of the ephemeral objects analyzed in this paper positions them outside of the traditional publication marketplace and its attendant critics, locating them inside private, domestic spaces of production.  This removal from the literary marketplace allows their makers to create outside of the bounds of a male-dominated publication community, making and circulating works around the dominant publishing economies and exclusive historical narratives, as they claim taste-making roles (like editors and publishers) for themselves.  My paper focuses on the homemade object making of twentieth-century female poets—women who were deeply familiar with publishing and eager to explore its alternatives.  These poets make objects that have process specially coded in them, and I contend that this process of labor and language is tied up with the invisible labor of women.  While the field of book history has embraced the idea of the “book-as-object,” and has productively examined pre-twentieth-century ephemeral print publications, there is a need to examine these issues in light of twentieth-century concerns, as well as their relevance to digital books and their multimodal and user-centered platforms.

Kevin O’Sullivan, “The Bibliographical Press Anew: Leveraging 3D Technologies in Book History Pedagogy”

 In the past decade, the allied technologies of 3D scanning, 3D printing, and 3D modelling have been integral to advances in fields as diverse as biomedical research, aerospace engineering, and zoology. While these tools have only recently gained a prominent foothold in the humanities, the results here have been no less exciting. Given its concern for aspects of material culture, the interdisciplinary field of book history stands to especially benefit from this new trend. Embracing the open access ethos promoted by both the digital humanities and maker communities, the application of these technologies within our field promises to be a global democratizing force, which will change the way future scholars research and teach book history. In this new wave of digitization, libraries and museums have begun to make robust 3D data of their collections materials widely available to scholars through open repositories. As an extension, working facsimiles of once-expensive resources integral to the instruction of historical printing can now be 3D printed for a fraction of the cost. This paper will begin with a survey of these and similar efforts to extend research and instruction possibilities within book history through the application of 3D technologies. It will then turn to a consideration of the important ramifications which this new accessibility to 3D data will have for broadening the scope of who is able to participate in such research and instruction, and how they are able to do so.

Amy Hildreth Chen, “Playing around with book history: Codex Conquest and Mark”

Students learn more when they play—while the value of play often is emphasized only for those early in their education, play has a role in higher education as well. To teach book history across time and space, I developed two card games: Codex Conquest (http://codexconquest.lib.uiowa.edu/) and Mark (under development: https://humangames.lab.uiowa.edu/).

Codex Conquest allows students to recognize the most important books of Western civilization by their nation, century, genre, and current monetary value. Along the way, students learn European history and the scenarios that influence the shape of institutional collections. Mark introduces students to the hallmarks of early modern visual culture by allowing them to play a variety of games with a single deck of cards comprised of printer’s marks (devices). As open educational resources (OERs), both games can be downloaded for free from their respective websites and used as is or changed to suit an instructor’s objectives. As supplemental curricula, both games can be played in a single class period.

These games are a new direction in digital humanities. Book history digital humanities often considers the value and qualities of digital editions and facsimiles or focuses attention on annotation or other approaches to scholarly editing. However, this talk offers something new: it proposes book history digital humanities should expand to consider the possibilities offered by game design.