At first, the move from in-person instruction to an online Zoom classroom seemed like it would hit us particularly hard in Dr. Matt Kirschenbaum’s “BookLab: How to Do Things with Books” course. The course focused not only on the theoretical affordances of reading textual materiality, but also on getting our hands dirty with the physical production of material objects: using clay tablets, making paper, playing with a 3-D printed type matrix and punch, collation exercises, bookbinding, letterpress printing. On our last day of class, the same day our university announced its plans for a campus closure, we were all huddled around one of the presses pulling prints of Walt Whitman’s “A Font of Type” on the paper we had made only a few weeks prior.
In Fall of 2019 I took a class at the University of Maryland from Professor Tita Chico entitled “The Postmodern Enlightenment.” In this class we read and compared contemporary works and 18th-century works. As a companion to the Yorgos Lanthimos movie The Favourite, we were assigned to read The Secret History of Queen Zarah of the Zarazians, Being a Looking-Glass for —– ——– in The Kingdom of Albigion by (probably) Mary Delariviere Manley. This satirical roman a clef is an attack on Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough leveled by a woman no less ambitious than Churchill was.
I am happy to share two syllabi prepared for the graduate level “BookLab” course I teach at the University of Maryland. BookLab itself is dedicated book arts studio and press, co-founded by my colleague Kari Kraus and myself, in a converted seminar room on the same floor that houses the English department. It affords access to four tabletop presses, a collection of metal and wood type, materials for bookbinding and papermaking, a 3D printer, and more, as well as a working collection of several hundred scholarly books about books, experimental artist’s books, chapbooks, and other printed matter.
Like so many others, my introduction to remote teaching was an abrupt and rapid process of trial and error. I started as the curator of the University of Florida’s rare book collection in the summer of 2019. I spent the next semester and a half establishing connections with faculty and bringing courses in to do in-person instruction: single sessions per course, often a combination of show and tell and hands-on activities and discussion. In mid-March, as warnings became more dire, I had a group of thirty students coming in to the collections to see a facsimile of the Codex Murúa, a 16th-century Mesoamerican manuscript, and discuss its materiality. The instructor wanted the whole …
This classroom activity was a collaboration between a special collections librarian and a library and archives conservator, testing a new approach to engaging students with books as material objects. The conservator developed book materiality exploration kits that were individually paired to books from the library’s rare books collection. The special collections librarian used these kits with a graphic design class, which came to the special collections to explore historical (rare) books and contemporary artists’ books as inspiration for their own book design project later in the semester.