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modules 2014-15

7AAV7004 Material Culture of the Book

Credit value: 20 credits 

Module convenor: Peter Stokes

Assessment details

The module assessment consists of two parts:

Mockup/Prototype: 50% of grade. You are required to design and construct a mockup or prototype for a digital edition of a book, aiming to use the digital medium to capture as much of its material culture as is needed to contextualize it for further study. This does not count towards the total word-count but it should not contain substantial amounts of text.

Essay-Report: 3,000 words, 50% of grade. Together with the prototype each student must submit an essay-report discussing it, with particular emphasis on the the work it will enable or further and how it will do so, the trade-offs that were made and any significant problems encountered during its design and construction.

Teaching Pattern

One two-hour seminar per week.

Module description

In this module we will look at the history of the book, and specifically at medieval manuscripts and late 19th to early 20th century printed books, in order to understand them as material objects and appreciate how they can best be studied using digital tools. We look not only in detail at the books’ physical characteristics, such as format, layout, materials and colours, but also question the circumstances under which they were produced and first used. How can a digital version or edition of such objects represent not only as much of their physical characteristics as possible but also the circumstances of use? If we were to construct a ‘virtual reality’ version of a precious medieval manuscript or printed book, what new research would this allow? Short of a VR-version, using the tools now commonly available, what could online digital versions of such objects be like? And how best might we use existing digitised materials for research into the history of the book, recognising both the potential but also the limitations that these online surrogates bring? 

Module Aims
  • To develop students’ understanding of how best to make new, digital objects from old, physical ones, as applied particularly to History of the Book.
  • To develop students’ understanding of books as a material objects in a cultural context, including what makes them valuable to us.
  • To develop students’ understanding of the potentials and limitations of digital surrogates of existing books.
  • To introduce students to issues in the design of digital resources for book history, considering both how to develop new resources but also how to evaluate existing ones for given research purposes.
Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 7 module and in particular will be able to demonstrate:

  • An awareness of how best to make new, digital objects from existing physical ones.
  • An understanding of the challenge and limits of making new from old.
  • Familiarity with social and material complexity of manuscript and printed books, including the physical characteristics, such as format, layout, materials and colours, but also circumstances under which they were produced and used.
  • An understanding of how a digital version or edition of such objects might:     - Represent these characteristics and circumstances                     - Benefit research and teaching in book studies
Introductory Reading
  • Buchli, Victor, ed. (2002). The Material Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.
  • Burnard, Lou, Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, and John Unsworth, eds (2006). Electronic Textual Editing. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
  • Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham (2007). Introduction to Manuscript Studies. London: Cornell University Press.
  • Eliot, Simon, and Jonathan Rose, eds (2007). A Companion to the History of the Book. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Pearson, David (2011). Books as History: The Importance of Books beyond their Texts. London: British Library.
  • Rehbein et al., eds. (2009–). Kodikologie und Paläographie im Digitalen Zeitalter — Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age. 2 vols. Norderstedt: Books on Demand.
  • Schreibman, S., R. Siemens and J. Unsworth, eds (2004). A Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell.

There are no pre-requisites for the module beyond basic familiarity with standard computing tools such as web browsers and word processors.

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