English 2033.X1 - Book History & Print Culture

A part of the Material Culture Minor

Room: Bac. 206
Time: T, W, F: 11:30 - 12:30, and by appt.

Prof: Richard Cunningham
Office: BAC 431
Office Hours: T,Th,F - 11:30 - 12:30
Printable pdf version of this syllabus

Acknowledgement of Traditional Territory:

We are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.

This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq peoples first signed with the British Crown in 1725. The treaties did not deal with surrender of lands and resources but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) title and established the rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.


Leslie Howsam opens an essay entitled “The study of book history” with the following statement: “The history of the book is a way of thinking about how people have given material form to knowledge and stories.”1 For a course on book history Sarah Werner said that “The study of books and book history can be divided into three approaches . . . an exploration of books as physical objects . . . the role that books play. . . in . . . culture and the processes by which they were made . . . [and] books as vehicles for text.”2

The important concepts to pick up from these two references are that the book is a material object that has and continues to mightily affect world culture by making possible the preservation and spread of knowledge and narrative. In ENGL2033 we will focus on the printed book, familiarize ourselves with the terminology of the book trades, learn how to accurately describe both a book and a text, and become more knowledgable about the parts that make up the whole.




Accessible Learning Services

If you are a student with documentation for accommodations who anticipates needing supports or accommodations, please contact Marissa McIsaac, Accessibility Resource Facilitator at 902-585-1520, disability.access@acadiau.ca or Emily Duffett, Accessibility Officer, 902-585-1823, disability.access@acadiau.ca. Accessible Learning Services is located in Rhodes Hall, rooms 111-115.



Cornell University's Evolution of the Medieval Book site

Fordham University's "Matter of Manuscripts page

The British Library's Gutenberg Bible site

Where books come from

On Watermarks

How to Operate a Book

The Anatomy of a Book: The Hand-press period

MLA Format

A very helpful Desriptive Bibliography assignment from Donald Kaczvinsky, at Lousiana Tech. Disregard "Example B."

See Terry Belanger's short account of Descriptive Bibliography.

A step-by-step walk through of Descriptive Bibliography.



Attendance and Participation
Web Page
Descriptive Bibliography
Annotative Bibliography
Final Exam

Due: Every class

is required for you to participate, so plan to attend.

Due: Every class

Each person brings a unique perspective to any text and to any topic, and you can't share yours if you're not in class. Please think about higher education as a community of which you are a part, not as a product you purchase. Then it becomes easier to understand that your attendance and participation are more for the sake of what you can offer others than for what you'll get from them.

Web page:
Due: Dec. 4

If Gutenberg's press were a new invention it might be useful for you to know how to print your own work. But knowing how to create your own webpage and how to troubleshoot it (even when you use some sort of automated or semi-automated text editor to create it) is undeniably useful, in addition to being the twenty-first century analogue to Gutenberg's fifteenth-century disruption. That's the goal and the rationale for this assignment.

To achieve the goal this assignment will require some instruction in html, and this will happen more or less regularly throughout the course. By the end of November you will have received about five hours of instruction in using html & css, and your work will be graded according to that standard.

For all such instruction you will need to have a powered, functioning computer with you. (It's worth noting that not all the electrical plug-ins work in the class room.)

Build a webpage (or site, if you're adventurous). It must be on the topic of book history, but from there you can do what you like. An obvious path to follow would be to put the annotations you've written based on your reading into a single page. How plain or fancy you want that page to appear is up to you, but do not let fanciness get in the way of function or legibility.

At a minimum, you must submit a .html file and a .css file. Compress whatever files and images you want to submit into a single file (usually called a "zip" file), and submit that single file to Acorn so the professor can uncompress your file and show it to the class where it will be subject to a critique by all class members.

Class Pages

Descriptive Bibliography:
Due: Nov. 15, 10:30 AM

The following excerpt from a longer text by book historian Terry Belanger should enable you to understand what is expected of you for this assignment.

Descriptive Bibliography is "the close physical description of books. How is the book put together? What sort of type is used and what kind of paper? How are the illustrations incorporated into the book? How is it bound? . . . Descriptive bibliographies . . . give full physical descriptions of the books they list, enabling us to tell one edition from another and to identify significant variations within a single edition" < https://bibsocamer.org/publications/bibliography-defined/ >.

On Friday Oct. 4 we will visit the Vaughan Memorial Libraries Special Collections and Kirkconnell Archives at which time you will be introduced by an archivist to working in the Archives and to some of the books in our Special Collections. Subsequent to that you will return to the Archives to choose a book of your own on which to perform a descriptive bibliography. After choosing but before proceeding in your work contact the professor who will confirm the appropriateness of your choice, or send you back to make another choice. For our purposes, choose a book printed before 1700, or hand-pressed book from after 1700.

The key thing to remember is that you are to produce a "close physical description of" the books you chose from Acadia's Special Collections using what you've learned in class and from the course texts. Descriptions of bindings, format, collation, and typography will be expected (50% of the mark for this assignment), but so will be a visual description of the appearance of the title page.(the other 50%).

For more guidance on what's expected of you, see the Resources section above.

Annotated Bibliography:
Due: 10:00 the day the reading is to be discussed in class

For this term-long on-going assignment you are required to read the text assigned for a given day, then write an annotation that will enable you at some future time and anyone else at any time to get a good sense of what the text has to offer.

According to the University of Toronto's "Types of Writing" website's entry on annotated bibliography "an annotated bibliography gives an account of the research that has been done on a given topic. Like any bibliography, an annotated bibliography is an alphabetical list of research sources. In addition to bibliographic data, an annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value or relevance. Depending on your assignment, an annotated bibliography may be one stage in a larger research project, or it may be an independent project standing on its own."

Following from that, your topic for this assignment is something like "Print Culture and the History of the Book." To assemble your annotated bibliography you are required to submit an entry on every assigned reading for the course.

Each entry will be due via Acorn by 8 AM on the day for the which the text is assigned. Acorn will be set to not accept late submissions, and your grade for this assignment will suffer when you miss any of submission deadline.

Final Exam: Tuesday Dec 17, 2019; 9:00 AM - Noon

Information about the where and the when of your final will be posted here as soon as the professor gets access to it. At the the end of the term the class will work together to compose the final exam.



Readings listed on a given day are to be done prior to the day on which they are listed. I.e. come to class having finished the readings for that day, and prepared to discuss them.

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Sept. 4
Course Introduction
Sept. 6
Robinson, pp. 21-2, 33-4, 39-40, 44-6.
Introduction to studying the book: what does "book" mean?

Sept. 9
Robinson, 51 - 72.
Visit the reference glossary at the British Museum, scroll through it, and be prepared to discuss it in class.
Sept. 11
MS (pre-print) books:
Kevin Whetter, Professor,
Acadia University
Dep't of English and Theatre
Sept. 13
Introduction to writing html. Bring your computer to class, charged and able to run for 50 minutes.

Sept. 16
The Danse Macabre referred to by Alan May, and used by him as an incomplete road map to the Gutenberg press.
Sept. 18
Sept. 20
html & css instruction

Sept. 23
Febvre & Martin; Twyman, in Levy, pp. 15 - 36; 37 - 44.
Sept. 25
Robinson, pp. 82 - 100
Sept. 27

Sept. 30
Eisenstein, in Levy pp. 215 - 30
Oct. 2
Johns, in Levy pp. 267-84.
Oct. 4
Adrian Johns, continued

Oct. 7
Darnton, in Levy pp. 231-47
Oct. 9
Robert Darnton
Oct. 11
html & css instruction

Oct. 14
- no class
Oct. 16
Visit to Kirkconnell Archives
[Robinson, pp. 115-25]
Oct. 18
Hillary Drummond

Oct. 21
Robinson, pp. 245-68
Oct. 23
Robinson, pp. 177-207
Oct. 25
Chartier in Levy, pp. 251-63

Gaspereau Press Wayzgoose, Sat. Oct. 26

Oct. 28
Fall break - no class
Oct. 30
Fall break - no class
Nov. 1
Fall break - no class

Nov. 4
John Milton's "Areopagitica", or for a pdf click here. See also the British Library's Areopagitica by John Milton, 1644
Nov. 6
html & css instruction
Nov. 8

Nov. 11
Remembrance Day - no class
Nov. 13
Erin Patterson.
Readings: The Statute of Anne; April 10, 1710
or the same thing as a locally hosted pdf.
Nov. 15
html & css instruction

Nov. 18
Greg (x2) in Levy, pp. 3-12, 125-36
Nov. 20
Tanselle in Levy, 139-54.
Nov. 22
html & css instruction

Nov. 25
McGann in Levy, pp. 459-73
Nov. 27
Hayles in Levy, pp. 491-508
Nov. 29
Grafton in Levy, pp. 555-72

Dec. 2
Loose ends, and
Course evaluations
Webpage evaluations
Webpage evaluations
Dec. 6
Webpage evaluations

Dec. 9
Exam preview
Tuesday, Dec. 17

Final Exam

9:00 AM - Noon

Location to be announced


Recommended Reading

Berners-Lee, Tim. "I Invented the World Wide Web. Here's how we can fix it.

Borges, Jorge Luis. "The Library of Babel".

Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Hartley & Marks, 1992.

Dane, Joseph A. What is a Book?: The study of early printed books. University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.

Davies, Martin.Aldus Manutius Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999.

Feather, John. A History of British Publishing. Routledge, 1988.

Grafton, Anthony, and Megan Williams.Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the library of Caesarea. Belknap Press, 2006.

Houston, Keith. The Book: A cover-to-cover exploration of the most powerful object of our time. W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Johns, Adrian. The Nature of the Book. U of Chicago Press, 1998.

Maclean, Ian. Learning and the Market Place: Essays in the History of the Early Modern Book. Brill, 2009.

Quanta Magazine article on machine reading

Guardian article on artificial intelligence

It's not print, but it is an example of what's called a deep fake.

Daily Tarheel article on the excessive cost of some scholarly publications.

If the first efforts to digitize the written record were about access, what liesBeyond Accessibility?


1. Howsam, Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book, p.1.

2. Books and Early Modern Culture