ENGL488L - Topics in Advanced Writing; Book 2.0: The History of the Book and the Future of Reading
0101 - Kari Kraus

What is a book? Metaphors abound: A book is magic, a lighthouse, a narcotic, a garden, a compass, a mirror, a confection. A book is a “frigate . . . to take us lands away” (Emily Dickenson) and “a dream that you hold in your hands” (Neil Gaiman). Books are also physical artifacts, bearing the imprint of time and use: the crisp white pages of a novel become yellow and brittle with age and the backlit glow of a Kindle eventually dims and dies.

This course surveys the history of the book and asks you to speculate about its future. We’ll consider antecedents of the book ranging from the clay tablets of the ancient Near East to the papyrus scrolls of antiquity to the manuscript and printed texts of the middle ages and early modern era.  We’ll look at developments in areas such as wireless reading devices and mobile e-readers, augmented reality, transmedia storytelling, DIY publishing experiments, and pop-up books that combine paper and electronics.  Over the course of the semester, we'll encounter extreme examples of reading and writing technologies, from self-destructing poems to a text encoded in DNA to a “Printing Dress” that displays tweets. 

The class will also have a hands-on component: we’ll read books, hack them, and even eat them (edible books have a venerable history). We’ll write on clay, try our hand at letterpress printing, mock-up some designs on the future of the book, and experiment with embedding electronic components in print books. 

See this overview of some of the course's content.