ENGL718 - Seminar in Medieval Literature; From Manuscript to Print: Medieval and Early Modern Histories of the Book

Johannes Gutenberg was recently declared to be the "man of the millennium" by a research team investigating significant paradigm shifts in world history. Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century was seen to play the pivotal role in the creation of "modernity" and the sweeping social, economic, political and cultural changes that followed in its wake. This course looks at how ideas of reading and writing in Britain change over the course of the medieval to the early modern period. We will explore literacy and reading practices across the centuries by looking at specific acts of literature. These will include Anglo-Saxon poetry in the context of insular scriptoria; urban manuscript production and the editorial tradition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; as well as Shakespeare and the many varieties of Renaissance print culture. 

Throughout the course, we will engage the question of how books relate to the bodies that read and write them: How do changes in information technologies transform the structure of human consciousness? The contention of the course is that knowledge reproduction is directly related to the materiality of its medium, whether skin, pulp, or pixel. Our resources will include digital corpora and facsimiles as well as the local resources afforded at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress.