Seminar The Material Book


Course Objective

This course seeks to introduce students to an approach that is currently
of great importance in textual studies: the text as a material object.
While literary students are used to focusing on the linguistic code of a
text (the content, or narrative), this course focuses on the
bibliographic code (such as typography, layout, binding, owner’s marks
and illustrations). The aim of the course is to explore how meaning is
conveyed by these material features as well as by the words of the text.
You will learn how to apply this approach on a given text, to
discuss your research with fellow students and to share and evaluate
your findings
orally and on paper.

Course Content

We will focus on the output of one publishing house, Cassell & Co (also
known as Cassell, Petter & Galpin). It was founded in the nineteenth
century by John Cassell (1817-1865), a self-taught man who was a strong
advocate of the Temperance Movement and who was a tea and coffee
merchant as well as a publisher. Cassell & Co published a huge variety
of books
and journals destined for a very wide audience of common readers, from
fictional work (by authors such as Shakespeare, Bunyan, Milton, and
Harriet Beecher Stowe) to nonfictional work (all sorts of educational
books and reference works, such as Cassell's Book of Knowledge,
Cassell's Popular Science, The Story of the Heavens and Celebrities of
the Century). Most of the books are lavishly illustrated with prints and
photos, and some have decorative bindings designed by Walter Crane. The
VU University Library owns a large amount of books that were published
by Cassell from the 19th to the 21st century.

You will conduct your own (individual) research project, studying the
material features of one publication by Cassell & Co. in more depth or
comparing one material feature in several publications (e.g. bindings,
illustrations, advertising). This will result in a written research
paper and an oral presentation of your findings. Throughout the course,
you will read and discuss theoretical literature on material textuality.

Teaching Methods

Seminars. There are two classes (of two hours each) every week, one in
the Library Lab (at the Special Collections Department of the VU
Library, on the first floor of the Main Building) and one in a regular
classroom. The classes in the Library Lab are very much ‘hands-on’,
whereas the other classes offer a more theoretical take on the subject.
In preparation for each class, you will read book chapters and articles
and do your own research.

Method of Assessment

The assessment consists of two elements: oral presentation (50%);
written essay (50%). Grades will be given on a scale from 1 to 10. If
you do not meet the deadline for your essay at the first attempt, you
will be given a reduced mark. If you submit your re-sit work after the
deadline you will have failed the assessment. Students in the Research
Master programme will receive an additional assignment which includes
writing a 500 word abstract for a real-life conference, special issue,
or funding bid.

Entry Requirements

Bachelor degree in a humanities-related programme.


The provisional reading list includes (parts of) the following core
Bornstein, George (2001). Material Modernism. The Politics of the Page.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;
Brake, Laurel (2001). Print in transition, 1850-1910: studies in media
and book history. New York: Palgrave;
Howsam, Leslie (2014) (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the History of
the Book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mak, Bonnie (2011). How the Page Matters. Toronto (etc.): University of
Toronto Press;
McKenzie, D.F. (1999). Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;
Shillingsburg, Peter (1998). ‘The Faces of Victorian Fiction’, in:
George Bornstein and Teresa Tinkle (eds.), The Iconic Page in
Manuscript, Print and Digital Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
Press, p. 141-156
The Story of the House of Cassell. Cassell & Company, 1922. Available
Weedon, Alexis (2003). Victorian publishing : the economics of book
production for a mass market, 1836-1916. Aldershot: Ashgate.

All books are available through UBVU, some of which as e-books.
Additional texts on specific themes and aspects will depend on your
individual research project.

Target Audience

Students of the MA English Literature in a Visual Culture; Students of
the MA Nederlandse letterkunde en het literaire veld; Students of the
Research Master Humanities. This course is also open to students
of the MA Kunst- en cultuurwetenschappen and the MA Geschiedenis.

Additional Information

You are allowed to miss two classes in total, provided you notify the
instructor beforehand and you do prepare the assignments due for that

Recommended background knowledge

Students should have a good command of English.

General Information

Course Code L_NOMANED010
Credits 6 EC
Period P1
Course Level 400
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. P.H. Moser
Examiner dr. P.H. Moser
Teaching Staff dr. P.H. Moser

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Seminar
Target audiences

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