Simpson-Younger – COMA 321/ ENGL 311

Dr. Nancy Simpson-Younger

The Book in Society
(COMA 321/ ENGL 311)
MW, 1:45-3:30
Ingraham 109

How do books influence society, and how does society influence books? As we start to explore these interlocking questions, we’ll encounter materials from scrolls to iPads, using them to interrogate the relationships between ideas, physical objects, and cultural contexts. These materials will also help us study culturally-rooted networks of textual transmission, including manuscript circulation, print culture, and online fora.

As we study these networks, materials, and questions, we’ll divide the semester into two halves. The first half will cover developments in book history up until the Victorian Age, giving you a sense of both broad context and cultural specificity. During this half of the course, you’ll learn to read handwriting from the 16th century, and you’ll contribute to an online repository of recipe transcriptions. This project will allow us to ask how digital culture is reinflecting older practices of manuscript circulation, and how present modes of understanding text are reshaping our knowledge of previous networks. The second half of the course will ask how modern writers, readers, and intermediaries have influenced the development of the “communications circuit”—Robert Darnton’s term for the network of connected parties who receive and transmit literature. In this section, we’ll investigate the tension between readers and writers for control of textual meaning, and you’ll even finish your own book (within an authorially-circumscribed template). At the end of the semester, a self-designed final project will allow you to explore an area of interest in even greater detail–whether that’s zine culture, or scribal practices, or fan fic, or Dickensian advertising, or anything else in the realm of circulating text.

Solveig Robinson, The Book in Society
Keri Smith, Finish this Book


Participate. Since in-class participation is 10% of your grade, I expect you to arrive on time, to bring your book and notes to every class meeting, to say something during most class periods, and to use technology in an appropriate way (i.e., for things that are relevant to discussions. Checking the OED is great; checking Facebook isn’t.) If you’re uncomfortable participating verbally in class, just let me know—we can find a solution that works for both of us.

Be nice. Your behavior should be kind, civil, and respectful at all times—especially when we’re debating or discussing ideas. Unkind behaviors include speaking very frequently, interrupting, dismissing someone else’s idea out of hand, turning up late, and packing up early. If I see these things happening, I’ll point them out quietly and in private, so that you can make different choices in the future.

Turn things in on time. Under normal circumstances, I deduct a full letter grade for every day that a paper is late. (For example, an A will become a B). If there are any extraordinary circumstances (emergencies, etc), do get in touch with the Office of Student Life ( or 253-535-7191) as soon as you can. I work with the folks there to coordinate extensions in those special cases, ensuring fair treatment for all students.

Be in class. You get two free absences. Then, your final grade will drop 1% for every unexcused day that you miss. (If you’re on a sports team, or if you have other extenuating circumstances, do let me know—we’ll work something out.)

E-mail responsibly. I do my best to return e-mails quickly—within 24 hours. Still, to honor both your own personal time and mine, I tend not to answer e-mails after 4:30 PM (the end of my office hours).

Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism is taking quotes or ideas from any website, book, article, or other source without proper citation. In other words, copying and pasting any text off a website (or from a published book or article) constitutes plagiarism if the text is not both surrounded by quotation marks and cited appropriately. Additionally, consulting a study guide like SparkNotes, and not citing that guide in your paper, counts as plagiarism. Finally, it is also plagiarism to paraphrase someone else’s idea without citing it, or to turn in a paper that you (or a friend) has already written, in part or as a whole, for a different class—including a high school class. It’s very important to know that all of these types of plagiarism reflect not only a failure to complete the terms of the assignment, but a lack of academic integrity (Row-Heyveld n.p.). If I find evidence of plagiarism, I will follow the procedures outlined in the Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy, and I will never consider writing letters of recommendation on a plagiarist’s behalf.

Online Resources:

The Collation: The print and manuscript culture blog of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Luna: Want to see what early modern handwriting actually looks like, or check out actual costumes used in the eighteenth century? This fantastic searchable collection of images showcases the holdings of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

JSTOR: Looking for scholarly articles that make critical arguments? This is a great place to start, because it provides full-text online versions of articles from many major journals in the field. (And it’s not limited to Shakespeare, either; JSTOR is an amazing resource for almost any of your humanities classes!)

The MLA International Bibliography: A very rich resource for scholarly articles. The good news is that it lists absolutely everything ever published by literary scholars on your topic. The bad news is that it doesn’t contain full-text online versions of articles. So you’ll need to plan ahead. Search the MLA database as soon as possible after receiving a paper assignment, in order to have time to request an article through Interlibrary Loan.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED): It will tell you every meaning that a word has ever had, plus how to pronounce it, when it was being used, and where it came from.

The Recipes Blog (EMROC project): Weird, wacky, and wonderful updates from scholars working on recipe-based projects.

Campus Resources:

Special Needs and Circumstances: If you have a medically recognized and documented disability, and you’re seeking accommodations, you should get in touch with the Office of Disability Support Services (x7206) as soon as possible. I’m always very happy to work together with you and the ODS, and it would be especially helpful to hear about any accommodations before the first assignments are due. Please also let me know in advance if you might need emergency help during class (for severe allergies or other conditions), or assistance with an evacuation of the building.

The Writing Center: The kind tutors at the writing center will provide you with all sorts of feedback on your written work—but they don’t do editing, and they don’t do the reading for you. Instead, they help you express your ideas more clearly, cogently, and argumentatively. To make an appointment, call 253-535-8709, or head to Library 220.

Grade Components:

Participation: 10%
Reflection #1 (Historical Context): 10%
Midterm Project: 15%
Sherlock Holmes Paper: 10%
Reflection #2 (Finish this Book): 10%
Final Project Paper: 15%
Presentation: 5%
Final Exam: 15%
Reading Response Journals: 10%

Course Calendar:
Wednesday, Sept. 9: Introductory Lecture: Reading Books in Society and Reading Society in Books. For next time: Read Robinson, Ch. 1 (“Origins”) and start browsing the Collation Blog by reading “A Pin’s Worth.”

Monday, Sept. 14: Archive Day One: A scavenger hunt will introduce the oldest items in the collection. Then: charting some early book development trends. For next time: Read Robinson, Ch. 2 (“Scribal Culture and the Codex”).

Wednesday, Sept. 16: Guest star: Professor Tyler Travillian will give a talk about papyrus! Then: Scribal Culture: Medieval practices of manuscript making (especially illumination). For next time: van Liere, “The Bible as Book;” Margolis, “A Torah Scroll;” also, access and scan through the University of Tuebingen’s 8th/9th century copy of an Arabic legal commentary

Monday, Sept. 21: Sacred Texts: Torahs, Bibles, Korans, and other holy books of the medieval and early modern periods. What are the pros and cons of digitizing these texts (and others)? For next time: Read The Alphabet Book (linked on Sakai under Resources), write yourself an alphabet in early modern handwriting, and then try to copy George Herbert’s poem “The H. Scriptures” using early modern handwriting. (Don’t forget to bring all three things to class.)

Wednesday, Sept. 23: Introduction to early modern paleography (with transcription time!) Prompts for the transcription paper will also be handed out today. For next time: Read Robinson, Ch. 3 (“The Printing Revolution”), and transcribe [page x] of Folger V.a.388.

Monday, Sept. 28: Early modern print and manuscript culture (with transcription time!) We’ll also do some quire-building and check out the Gutenberg press. For next time: Transcribe [pages y-z of V.a.388]; then, referring to the Alphabet Book, try your best to transcribe 3r of WellcomeMS169.

Wednesday, Sept. 30: Trying secretary hand (with transcription time!) For next time: Finish your transcription paper and be ready to turn it in.

Monday, Oct. 5: Turn in your transcription paper. We’ll do transcription cross-checks together. Then: Transcribathon! Also: Professor Adela Ramos will tell us a bit about Henry Fielding and his eighteenth-century approach to the book. For next time: Read Robert Darnton, “Work and Culture in an Eighteenth-Century Printing Shop” (available on JSTOR); Joseph Addison, excerpts from The Spectator—read only pages 37-48, and pay particular attention to March 12, 1711.

Wednesday, Oct. 7: Getting to know eighteenth-century British print culture (via Grub Street and The London Times). And we’ll explore eighteenth-century Islamic printing, as well. For next time: Robert Darnton, “What is the History of Books?” (available via JSTOR); Franco Moretti, “Style, Inc: Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles” (available via JSTOR).

Monday, Oct 12: The communications circuit (and its ramifications for Voltaire). Also: fun with Diderot’s Encyclopedia. Finally: research methodologies for the Book Culture Snapshot Project. For next time: Henry J. Miller, “John Leech and the Shaping of the Victorian Cartoon” (available via JSTOR); read the “politeness” section in the Leech Punch online archives, as well.

Wednesday, Oct. 14: Victorian trends: part-issues, cartoons, and advertisements. For next time: Read Daniel Hack, “Close-Reading at a Distance: The African-Americanization of Bleak House” (available on JSTOR); continue to work on your snapshot project.

Monday, Oct. 19: Wrap-Up: Authorship, Creativity, and Circulation, from Ancients to Moderns. For next time: finalize your Book Culture Snapshot project and report.

Wednesday, Oct. 21: Turn in your Book Culture Snapshot Project and Report. Then: project presentations (and popcorn!) [And enjoy your Fall Break!]

Monday, Oct. 26: Starting the Bridge Unit: Genre and Sherlock Holmes. For next time: Read Sherlock Holmes pdfs and Robinson, Chapter Four (“Modern Times”).

Wednesday, Oct. 28: Analyzing Conan Doyle’s part-issue format; linking the content of Sherlock Holmes to both ethical and genre-based issues in historical context. For next time: Watch A Scandal in Belgravia (BBC) and read the critique of this version in The Guardian (linked on Sakai). Also, don’t forget to continue journaling on your appointed day.

Monday, Nov. 2: Adapting and Appropriating Sherlock: What’s at stake? What does this say about both gender and genre in historical context? Then: How do readers and authors share (or compete for) the ability to shape textual meaning? (Also: prompts for the Sherlock paper will be handed out today.) For next time: Read Robinson, Chapter Ten (“Readers”). Prepare one fanfic show-and-tell, by finding 1) an “authoritative/canonical” text, film, or show (like Sherlock!), and 2) a fan-written piece that interacts with it. Write two paragraphs about the way that the fanfic has reshaped the characters, plotline, or narrative, and whether or not (in your opinion) this reshaping has merit. (Also, if you can: bring in a device with a YouTube link to a clip from the show, and bookmark or save the piece of fanfic that responds to it.)

Wednesday, Nov. 4: Reader-Response meets Deconstruction (or, indeed, Reconstruction): the fanfic angle and internet-based challenges to Darnton’s communications circuit. Also, writing instruction: fun with paragraph critique. For next time: Finish your Sherlock paper; read Finish this Book, pages 1-“Proceed onto Next Section.”

Monday, Nov. 9: Turn in your Sherlock paper. Then: Finish This Book discussion, in light of other children’s literature. What are we teaching kids about the creation of meaning through text? Who is in charge of this process? For next time: Complete three activities of your choice from the latter half of Finish this Book, and work on your Finish this Book reflection paper; read Robinson, Chapter Six (“States and Censors”).

Wednesday, Nov. 11: Then: Lecture: Introduction to the Intermediaries. For next time: Watch the (slightly graphic) documentary The Book that Shook the World; finish your Finish this Book reflection paper.

Monday, Nov. 16: Turn in your Finish this Book reflection paper. Then: debate: is censorship of educational materials ever a good idea? (I’ll also introduce the final paper prompt, plus the idea of source conversation diagrams in class.) For next time: Read Robinson, Chapter Eight (“Booksellers”); generate two possible topics with research questions, write a sample thesis for each, and bring them in for speedy peer review.

Wednesday, Nov. 18: Speedy Peer Review. Then: marketing exercise/game: the economics of retailing text—in digital and/or print formats. For next time: Read Robinson, Chapter Nine (“Libraries”).

Monday, Nov. 23: Library Visit/Research Day: time to create source conversation diagrams.

Wednesday, Nov. 25: No class. Happy Thanksgiving! For next time: Bring in your diagrams, plus least one source, in a physical/digital copy.

Monday, Nov. 30: Source interaction activity. Then: final exam information and review sheets will be distributed, and there will be time to complete some practice questions. For next time: Read Robinson, Chapter Seven (“Publishers”); bring the first three pages of your paper draft to class.

Wednesday, Dec. 2: Peer review. Then: Fun with query letters and Writer’s Market: framing your project as a pitch to an editor. For next time: Finalize your draft and prepare your presentation.

Monday, Dec. 7: Turn in your paper. Then: project presentations (and popcorn!) For next time: Bring your questions about the final exam.

Wednesday, Dec. 9: Wrap Up (and final exam review session.)

Final Exam: Tuesday, December 15th, 11:00-12:50.