Fall 2019 English Graduate Courses

350:508 - Methods in History of Books & Reading

Course No:  350:508
Index # - 19008
Distribution Requirement:  B
Thursday - 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Methods in History of Books & Reading

Leah Price

This seminar will introduce students to methods and debates in the history of the book and of reading. Issues will include material bibliography; competing models of authorship, printing, and reading; changing practices in the production, circulation and use of the printed word

Learning goals:

  • Broaden your repertoire of methods for interpreting texts and analyzing material culture
  • Identify areas of interest for dissertation research, and situate those interests within theoretical and historiographical debates
  • Develop the ability to break a research project into stages, to identify tools needed to pursue each, and to plan the most efficient way to acquire them.
  • Familiarize yourself with library resources on campus and beyond 
  • Practice constructing arguments and marshaling primary & secondary texts to support your claims
  • Gain practice in presenting your research to scholars in other time/place fields 


  1. One 5-10-minute oral presentation, with handout that should summarize the week’s secondary readings, compare or contrast them with readings earlier in the semester, and identify a series of questions for the seminar to discuss.   
  2. One 5-minute max. presentation at the second class meeting of a “keyword” of your choice, for which you’ll take responsibility during class discussion for the remainder of the semester.  Please speak without notes or data projector, but you are encouraged to circulate a handout.
  3. bibliographic exercise on an object held by a library at Rutgers-New Brunswick (due in Week 3), and …
  4. …an oral/visual presentation of a comparand held in a library elsewhere in the tristate area, selected in consultation with the instructor (in Week 9).  The latter will be informed by two mandatory field trips to collections off campus; funding will be provided for the field trips as well as for individual research trips.
  5. posting to the seminar’s discussion board at least 24 hours before class, every week except those labeled “no posting.”
  6. A 500-800-word book review of a recent book-historical monograph not assigned in the course, pitched to Public Books, LARB, Chronicle, LRB, TLS, or other crossover venue of your choosing (due in week 10 by ***Date/TimeTBA).
  7. proposal for the final paper (around 500 words); a 10-minute oral presentation of your final paper (which will normally still be in draft at this point) at the final seminar meeting; and a conference-length research paper on a topic of your choosing, which will ordinarily center on a book or other object chosen from your own research interests and will ideally form the focus of the short exercises as well.
  8. In class discussion, willingness to teach your subfield to seminar members focused on other genres/times/places, to think together about methods and models from case studies outside your field that can be applied to your future dissertation work, to argue for your ideas, and to back them up with evidence marshaled both in advance and on the spot.

Books on order and on reserve:

  • David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (eds.), The Book History Reader (London: Routledge, 2006).
  • Guglielmo Chartier and Roger Cavallo, A History of Reading in the West (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003). 978-1558494114. $27.50.
  • Michelle Levy and Tom Mole (eds), The Broadview Reader in Book History (Ontario: The Broadview Press, 2014). 978-1554810888. $49.95. (Buy if possible).