Can you judge a book by its cover? In this class, we will. In fact, we will start before books had covers – with cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls thousands of years old – and end with today’s e-books that exist in the ether of the internet feeding your iPad or Kindle. The main focus of the course, however, will be medieval manuscripts and early printed books, when the codex took the form we know today. You will learn how to transcribe different types of medieval handwriting, how to date a manuscript, and how to edit early texts. As we read together Middle English and Early Modern literature such as Chaucer and Shakespeare (as well as more obscure writing), we will look back at their original forms, always more complicated and beautiful than today’s neat, cleaned-up editions. There will be a special “Skin Week” where we will theorize the book as skin (parchment or vellum manuscripts) and the skin as book (tattoos, bodies, etc).
Classes will sometimes meet at the Library’s Special Collections Department to examine papyri, manuscripts, incunabula, and more recent printed books in person; final projects may involve exploring the archives.
No experience in pre-modern literature required, only the desire to touch really old books.
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