Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Little Prince Meets Galileo

Thanks to Lilla Verkady and the Dibner Library of the 
Smithsonian Institution for an unforgettable afternoon!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Pilcrow

Behold the Pilcrow

Read more about it 

Type: Rider

Maybe there are other video games based on printing history? Maybe not? Check out Type: Rider. This isn't the game itself, but a walk-through. It came out last year, so maybe it's old news.

Denker Fellows Deadline Approaching


Wanted: APHA Chesapeake Students 
December 15 is the deadline. 
Information here: Denker Fellowship

Read about our friend George Barnum's lecture about paper at the GPO in San Francisco at this link.

The GPO as represented on a 1921 postcard. 

Online Course Evaluations

All students should complete the course evaluation found at this link: online course evaluation. The deadline is December 9, next Tuesday. Send me an email message if you have questions: kcs@gwu.edu

Heralds of Science on LibraryThing

Want to learn more about one of the books we saw today? Consult The Dibner's Heralds of Science Collection on LibraryThing. This is a pretty great resource.

Dibner Today!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Our Classmate Lauren Reads Her Poetry Tonight!

The Black Squirrel is located at 2427 18th St NW (in the middle of Adams-Morgan). The reading takes place in the top floor lounge. Food and drink available. Admission free.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

APHA-Chesapeake Denker Fellowship Information

Here's a photograph from our recent waysgoose at the home/studio of Chris and Pat Manson and The Crooked Crow Press.

Join our merry band of printers, artists, collectors, historians, etc.
If you're reading this and your're also a student, you should think about applying for a Denker Fellowship.
Let me know if you have questions: kcs@gwu.edu

Morris Lessmore

This is a poignant and even tear-inducing story of a man and his relationship to books: The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.

Read the film critically. What does it say about the future of the book and reading?

Yet More Future of the Book

From the commercial design and marketing firm IDEO: Three "Books" Instead of One. Click on the videos if you can stand yet more prophecy on the portentous "Future of the Book". The videos were made back in the dark ages of 2010, an eternity ago when it comes to these discussions. 

Say No to Nostalgia

Check out this great website if:Book

Great stuff also on: if: Blog

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Between Page and Screen

Here's a link to a strange video with horrible music. The text (textual body?) produced by "Between Page and Screen" seems more like an advertisement than poetry. But maybe we should think of the two as kin. Visual poetry and advertising quite obviously share an economy of language and attention. This history in America can be traced back to the middle decades of the 19th century (and perhaps earlier in Europe and South America). 

It was uncharitable of me to screengrab the glitch and post it (above). As to the concept and execution of "Between Page and Screen," it feels entirely like an artist's book. I have "read"(?) the "book" (?) itself through all of its mediation via webcam. It is really "cool". I don't remember anything about the text or story, but my memory isn't so great. I remember the experience not the "content". Ideally we want both, or we want to understand how the two converge.

This is often my experience with artist's books. Reading itself is far more nuanced and poetic than we conventionally believe it to be. Our varieties or modalities of reading greatly exceed those of writing. We are always reading (maybe even when we're asleep); we are not always writing (unless we think of reading as an act of inscription). This is a field of study that I'm looking forward to examining with students in next semester's seminar, "Texts & Readers".

Monday, November 17, 2014

Historic E-Book Settlement

An Amazon warehouse in Phoenix. How soon will this culture be obsolete? Is it already? 

The scene above is from a physical-book warehouse facility operated by Amazon.  The news though is about e-books (which should be renamed "e-texts") and their distribution channels, profit sharing arrangements, etc. Read this article from today's Christian Science MonitorAmazon v. Hachette... and the winner is?

Gutenberg = Fox Talbot = Edison = Jobs/Bezos = ?

FOR THIS THURSDAY'S CLASS   Please read Matthew Rubery's essay from Book History, "Canned Literature: The Book After Edison." I've decided to highlight this essay for our session this Thursday on the 21st century for fairly transparent and obvious reasons.  In preparation for your final seminar paper, please note the style of Rubery's writing: How he writes academic prose. We'll talk about this in class on Thursday. 

Out of the Academy & Into the Industry

The quotation abovie is by Elizabeth Minkel. Here is her review of the The 2014 London Book Fair

Oh no! Not Another "Future of the Book" Argument/Debate/Rhapsody/Screed

Our classmate Krista Sharp sent me a great online piece about the redesign of the Pelican logo by a young designer in London, Matt Young; here's the link: Pelican Books Online

I found these animations on Matt Young's website. The first is from a series of short animations he made as a student. 
Matt Young's Book vs E-book, episode 3 (2010)
Times change... two years later working for Penguin: Books for Book Lovers (2012)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Russian Avant-Garde Books

While English and American printers and book designers were held in thrall to the aesthetics of the English Arts and Crafts Movement (essentially looking back), Russians and other Europeans were looking forward in radical ways.

MoMA 2002 Exhibit: The Russian Avant-Garde Book 

Response to Mallarme

Manet's portrait of Stephane Mallarme, 1876
For your brief assignment next week, please read Stephane Mallarme's essayistic poem (or perhaps poetic essay) and respond in your own creative literary fashion. You might choose to write it as a poem or as a memory or as a manifesto or as a story or as a conceptual piece or as something hard to classify. Your writing must be no longer than one side of one sheet of paper (typing preferred). We will share these in class next week. I'm looking forward to it.
Here is a link to Mallarme's essay: "The Book: A Spiritual Instrument". You do not need to refer to Mallarme's essay in your writing and you do not have to use any other sources. You are free, however, to do both if by doing so fits the logic of your piece.

Carnegie Libraries

The Carnegie Libraries were uniquely influential not only in fostering American literacy but American culture at large. Scroll through this page of Google Image results to see the architectural shells of these libraries, many of them repurposed (in an age less congenial to the idea of knowledge for knowledge's sake). Libraries are much more than the buildings they're housed in:  Carnegie Libraries  

Printing at the Margins: an Ink-Stained History of Women and Work

Kathy Walkup's illustrated lecture at the San Francisco Public Library Printing at the Margins dwells at great length on a subject that is too frequently glossed over: Women in the printing industries and allied trades. Who were they? What did they do? How were their labor conditions? How were they different? Why?

Please prepare one (or two) questions that you would have asked Professor Walkup if you were present in the auditorium that night. I'll give you a few minutes to formulate your question when the screening ends (it's 55 m). I'll send some, but not all of the questions to her. We should have her responses by next class period.

Penguin Revolution

To the left is the cover image of the first Penguin book. Many articles and monographs have been written about the design of these books. Their influence cannot be underestimated. Penguin didn't only revolutionize the paperback in the first half of the twentieth century; it did it again in the second half with its leadership on what has come to be called the "trade-paperback" a paperback with better design, better paper, and better material packaging. 

Early Penguins have become highly collectible. This is a great narrative about collecting Penguins: The First Hundred
An entire website, Penguin First Editions, will answer all of your Penguin questions.

From Smithsonian Magazine:
Allen Lane: 20th Century Aldus

On the right is an image of the famous PENGUININCUBATOR. From this essay in Publishing Perspectives

From the official Penguin Website:
Timeline of Penguin's first 75 Years
75 Years of Penguins 

Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair

This weekend in lovely Silver Spring! Lots of Corcoran familiars and other friends in the world of books. A genuinely fun event for the whole family. I think there is a nominal admission fee, maybe the price of a movie. Details here: Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Reasonable Argument

Could it be that Washington, DC
Has the world's two best libraries?
The Smithsonian Institution & the LC.
Nothing truly rhymes with libraries.

Excuse my doggerel poem. We're visiting the Dibner Collection at the Smithsonian NMAH on the second to last day of class, December 4, from 3:00 to 4:30. Details to follow.

PS: It is a reasonable argument: DC has probably the two most amazing encyclopedic libraries anywhere in the world. Think about the Smithsonian Institution Libraries as a single library over multiple sites. Think about the foresight of the Library of Congress to archive Twitter.  Think about DC libraries not simply as collections but as hubs of knowledge generation. Above all, think about librarians and their initiative to provide access and help to all. To me, librarians are heroic. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On the Making and Issuing of Books

Seven years after Henry Stevens published Who Spoils Our New English Books?, C.T. Jacobi's On the Making and Issuing of Books, answered his question. During these years William Morris also came to an answer: there was no stand-alone book designer. The concept was just emerging.

Who Spoils Our New English Books?

The Kelmscott/Goudy Albion Press at RIT

In last December's well-publicized auction, the Cary Collection at RIT came out as the winning bidder of William Morris's Albion Press: $233,000. Morris used other presses in the printing of his Kelmscott books, but this one has a special provenance as it was once owned by America's master type-designer, Frederick Goudy. Below are some photos of the press being refurbished at RIT. Amelia Hugill-Fontanel (featured in the photos) described to me the painstaking process. Click here to read the full story.

William Morris and the Kelmscott Press

Bill Peterson's monograph on The Kelmscott Press is an amazing work of synthetic scholarship. It's unlikely to ever be equalled or surpassed. The entire book is available in an accurate online facsimile edition on Googlebooks. Click on the thumbnail view if you want to browse the images instead of read the text. 

Even though William Morris gets undeserved credit for starting the Private Press Movement (he was more of a popularizer than a creator), his work is impossible to ignore. Morris truly did bring together so many of the strands that have come to be known as the discipline we clumsily call "book history". But Morris did not work in a vacuum; he had many collaborators. Peterson's book makes these relationships clear. The most condensed statement of Morris's views on printing and book culture can be found in his 1893 essay "The Ideal Book".

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Thinking About Your Seminar Paper...

Edward Burne-Jones, a drawing in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection
Detail from a Roz Chast cartoon published in The New Yorker

Sunday, October 26, 2014

SHARP 2015

Proposals for papers are due no later than 30 November: CFP

One of my former students in this seminar delivered a wonderful paper at the SHARP annual conference in Oxford several years ago. Maybe you just want to attend? That's great also. Ask me if you have questions.

GPO Visit, Next Thursday, October 30

Here it is, ensconced within its massive brick edifice, the United States Government Printing Office. Next week our class will convene here for a special tour led by the GPO agency historian, George Barnum.  

Behind the Scenes Tour
George Barnum, GPO Agency Historian
The Government Printing Office
Meet in the GPO Visitors Center
732 North Capitol St NW
Thursday, October 30, from 3:20 to 5:00. The tour will start at 3:30, but it takes a few minutes to pass security and get your badge. Please be punctual.

RSVP REQUIRED! Please send Casey [kcs@gwu.edu] your name as it appears on your state-issued ID card or passport. The roster of names needs to be submitted early for security reasons. You will also need to bring ID. The list needs to be sent on Tuesday.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Page Density

William Blake's densely lettered pages in Jerusalem and other books challenge our relationship to reading itself. Blake demands full attention; he's not going to make it easy or fluid. It's a thick, dense, slow space (and pace). Note the staccato leading, a result of the superscript notes.

The text above is also thick, dense, and slow. But how radically different! Blake engenders wonder, the screengrab from this website is wholly unreadable. Blake challenges the act of reading, this text repels it. Printers in the 15th century would have known better. 

It's all about the paper.

Thanks to Georgia Deal for today's visit to her papermaking class. Here's more, much more, about the history of paper.

Paper, Paper, and Paper


This is not a post about Blake Lively, Blake Shelton, Blake Bortles, or Blake Griffin. This is about the only Blake that matters to the concerns of this course: William Blake (1757-1827), the English radical poet, artist, visionary, bookmaker. He's on the top right.

What can you say about Blake in a blog post? That he was the most revolutionary, most creative, most iconoclastic, most wonderful artist and poet that England has ever produced? Maybe Europe? Maybe the world? The last two would be overstatements, I'm afraid. Sound arguments can be made for Blake as the first "totalizing" book artist. Many people made artistic books, but it really wasn't until Blake that the sustained practice and genre that we loosely call "the artist's book" came into being.

The University of Virginia's:  Blake Archive

A film by the British Library:  Blake the Radical

Bookmark Project: Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

Spend some time learning about the culture and history of Al-Mutanabbi St. Why is intellectual and artistic freedom important?
Here is a link to a page that aggregates many of the activities and projects of this international group of poets, artists, writers.

Each student will make one bookmark (6.67" x 1.83" or 170mm x 46mm). This is your canvas size. On the back of all of the bookmarks produced in our class will simply be the words "Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here." On the front of the bookmark, each student will write/draw/collage/design/etc. 

We will scan each bookmark and gang them up to print on cardstock. Then we'll cut them. Lastly, we'll distribute them. Each student will have 49 bookmarks (7 bookmarks on 7 pages). Collectively, we'll have 539 bookmarks (49 x 11). We'll make an exchange (so everyone in class will have one of each), and we'll send 5 of each to the archive in San Francisco.

The Book in Art

Even though this assignment is fairly straightforward, please follow these directions carefully. Also take a close look at the example. 

1. Choose three works of art currently on display at the National Gallery of Art made before the year 1900 that feature books, reading, writing, etc. Maybe there's just a lone book in the corner of the composition, maybe the book takes center stage. Once you start looking for books and evidence of "scripted culture," you'll see them everywhere. Some paintings depict multiple books. Bring that to your discussion if it's relevant.

2.  Take three photos of the work of art: one of the entire composition, one detail (close-up) of the book-object, and one of the museum label. 

3.  Write a short mini-essay about each piece you choose. This is not a research assignment; I want you to look critically and write critically. How does this book-object "work" to make meaning? Bring to your mini-essay your knowledge of book history, the kinds of things we've been reading in Howard and Cavallo & Chartier.

4.  Combine these elements on a single sheet of paper. You're not being assessed on design pleasantries, but try to lay it out on the page in a congenial fashion. 

5.  Proofread your work, print it, and bring it to class on Nov. 6.

Below is an example that should be familiar to you (sadly in black and white instead of the original color version) by a former student, Allie Nambo.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Diderot's Panic

Information overload is not a new phenomenon. The origins and intent of Diderot and D'Alembert's famous Encylopedie are plainly described in Diderot's entry for, in essence and substance, itself. It's a longish article but worth both time and effort. From the University of Michigan: 
"Encyclopedie" in Encyclopedie

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
For some historians this is old news, but it's news to me. These remarkable birch scrolls have been excavated for years, and they are well known to many people in Russia, scholars and also members of the general public. Everyday life recorded by everyday people! 

Are these birch scrolls books? Is a shopping list a book? Why does it matter if we give an embodied text the name "book"? Does it not matter? 

Here's the article from The New York TimesWhere Mud is Archaeological Gold, Russian History Grew on Trees

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Rise of the Novel: Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Sterne

Linked below are three short videos by Robert McCrum discussing the earliest novels and novelists. It is somewhat hard to believe that the novel as we know it was invented in the eighteenth century. Yes, there are plenty of "proto-novels" and novelistic texts from earlier centuries, all the way back to antiquity. However, these texts differ greatly in scope and content. In most respects, the novel was born to meet the burgeoning market for print. In other words, there was money to be made. 

Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

Richardson's Clarissa

Sterne's Tristram Shandy

Darnton on Tristram Shandy

Cookery & Crime in the 18th Century

Hannah Glasse's, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. (London, 1777)  
Click here to access the Hathitrust/Google digital surrogate.
Note the absence of the frontispiece in this copy.

What strikes me is the similarity in the "self-advertising" function of the transaction depicted in this detail (right) from a Newgate Calendar frontispiece published at roughly the same time. Both images are domestic and instructional, and both enact a kind of demonstration of the use-value of reading the book, as if to say, "Here's proof! It works." Once again we see how books operate as tools for class aspiration, social control, and sundry other things.