A book is a machine to think with, but it need not, therefore, usurp the functions of either the bellows or the locomotive.

I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism

For this lab, I worked with Prof. Cait Coker, curator in the Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, to select books that will help us think across the themes we will cover in our class this semester. We have arranged the books in pairs, each designed to illuminate a particular textual comparison or contrast: between time periods, technologies, cultures, or ideas about the book as an informational medium. As we talk about these books together, however, I suspect that other possible pairings will suggest themselves to you.

This lab will be an exercise in close looking, seeking to better understand what a material investigation of objects might teach us about their meaning(s), both historically and today, their provenance, and their lives within culture: what bibliographer D. F. McKenzie called “the social processes of their transmission.”

For your lab fieldbook entry, you should identify a new pairing between the books books Prof. Coker and I chose: a distinct link that interests you. You are not bound (pun so very much intended) to analyze aspects of the books I discuss in the guided part of the lab, and should in fact be delving into aspects we did not cover if you can. Feel free to browse, carefully, for two books you find particularly interesting. And then you should look and feel and smell and listen (but not taste) closely! Consider returning to RBML to spend more time with your chosen books, or scheduling a zoom appointment with Prof. Coker to look at some of the books via document camera.

Your fieldbook entry should analyze salient similarities and differences among the pages in your chosen books. Don’t simply list comparisons—though you might use bullet points to organize your thoughts—but work to understand significances. What can we learn from just a few page openings about relationships among technology, media, and culture during your texts’ periods? What do these books teach us about shifting reading, writing, and publishing practices? How does each set of pages signal what a book is, who a book is for, and what a book does during its historical period? What are the logics, codes, and protocols through which a “book” operates in each period?

In your lab report, you should link your thoughts and observations about these specific texts to our course readings, which can help you understand the features and effects I want you to attend to. You should also choose one of the digitized books listed at the end of this assignment and compare them with the physical books you studied, so that in total you compare and contrast three books. Some of the books we studied in RBML have been digitized, and I include links where possible.

In-Archive Books

Digital Books