THE PAGE Visual and Material Literature

The Eighth Annual University of Ottawa English Graduate Conference

Robert Darnton’s 1982 characterization of the growing field of book history as “interdisciplinarity run riot” in many ways continues to describe the state of the field in 2013. The journal Book History, founded in 1998, declared broadly that book history is “the entire history of written communication.” David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery locate the twentieth century origins of the field in “disciplines such as Bibliography, Literary Studies, and Economic and Social History.” The common ground of these positions remains, of course, the book-object. But in 2013, digital forces are exerting pressures on the material foundations of book culture — and on the field of book history — that scholars must confront. This conference will provide an opportunity to re-evaluate our engagement with the materiality of literature at a historical moment when those foundations are at their most tenuous.

What is the enduring relevance of studying the material dimensions of literature? How does paratextuality shape the work we do as literary scholars? What can scholars of different eras learn from one another about navigating the visual and material dimensions of their respective literatures and critical challenges?

We welcome irreverent and oppositional perspectives. We welcome submissions from students in all disciplines. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Concrete or visual features of poetry, prose, and/or drama 
  • Roles and contributions of non-authorial agents
  • The book-as-object, material artefacts, artists’ books, and book design 
  • Non-visual and material aspects of literary objects, eg. braille
  • Digitization, and the implications and practices thereof 
  • Boundaries between textual and other media 
  • Paratextuality, illustration, and reading 
  • Print history and manuscript studies
  • Historical circulation, distribution, and survival of books
  • Piracy, contemporary and historical
  • Ecocritical perspectives on literary materiality
  • Editorial traditions within the canon
  • Archival and bibliographic practices, contemporary and historical
  • Non-literary documents in English departments
  • The limits of “media”
  • Technological pressures on creative practice
  • Possibilities in electronic editing

Please direct any questions about the conference to Neal Hackler and Cameron Anstee


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