H-105. The Bible and Histories of Reading

Lynne Farrington Peter Stallybrass

“I came away with a broader understanding of how the biblical texts have been transmitted and used over time and place.” —2017 student

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 2–7 June 2024
Format: in person, University of Pennsylvania Libraries in Philadelphia, PA
Fee: $1,395

In this course, we will be drawing on the extensive materials at Penn to explore how “the bible” was constituted through a variety of material forms for liturgical use, devotional practices, scholarly exegesis, the education of children, and as a literary resource. One question will be to what extent “the bible” was a post-Reformation invention, given that it was not particularly useful for liturgical practices in the Middle Ages. We will focus on Genesis, the Psalms, and the Gospels from the Middle Ages onwards, focusing on English translations from Wycliffe to the Brick Testament (made out of Lego).  No language skills are required, but you may find some online resources for the Latin Bible useful (e.g., http://www.latinvulgate.com and http://medievalist.net/search.htm).

Special topics will include: the bible as scrolls and as codex; the invention of the pocket bible; the development of biblical reference systems; the dissemination of the scriptures through a range of “non-biblical” forms (books of hours; children’s primers; sermons; anthologies; commonplace books); printing and publishing the bible (including in North America); “illustrations” as counter-texts; commentary and exegesis.

We will pay particular attention to typological reading (for which a good starting point is George Herbert’s “The Bunch of Grapes” in a modern annotated edition). To what extent does typology challenge dominant modern notions of reading, usually based upon the reading of novels? To what extent was the book-form (first mentioned by Martial in the first century CE and thus virtually coterminous with Christianity) ideally suited for discontinuous reading, whether through the collation of the “same” passage in the four gospels or through the typological collation of Old Testament and New Testament passages? Finally, to what extent was the reading of the bible transformed by post-novel reading practices?

Course History

Lynne Farrington & Peter Stallybrass co-teach this course in person.
Peter Stallybrass teaches this course online (22 hours), assisted by Lynne Farrington.
Peter Stallybrass teaches this course in person, assisted by Lynne Farrington.
Peter Stallybrass teaches this course in person.
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Course Resources

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  • Lynne Farrington
  • Peter Stallybrass

Lynne Farrington

Lynne Farrington is Senior Curator, Special Collections in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has worked since 1992. She is the author, with Jean-François Vilain, of Color in American Fine & Private Press Books 1890–2015 (2016) and the editor, with Paul Eisenhauer, of Wharton Esherick and the Birth of the American Modern (2010). She has published articles on nineteenth-century American subscription publishing and the bookbinder and entrepreneur Thomas Gosden, and is working on a history of Philadelphia’s Centaur Book Shop and Press. In 2019, she was the Project Director for “Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy,” a year-long examination of the iconic American poet Walt Whitman and his legacy. She recently co-taught the undergraduate English seminar, “Travelling with Gulliver: The Many Lives of a Novel,” making extensive use of Penn’s Jonathan Swift collections in the classroom. She worked on a major 2022 exhibition on the African American artist and children’s book author/illustrator Ashley Bryan.

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Peter Stallybrass

Peter Stallybrass is Annenberg Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and directed the “History of Material Texts” seminar from 1993 until 2018. He has been awarded the Andrew Lang Gold Medal from the University of St. Andrews and four teaching awards from Penn. He has been the Samuel Wannamaker Fellow at the Globe Theatre in London, the Moses Aaron Dropsie Fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and a Guggenheim Fellow, and he is a member of the American Philosophical Society. His work at the Library Company led him to collaborate with Jim Green on exhibitions on “Material Texts” and on “Benjamin Franklin: Writer and Printer,” and on a book on Franklin that was published by the Library Company, the British Library, and Oak Knoll in 2006. He also collaborated with Heather Wolfe in 2006 on an exhibition on “Technologies of Writing in the Renaissance” at the Folger Shakespeare Library. His 2006 A. S. W. Rosenbach lectures on “Printing-for-Manuscript” will be published by the Universty of Pennsylvania Press. For his sins, retirement has meant an increase in his teaching load, since he is now teaching a graduate course on “Material Texts” at the Beinecke Library, an undergraduate course on “Early Modern Reading and Writing” at Penn, as well as working on the Bible for Rare Book School.

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