H-115. Book Production and Social Practice in Early Modern Europe and America

Ann Blair David D. Hall

Working outward from the material book, this course will highlight the unique value of book history in the study of culture, religion, and politics of the early modern period. Case studies will range from Europe, to England, and North America c.1500–1800, and will include John Foxe’s book of martyrs, the Essais of Montaigne, and the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Each student will also work closely with one historical source selected by the instructors based on his or her special interests, culminating in a brief presentation to the group on Friday. The course assumes a basic familiarity with book history, whether acquired at RBS (e.g. in a course like Martin Antonetti’s The Printed Book in the West to 1800), through a program of reading, or elsewhere. Using material from Harvard’s collections, mainly at Houghton Library, the seminar will emphasize the historical significance of choices made by producers of books (authors, printers, and others) and the impact of those decisions on readers. We will consider especially how authority was constructed and the author portrayed in different contexts and genres. In doing so we will discuss, among other topics, patronage and the financing of publication, the uses of manuscript and forms of manuscript publication, textual variations in print, censorship, and the many manifestations of social hierarchy in the handpress era. This course will model and help students develop skills in multiple kinds of book historical analysis, including the printing history of a text, close reading of paratexts and texts, attention to comparands, the study of book inventories and catalogs, and of reader annotations.

Students are asked to bring a laptop to the course, though we do not anticipate use of the laptop at all the course meetings. The course will include one evening lecture (on Tuesday), and the option of working at Houghton until 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The course may include a short field trip to a local collection to which we would walk or travel by public transit.

Course History

Ann Blair and David D. Hall co-teach this course for the first time.

Course Resources

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  • Ann Blair
  • David D. Hall

Ann Blair

Ann Blair is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor of History and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University, where she teaches in book history and the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe (with a focus on France and Northern Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). She is the author of The Theater of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science (Princeton University Press, 1997), which was designed as a “total history” of a book of encyclopedic natural philosophy of 1596. Most recently she studied reference books in manuscript and print c.1500–1650 in Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (Yale University Press, 2010). She is especially interested in practices of learning and scholarship in early modern Europe, including note-taking and composing. She is currently working on a book version of the Rosenbach Lectures she delivered at the University of Pennsylvania in 2014 on amanuenses and authorship in early modern Europe.

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David D. Hall

David D. Hall is Bartlett Research Professor of New England Church History at Harvard Divinity School. He has taught at HDS since 1989, and was Bartlett Professor of New England Church History until 2008, when he became Bartlett Research Professor. He writes extensively on religion and society in seventeenth-century New England and England. His books include Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New EnglandPuritans in the New World: A Critical Anthology and, most recently, A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). He has edited two key collections of documents: The Antinomian Controversy of 1636–1638: A Documentary History and Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638–1693. He edited, with Hugh Amory, The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, the first volume in the five-volume History of the Book in America series of which he was the general editor. He continues to study and write about religion and culture in early America, with particular attention to “lived religion,” and is presently writing a general history of Puritanism in England, Scotland, and New England c.1550 to 1700, to be published by Princeton University Press.

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