Culture, Society, and History:

Cultures of

the Book



a First-Year Experience course fulfilling either the Critical Perspectives:West in Time requirements or two units of the Diverse Cultures and Critiques requirement and the entry levels of the History, History-Political Science, History-Philosophy and Classics-History-Politics majors

Blocks 1-2, 2010-11


Instructors of record:  

Carol Neel, Department of History, Palmer 233

              Phone 389-6527, e-mail

              Office hours 1-2:20, Tuesday and Thursda

John Williams, Palmer    

              Phone 389-6525, e-mail

              Office hours 1:30-3:00, Tuesday and Thursday 

Further course staff:  

Jessy Randall, Tutt Library, Special Collections

              Phone 389-6668, e-mail

Steve Lawson, Tutt Library, Humanities

              Phone 389-6857, e-mail

Aaron Cohick, Press at Colorado College, Taylor Theatre                   

              Phone 389-6376, e-mail

              Press course hours 1-3pm, Monday and Tuesday 

Student mentors:             

Connie Jiang                     

              Phone 719-243-9314, e-mail

Stuart Hackley

              Phone 720-341-7744, e-mail


Course description and requirements 

This two-block course will explore the ways in which ancient and subsequent European and Asian peoples have read, copied and used writing from the origins of script to the contemporary electronic book.  The course's central readings will be major sources in the development of Western and Chinese civilizations.  Attention to these works from both ancient and more recent pasts will stress the ways in which culturally normative texts both reveal and critique the power of the manuscript and printed word.  Further readings by modern historians and critics will explore the book-making technologies known to historical readers and writers.

Students will write individual critical essays on the respective common readings and collaborate to choose, research and print in limited edition a text of significance for the cross-cultural history of the book.  The faculty coordinators of this course, members of the History Department, will support students in discussion and written assignments, and Special Collections and Humanities librarians as well as the letterpress printer who oversees the Press at Colorado College will engage with students throughout, especially in preparation of their final publication.  Class members will collaborate with these non-departmental experts in handling of manuscript and other primary source  materials, researching these works’ contents and contexts, and producing a hand-set and hand-printed edition of the text they choose and the commentary they construct.  Students will thus develop familiarity with modern research tools and postmodern critical frameworks as they enter into the experience of historians and printers of the past as well as the subjects whom their technologies of the book revealed.  Although all course activities including the production of printed matter are grounded in prior cultures, their goals are contemporary: for student participants to develop awareness of the power of the written word and the indebtedness of even electronic information storage to the historical frameworks shaping literacy. 

Class discussions as well as student writing and presentations will be centered on primary sources--the texts and artifacts left behind by ancients, medievals and moderns.   Films and individual research will suggest the ways in which others of our times have understood the role of the book in two major world cultures, but emphasis here will be for this group--its students and teachers working together--to build a common sense of the past from the raw materials of historical literature and documents. An important and distinctive feature of our course will be a commitment to close reading of common texts.  As a result, students will need to pace their preparation carefully, looking ahead and getting ahead on longer readings.  Most importantly, all class participants will need to read with care and imagination, annotating hard copy of common texts thoughtfully and sharing their perspectives generously.  They will need to bring the same level of focus and engagement to tehir work in library and letterpress studio.

Special opportunity in this First-Year Experience course will be the visits, in Block 1 of a prominent scholar of medieval manuscript production and, in Block 2, of an influential theorist of the contemporary book—both, as it happens, Canadians by birth or adoption.  A variety of films will leaven the readings and these special lecture events.  

During the first block, students will be expected to 

During the second block, students will 

Evaluation of student work will be based on 

Each of these aspects of course work will be weighted equally.  Because some of the tasks of Block 1 will come to fruition in Block 2, students will receive the same grade, determined at the end of Block 2, for both blocks.  Short one-source essays may employ Chicago Manual of Style parenthetical reference form; research papers will require CMS-style footnotes.  Papers, when due, will be submitted to the College's PROWL website in electronic form for peer critique and, as well, in hard copy to the instructor's "in" box in the History suite by the stated deadline.  All work submitted must be prepared according to the Colorado College Honor Code and acknowledge that compliance in writing.

Course materials

The following books are available for purchase in the Colorado College Bookstore.  Many of the

texts represented in these editions are available in other translations, but it will be helpful if class

members use the same translations so that we can refer to specific pages and passages during our

discussions.  If students avail themselves of discounted prices from Web merchants, they should be

careful to find the editions listed.

Barber, Richard. Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ms Bodley 764. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2006.

Li Fengjin: How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up. Translated by Susan Glosser. Portland, OR: Opal Mogus Books, 2005.

Miyazaki, Ichisada. China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

O'Donnell, James J. Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Pearson, David. Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts. Newcastle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2008.

Plato. Phaedrus. Translated by Christopher Rowe. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.

Sima Qian, K.E. Brashier, and Raymond Dawson. The First Emperor: Selections from the Historical Records, Oxford World's Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Spence, Jonathan D. The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Tacitus, Cornelius. The Complete Works of Tacitus. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. New York: McGraw Hill, 1964.

Voltaire. Candide. Translated by Robert M. Adams. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.

Excerpts from the following further works will be available on the course’s PROWL website:  

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. Revised ed. London: Verso, 1991. Pp. xi-46, 187-206.

Bokenkamp, Stephen R. Early Daoist Scriptures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.  Pp. 230-271.

Chartier, Roger. "The Practical Impact of Writing." In The Book History Reader, edited by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery . Pp. 118-42.

Cheek, Timothy. Mao Zedong and China's Revolutions. Boston: Bedford, 2002.  Pp. 112-116.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mark, ed. Readings in Han Chinese Thought. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006.  Pp. 156-166.

Darnton, Robert.  “Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint Séverin.”  In Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French

    Cultural History.  New York: Basic Books, 1984.  Pp. 75-104.  

___________.  "The Library in the New Age." New York Review of Books, 12 June, 2008.   Accessible at

De Bary, William Theodore, Irene Bloom, Richard John Lufrano, and Wing-tsit Chan, eds. Sources of Chinese Tradition. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University

     Press, 1999.  Pp. 1-23.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. New ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.  Pp. x1-45, 286-311.

Feng Menglong. Stories Stories to Caution the World: A Ming Dynasty Collection. Translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang. Seattle: University of Washington

     Press, 2005.  Pp. 261-289.

Grafton, Anthony and Megan Williams.  Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea.  Cambridge MA and London:

     Belknap Press, 2006.  Pp. 11-21, 86-132, 233-243. 

Hansen, Valerie. The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600. New York: Norton, 2000.  Pp. 17-53.

Hugh of St. Victor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval guide to the Arts.  Translated by. Jerome Taylor.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

     Pp. 43-55. 61-62, 83-101, 120-134.

Johns, Adrian.  The Nature of the Book:  Print and Knowledge in the Making.  Chicago: Univerfsity of Chicago Press, 2000.  Pp. 1-47, 622.638.

Li Yu. A Tower for the Summer Heat. Translated by Patrick Hanan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.  Pp. 83-115.

Luther, Martin.  “Preface to the New Testament” and“Preface to the Epsitle of Paul to the Romans.”  In John Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther: Selections from His

  Writings.  New York: Anchor Books, 1962.  Pp. 19-34.  

Ong, Walter. "Orality and Literacy: Writing Restructures Consciousness." In The Book History Reader. Pp. 105-17.

Petrarca, Francesco.  “The Ascent of Mont Ventoux.”  In Ernst Cassirer et al., eds.  The Renaissance Philosophy of Man.  Chicago: University fo Chicago Press,

     1956.  Pp. 36-46.

Strassberg, Richard E. A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Pp. 161-


Watson, Burton. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.  Pp. 18-43, 138.

Young, Karl.  “Notation and the Art of Reading.”  In Jerome Rothenberg and Steven Clay, eds.  A Book of the Book: Some Works and Projections about the Book and

    Writing.  2nd ed.  New York: Granary Books, 1999.  Pp. 25-49.

The following films will be subjects for common discussion; copies for review will be available from the instructor:

Truffaut, François, dir.  Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Kaige Chen, dir.  The Emperor and the Assassin (1998)

Annaud, Jean-Jacques, dir.  The Name of the Rose (1986)

Hustwit, Gary, dir. Helvetica (2007)

Schedule of readings, meetings, written work and presentations

Meeting topics are listed in boldface, special scheduling in red, and dates/topics of papers and presentations in purple.  Students should note that not all reading assignments are of equal length or difficulty.  It is wise to plan carefully for big assignments.

Class meetings will take place at 9:30am unless otherwise noted, and in Palmer 223 unless an alternate location is specified.


Week 1 (9/6)


Discussion: Thinking about the history of the book

Reading (linked on PROWL and distributed during NSO): Darnton, “The Library in the New Age.”

10:30am--class meeting after Convocation

2pm--introductory Press session (Taylor Theatre).


Discussion: China before the book

Reading (posted on PROWL): Hansen, “Beginnings of the Written Record”; De Bary, “Oracle Bone Inscriptions”; Watson, “Book of Odes.” 

1pm—Press studio (Taylor)     


Discussion: After the book?

Reading (posted on PROWL): Ong, “Orality and Literacy”; Chartier, “Practical Impact of Writing”; Young, “Notation.”


9am--Writing Center session with director Tracy Santa (Tutt Library, Learning Commons)  

10am–noon—individual paper appointments

Reading:  O’Donnell, Avatars (entire text).

3pm--two-page paper due: Is Jim O’Donnell right that the contemporary crisis in the technology of reading and writing is comparable to earlier such junctures? 


Discussion 9am--Reading Plato

Reading: Plato, Phaedrus, pp. 3-39 (227-257).

9:30am--small-group paper critiques

1pm—Film: Fahrenheit 451.

Week 2 (9/13)


Discussion: Speaking and writing in Mediterranean antiquity

Reading: Plato, Phaedrus, pp. 39-78 (258-279).

Revised essays due in class

1pm—Press workshop (Taylor)


Discussion: The uses of a written past

Reading:  Sima Qian, First Emperor, pp. 3-52, 61-94.

1pm—Press studio (Taylor)


Discussion: Politics, history and literature

Reading:  Tacitus, Agricola, in Collected Works.


          Film: The Emperor and the Assassin


          Discussion:  Public discourse and literary communities

Reading:  Tacitus, Dialogus, in Collected Works.

3 pm--four-page paper due: What is the relationship between writing and power?  Answer from the perspective of either ancient Chinese or classical Mediterranean literature,

      although you may make reference to the other culture, as to critical readings bearing on both, as you find useful.


Week 3 (9/20)


           Lecture: Manuscript books, manuscript hands         

Discussion 1pm, Tutt Special Collections:  Looking at medieval books

3pm, Palmer 230—Roger Reynolds (University of Toronto), “God’s Money: Eucharistic Hosts in the Ninth Century according to Eldefonsus of Spain”


Reading (posted on PROWL): Grafton and Williams, Chrstianity and. . .Transformation; Hugh, Didascalicon.


           Discussion: Understanding nature and the supernatural

Reading (posted on PROWL):  Tao Yuanming, “Reading the Classic of Hills and Seas,” in Watson; Strassberg, A Chinese Bestiary; “The Great Petition for Sepulchral

      Plaints, ” in Bokencamp; Csikszentmihalyi, “Protective Talismans.”

1pm—Press studio (Taylor)


Bibliography workshop (individual research topics)--Tutt Library    


           Discussion:  Animal stories

           Reading: Bestiary (entire text).   


Discussion:  Books as artifacts

Reading: Pearson, Books as History, pp. 7-76, 163-184.

2 pm--four-page paper due: How are The Classic of Mountains and Seas and the Bodley 764 bestiary alike/different? Focus your response on one text/image pairing from each text.


6 pm, Palmer 233--dinner and a movie: Annaud, Name of the Rose


Week 4 (9/27)


           Group presentations on making beast-books

           1pm—Press workshop (Taylor)


 Individual research day

 1pm—Press studio (Taylor)


 Individual projects progress reports (prospectus with central bibliography)



Week 1 (10/4)


Discussion: Humanism

Reading (posted on PROWL): Petrarch, “Ascent.”

1pm—Press workshop (Taylor)


           Discussion:  Reform

           Reading (posted on PROWL):  Luther, prefaces.

           1pm—Press studio (Taylor)


           Discussion, Tutt Library Special Collections: Looking at printed books     

 Individual research paper, developed prospectus and outline with completed bibliography due at 3pm          


 Discussion: The advent of printing and the course of history

 Reading (posted on PROWL): Eisenstein, Printing Revolution (excerpt).


 Discussion: Revisiting the printing revolution 

 Reading (posted on PROWL):  Johns, Nature of the Book (excerpt); Darnton, “Cat Massacre.”


Week 2 (10/11)


 Discussion:  Cultural encounters of the Book

 Reading: Spence, pp. 1-127. 

 1pm--Press workshop (Taylor)


 Discussion:  Reading, imagery, and intellectual elites

 Reading: Spence, pp. 128-268.

 1pm—Press studio (Taylor)   


 Discussion:  Examination culture in late imperial China

 Reading: Miyazaki, China’s Examination Hell, 13-101, 111-129.


           Discussion: Printing and Popular Fiction in late imperial China

           Reading (posted on PROWL): Feng, “The Luckless Scholar Rises in Life,” and “A Former Protégé Repays His Patron unto the Third Generation”;  Li, “House of

                 Gathered Refinements.”


  Individual appointments with instructors on research progress

Week 3 (10/18)


 Discussion: Enlightenment and critical reading

 Reading: Voltaire, Candide (entire text).

 1pm—Press workshop (Taylor)

 3pm, WES Room--Darren Wershler lecture, "Findables: Poetry without Poets"


           9am--bagel and a movie: Helvetica

           1pm discussion: Revolution and the Book

           Reading (posted on PROWL): Mao Zedong, “Talks at the Yanan Conference on Literature and Art,” in Cheek; Li Fengjin (entire text).


            Individual research/writing day          


 9am--Research paper drafts due in multiple copies for workshopping

 9:30am--Press workshop (continuing presswork for edition)

 1pm and 2pm--paper workshops in small groups


 8:30am--Exam preparation session 

 Reading (posted on PROWL): Anderson, Imagined Communities

 Take-home exam: Comment, from your knowledge of the history of the book in two cultures, on Benedict Anderson’s argument that printing framed the modern world. Present your

answer in a crisp, five-page essay.

 3pm--Exam due

Week 4 (10/25)


            11am--research papers due

             1pm—Press workshop (Taylor)


             Press work day with special guest Barry Hirschfeld (Taylor)


             9am--Group research/press project completed, course evaluation completion

             9:30am--Wayzgoose at the Press (Taylor)



This course's research tools sessions will introduce students to many web-based collections useful for the preparation of assignments and further exploration.  It will also urge critical techniques for the assessment of WWW sites.  The following solid websites are a beginning to useful web research:

for Mediterranean antiquity--Perseus, at Tufts

for the European Middle Ages--the Labyrinth, at Georgetown

for an individual bestiary--the Aberdeen Bestiary

for further medieval manuscripts, including beast material--the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland

for the modern world--the Modern History Sourcebook, at Fordham

for the history of the book in particular--the Digital Scriptorium, at Columbia; Vivarium, at the Hill Monastic Museum and Library

for Asian Studies--the Asian Studies WWW Virtual Library, at Australia National University

for China--the China WWW Virtual Library Internet Guide for Chinese Studies, at Leiden                                        .



The images at the head of this syllabus are from a tenth-century Chinese woodblock print depicting the Bodhisattva Manjusri and from the late antique Bible codex known as Amiatinus.  The later shows the prophet Ezra as a late antique scribe working