History of Books and Material Texts

The History of Books and Material Texts is a Research Focus Group sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The group was founded in 2008 by an interdisciplinary group of faculty members and graduate students.  The 2012-2013 co-conveners are Jim Kearney (English), Charlotte Becker (English), and Sophia Rochmes (History of Art & Architecture).

Our research interest broadly include:

  • testing the impact of manuscript, print, and art texts across disciplinary, chronological and geographic boundaries;
  • responding to recent scholarship that addresses the material presentation of works and the physicality of texts as important interpretive elements;
  • addressing the ways in which our lives as scholars and students are shaped by print;
  • heightening awareness of print history as it relates to, and in the face of, new media;
  • ways of accessing and distributing texts.

Each year, our events are generally organized around a theme.  Past themes have included “Books and Bodies,” “Books and the Law,”  “Sacred Texts/Paratexts,” and “Texts and Borders, Borders of Texts.”  Suggestions for future themes are always welcome.

Our theme for 2012-2013 is “For Other than Reading.”  Our aim is to explore the potential for books to engage the imagination and the intellect outside of their written textual contents, and more generally examine the uses or potential uses for texts besides straightforward reading.  We will think about texts that include devices like maps, labyrinths, rebuses, ornament, various forms of illustration, and other “unconventional” formats, and consider the alternative modes of “reading” they necessitate or encourage.