• The University Seminar in Material Texts
  • The Department of English
  • The Dean of Humanities
  • The Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library
  • First come, first seated
  • Free and open to the public

The field of book history has never been more vibrant, nor has the importance of interrogating the material dimensions of text, its creation and circulation and consumption, been more clear, as digital media upend traditional modes of publishing, reading, and even academic librarianship. “What is a book?” is a question whose stakes have never been higher, and book historians and bibliographers have risen to the challenge, producing work that examines not just how books exist as physical objects, but how those physical existences have been conditioned by historical circumstances, and how they in turn condition cultures and practices and reading and interpretation. The University Seminar in Material Texts proposes an event that will bring together scholars in this vibrant field, including several Columbia faculty members, to discuss new and ongoing work.

Summer 2019 sees the publication by Oxford University Press of Book Parts, edited by Dr. Dennis Duncan (writer and translator) and Prof. Adam Smyth (Balliol College, Oxford), a bold and imaginative intervention in the fast-growing field of book history that “pulls the book apart.” In twenty-two chapters, it tells the story of every component of the book, from title pages to endleaves, dustjackets to indices, and everything in between. It shows how these parts of the book that we know, love, or take for granted emerged over time, make meaning for book makers and users, and hide in plain sight. The volume covers the pre-print era to the digital age, and each chapter is written by an exciting scholar working in the field of book history today.

To showcase the exciting and innovative work being done in the fields of book history and bibliography at Columbia and across the Atlantic seaboard, the Columbia University Seminar in Material Texts and the Heyman Center for the Humanities will host a one-day “Book Parts” event on Friday, October 11, 2019. Eight speakers from among the volume’s contributors will each speak about the history and meaning of different “parts” of the modern book (such as endsheets, tables of contents, and footnotes) and the keynote speaker, Leah Price (Rutgers), will respond to the day's papers and the volume as a whole. The final portion of the program will be a pop-up exhibit at Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, for which conference speakers will select items from Columbia’s rich special collections holdings that illustrate or speak to the phenomena in their presentations.

Keynote respondent: Leah Price, Department of English, Rutgers University

Conference Speakers:
Dennis Duncan (writer and translator; volume co-editor), “Indexes”
Nicholas Dames (Columbia, English), “Chapter Heads”
Jenny Davidson (Columbia, English), “Footnotes”
Joseph Howley (Columbia, Classics), “Tables of Contents”
Whitney Trettien (University of Pennsylvania, English), “Title Pages”
Meaghan J. Brown (Folger Shakespeare Library), “Addresses to the Reader”
Rachel Sagner Buurma (Swarthmore, English), “Epigraphs”
Claire M. L. Bourne (Penn State, English), “Running Titles”


12:45 - 1:00pm Arrival, coffee

1:00pm - 1:15pm Welcome
Joseph Howley (Columbia) and Alexis Hagadorn (Columbia, Libraries)
Location: Heyman Center, Common Room

1:15pm - 2:30pm PANEL 1
Location: Heyman Center, Common Room
Whitney Trettien (University of Pennsylvania), “Title Pages”
Joseph Howley (Columbia, Classics), “Tables of Contents”
Meaghan J. Brown (Independent scholar), “Addresses to the Reader”

2:30 - 2:45 Coffee break

2:45pm - 4:00pm PANEL 2
Location: Heyman Center, Common Room
Nicholas Dames (Columbia), “Chapter Heads”
Rachel Sagner Buurma (Swarthmore), “Epigraphs”
Claire M. L. Bourne (Pennsylvania State), “Running Titles”

4:00 - 4:15pm Coffee break

4:15pm - 5:05pm PANEL 3
Location: Heyman Center, Common Room
Jenny Davidson (Columbia), “Footnotes”
Dennis Duncan (University College London), “Indexes”

5:30 - 6:30 pm KEYNOTE RESPONSE
Location: Butler Library Room 523
Leah Price (Rutgers)

6:30pm - 7:15 pm OBJECT VIEWING
Location: Butler Library Room 522

Full program available at: