Call for Papers: The Future Perfect of the Book

The Future Perfect of the Book – A Call for Papers

Book History Research Network: a one-day colloquium

Institute of English Studies (University of London), 25 November 2011

At a moment when the rise of e-Readers foretells the end of the printed book, the founder of the Internet Archive Brewster Kahle launches an initiative for the preservation of the book.  He is creating a storehouse for physical books in specially-adapted containers on the West Coast of the United States in order to preserve them as “backup copies” for posterity.  His idea came about as a reaction against the notion that books can be put beyond use (or thrown away) as soon as they are digitized.

While the future of the book is certainly an important topic for consideration, an initiative such as Kahle’s also begs the question how did past the past envision the future of the book – or of the predominant medium of the time.  Victor Hugo’s phrase, ‘ceci tuera cela’, spelt a new paradigm of mistrust when the printed book suddenly disrupted the foundation of manuscript culture and the transmission of the written. Although the digital revolution is possibly the most radical change in the history of writing, one can wonder how other similar transitions fared: from the scroll to the codex, from manuscript to printed book, from printing on the handpress to machine and offset printing, from writing by hand to writing on the typewriter and the wordprocessor?  More fundamentally, do the concerns of fifteenth-century critics of print like those of Abbot Johannes Trithemius of Sponheim have anything in common with twenty-first-century anxieties about the triumph of digital technology? Is access to knowledge and preservation, which champions of the digital revolution invoke, really a new concern? How much of the (old) culture of the book is retained in the new digital media?

This colloquium, therefore, wants to consider not just what “will be”, but also “what would have been” – the future perfect of the book.  We invite proposals (no more than 250 words) for 20-minutes papers on any topic in book history relating to the future of the book considered at any moment in history.  Deadline: 15th October 2011.

Topics may include:
–          competing technologies: scroll v. codex/paper v. screen/writing v. typing
–          manuscript culture in the age of print
–          the Gutenberg revolution as devolution
–          the library of the future in the past
–          old books and new media
–          mass digitization or digital archive
–          book collecting in the digital era
–          mise-en-page  and digital design
–          hypertext and other outmoded technologies
–          readers and e-readers

Cynthia Johnston
Research Student
Institute of English Studies

Dr Wim Van Mierlo
Lecturer in Textual Scholarship and English Literature
Institute of English Literature

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