Making Books in the Renaissance and Today

What have books been, and what might they be? How can actually making books “edit” our expectations about them? In this course, we undertake three main activities. First, we study the history of the book in Europe and the world, from Gutenberg (ca. 1450) to the Industrial Revolution. Second, we examine in detail books, prints, and related artifacts from the MIT Libraries and MIT Museum collections. Third, working in the Beaver Press print shop on the eighth floor of Barker Library, we will use a movable-type printing press built by MIT students for a series of printing exercises, culminating in an 8-page pamphlet designed and printed entirely by hand. (We also plan to make paper!) Through these activities, we will develop a holistic view of print: its stakes, its requirements, its valances, and its possible iterations. Along the way, we consider parallels between the Early Modern textual world and today’s rapidly changing media landscape. How might “affordances” of particular media contribute to shaping texts themselves? And how might placing new media in historical context help us understand the book’s future potential?

Assignments include essays and online projects. Students participate in the design and construction of a hand-set printing press. Limited to 12.