The Seminar on Enlightenment and Revolution, 1660–1830, a Stanford Humanities Center Research Workshop in Honor of John Bender and the German Studies Lecture Series present:
What kind of knowledge instrument is a book? This talk will revisit the instrumental nature of books – the way they shape readers’ knowledge of their world – by focusing on the changing nature of instrumental environments during the Romantic period. Whether through a reader’s personalized relationship with a book or the book’s passage through a broader circuit of communication, books are most often understood as singular, bound objects, ones that delineate material, subjective, and epistemic closures. These closures arguably came to be constitutive of the moment we call Romanticism. I am interested in exploring what it would mean instead to understand the book’s place within a larger material ecology of instrumentation. How does an understanding of the book within a broader horizon of epistemic things and our gestural interactions with those things give us new insights not only into the history of the book’s meaning as an instrument of knowledge, but the knowledge environments in which it participates? How can we imagine the book as part of, or as opposed to, the history of scientific instrumentation?
Andrew Piper is Associate Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (German Studies) and Associate Member in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is a former Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellow in the Digital Humanities. His books include Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago 2012) and Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (Chicago 2009), which was awarded the MLA Prize for a First Book and Honorable Mention for the Harry Levin Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association. He is also the co-founder of the FQRSC-funded research group, Interacting with Print: Cultural Practices of Intermediality, 1700-1900.