This course considers what might constitute a feminist approach to studying books, what the benefits of such approaches are, and how to incorporate them into our own work.
We will center the textual object in exploring these issues, letting artifacts drive our questions rather than the actions of book makers, sellers, or collectors. Another way of putting this is that the course won’t ask who women printing books were, but rather, who determined the terms on which we engage with books. This doesn’t mean ignoring the many agents involved in book work, including the people involved in the long history of book trades, the academic field of print culture and textual editing, and the intersection of these with library practices. But it means that our work this week will be focused on generating questions about methodology rather than recovering names and histories.
We will also wrestle with the theory and practice of feminism, which has a history of different meanings for different communities, and how to develop it as an inclusive practice for our book work. If living a feminist life is, as Sara Ahmed argues, something we must return to over and over, something that we put into practice daily rather than something that stays in the classroom, how do we bring that into our spaces of book work?
Through a combination of short advance readings about bibliography and feminism, seminar discussions, and hands-on work with textual artifacts at Otago’s collections, we will explore what questions are brought to the forefront when we approach our work through a feminist framework. Discussions and exercises will also explore different models of pedagogy in order to give participants a feel for what methodologies might suit them best.
The course is intended to be of use to anyone researching, teaching, or acting as a custodian for rare books; although we will pay careful attention to the first centuries of western printing, since the study of those books have shaped the field of bibliography as a whole, the issues the course will consider cover all periods of book study. Participants should not expect to come out of the course having mastered a feminist history of books, but to leave with a set of tools to ask feminist questions of books.
Dr Sarah Werner is an independent scholar and librarian based in Washington, DC, who is focused on building public and student engagement with special collections libraries. She is the author of Studying Early Printed Books 1450–1800: A Practical Guide (2019) and its open-access companion site, EarlyPrintedBooks.com, and is co-editor of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. She has given numerous talks on feminist bibliography, including the 2018 American Printing History Association Lieberman Lecture and for the London Rare Book School, and has led a range of workshops and courses on the topic, including for the California Rare Book School. Werner received a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996 with a focus on feminist performances of Shakespeare and taught English and drama at a number of universities before working at the Folger Shakespeare Library to create a program for undergraduate coursework on book history and establishing their scholarly blog, The Collation. In her spare time she tweets too much as @wynkenhimself and designs fabric and wallpaper patterns from public domain images of rare materials.
Advance reading list
(please contact Dr Werner if you need access to these materials)
- bell hooks, Feminist Theory From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 1984; 3rd ed., New York: Routledge, 2014), chap. 2, “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression,” pp. 18–33, and chap. 8, “Educating Women: A Feminist Agenda,” pp. 108–16.
- Thomas Tanselle,Bibliographical Analysis: A Historical Introduction(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), chap. 1, “Foundations,” pp. 6–30.
- Kate Ozment, “Rationale for Feminist Bibliography,” Textual Cultures 13, no. 1 (2020): 149–78, https://doi.org/10.14434/textual.v13i1.30076.
- Leslie Howsam, “In My View: Women and Book History,” SHARP News 7, no. 4 (Autumn 1998): 1–2, http://hdl.handle.net/10150/105226.
- Judith Bennett, History Matters (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), chap. 2, “Feminist History and Women’s History,” pp. 6–29, and chap. 8, “Conclusion: For Whom Are We Doing Feminist History?” pp. 153–55.
- Michelle Levy, “Do Women Have a Book History?” Studies in Romanticism 53, no. 3 (Fall 2014).
- Emily Spunaugle, “Epistolary Poetics: Reading the Manuscript Interventions of Melesina Trench,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 116, no. 3 (September 2022): 379–407.