Course Description: We encounter most medieval and early modern literature in the form of carefully edited, mass-produced printed books, often with rigorously researched footnotes and explanatory introductions. This format is in striking contrast to the actual ways in which these texts are preserved: on animal skin or handmade rag paper, and meticulously and laboriously laid out, lettered, and illustrated. This course will explore how premodern literature is intertwined with, and comments upon, the material realities of book creation.
We will read literary works from three enduringly significant codices: the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the First Folio of Shakespeare’s Complete Works. Throughout, we will pay attention to both the material books and the literature they contain, asking questions about how (and whether) the two facets are intertwined; how (and if) this literature breaks with the media which conveys it; and how the increasingly digital-born literature of our own day is like and unlike literature which appears in these earlier formats.
We’ll supplement this study with briefer looks at other important literary artifacts, such as the early medieval Lindisfarne Gospels and seventeenth-century broadside ballads. We will also visit UCSB Library’s Special Collections to view real premodern books; try our hands at medieval lettering and illumination; and visit UCSB’s Papermaking Studio to make our own rag paper. Your final project will involve close study of how a piece of literature of your choice—from ancient Sumerian epic to contemporary video game narrative, and anything in between—informs and is informed by its material form.