Books are one of the most ordinary and familiar objects in our lives. We see them everywhere without ever really looking at them. We tend to think of books as simple containers of words and of works that can be accessed in a variety of formats: in print or in e-book, in disembodied PDF scans, or in fragmented GoogleBooks search results. Yet the book as object represents a realm of continual technological and artistic experimentation. Even today, the material existence of books runs the gamut from highly centralized and commercialized machine production to idiosyncratic handwritten memento. Books are sites of constant play between tradition and innovation, and over their long history, books have much to tell us beyond the words they transmit, especially about ourselves and our place in the natural world.
This course proposes an experiment: what happens when we look at books that we cannot read? If we can no longer access books through their content, we can instead study books as cultural artifacts, and when we do, aspects of their materials and form which have always seemed natural suddenly raise intriguing questions. Why is a page rectangular? Why are print letterforms different from handwritten cursive letterforms? These lead us to other questions about the book and the natural world: what can bookworms tell us about early print culture? What role do wasps play in the fabrication of medieval ink?
Our main focus in Ad Fontes will be looking deeply at early books, and we will be using computers to help us observe and analyze what we find: to store our data, to identify patterns in our data, to map our data onto geographical spaces, and to complete a collaborative creative project: generating new digital fonts based on historic typefaces. This course introduces students to the interpretation of primary and secondary sources; to the creation and pursuit of research questions; and to the study of rare and archival materials in collections at IUB. Class time will be spent in lecture, hands-on lab activities, group discussion, collaborative research, and individual reflection.
Catalog Information: COLL-S 103 FRESHMAN SEMINAR IN A & H