A book may only be made of paper, cardboard, ink, and glue, but it is nonetheless a remarkable piece of technology—about which we have mostly forgotten it is a piece of technology. This class is concerned with the long history, the varied present, and the uncertain future of the book in the digital age.

We will approach the history of the book in the most materialist way possible. In other words, when we say “books,” we don’t mean novels. We don’t mean texts. We mean books, the actual physical objects. Books have heft. They burn. They mildew. They smell. Their shape and design limit certain uses and encourage others. Similarly, books in the future—or whatever replaces books—will foster certain practices over others.

Over the course of the semester History and Future of the Book will return again and again to three central questions: (1) What is the history of the book as a physical and cultural object? (2) How have current disruptions in reading and writing technology changed the way we use and imagine books? (3) What does the future of the book look like?

Along the way we will consider reading and writing innovations such as electronic paper, e-readers, touchscreen interfaces, DIY publishing experiments, and place-based authoring. We will also address what some critics call the phenomenon of bookishness in contemporary culture—an exaggeration of the most “bookish” elements of a book, which may represent either the last dying gasp of the printed book or herald a renaissance of the form

Learning Goals

By the end of the semester, students will be able to do the following:

  • Evaluate key moments in the development of the book as a technological form
  • Compare the affordances of different forms of textual technology (clay, scrolls, paper, books, screens, and so on)
  • Dramatize the ways books and other technological forms reconfigure social practices
  • Propose speculative designs for the future of the book
  • Construct a technologically-enhanced book
  • Question the significance of “extreme” reading and writing technologies

Required Reading

  • House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewksi (Pantheon, 2000)
  • Meanwhile, Jason Shiga (Abrams, 2010)
  • Various journal articles, book chapters, and online material, available through the library, Moodle, and the class website

Other Required Material

  • Meanwhile app (available on iTunes for $4.99)
  • Strange Rain and other various app

Note: DIG 350 is an iPad-enhanced class. ITS will supply every student with an iPad for the duration of the semester. The Digital Studies program will purchase some apps for students to use, while other apps will need to be purchased by the students themselves.

Required Work

The graded work for DIG 350 will take several forms, detailed below: (1) class participation; (2) semi-weekly blogging; (3) a book enhancement; (4) a mobile library design; (5) a comparative analysis final paper.

(1)  This class places a high premium on participation. It is essential that everyone has carefully considered the day’s material, attends class, and participates. I also expect students to bring the day’s readings to class, well-marked up with notes and annotations. Daily attendance is crucial for full participation, especially as we’ll be engaged in activities you cannot replicate elsewhere. More than two absences will lower your class participation grade by at least one letter grade. More than five absences will result in a zero for your class participation grade. Participation is worth 20% of your final grade.

(2)  Each student will contribute to the class blog with occasional forays into other forms of social media. There will be approximately 15 prompts throughout the semester, and each student will respond to 10 of these. Each post should be approximately 400-500 words. See the blog evaluation guidelines below. Blogging is worth 20% of your final grade.

(3)  The book enhancement is a creative and critical engagement with the physical form of the book, using soft circuits or another type of I/O sensor to “hack” the book. The enhancement will be accompanied by a reflective statement. This book enhancement is due Friday, October 24. The book enhancement is 20% of your final grade.

(4)  The speculative design of a technologically-enhanced mobile library, in collaboration with Caitlin Christian-Lamb, the Associate Archivist in the library. Like the idea of a mobile library itself, the deadline for this project is flexible. The mobile library design is worth 15% of your final grade.

(5)    The final paper will be comparative analysis of a single or group of similar textual objects across print and digital forms. The paper is due by December 18, the end of the examination period. The final paper is worth 25% of your final grade.

Blog Criteria

I will evaluate the blog posts according to the following 0-4 point scale:

4 Exceptional. The blog post is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. The post demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. The post includes at least one rhetorically useful image or media clip that illustrates—rather than trivializes—its point. The source and context of the image or media clip is also indicated.
3 Satisfactory. The blog post is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. Fewer connections are made between ideas, and though new insights are offered, they are not fully developed. The post reflects moderate engagement with the topic.
2 Underdeveloped. The blog post is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. The entry reflects passing engagement with the topic.
1 Limited. The blog post is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments, and displays no evidence of student engagement with the topic.
0 No Credit. The blog post is missing, late, or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

Every other assignment will be given a letter grade that has a numerical equivalent:

A = 4.0 /A- = 3.7
B+ = 3.3 / B = 3.0 / B- = 2.7
C+ = 2.3 / C = 2.0 / C- = 1.7
D+ = 1.3 / D= 1.0 / F = 0

Inclusive Learning

I am committed to the principle of inclusive learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to universal learning.

Any student with particular needs should contact Nance Longworth (x2129), the Academic Access and Disability Resources Coordinator, at the start of the semester. The Dean of Students’ office will forward any necessary information to me. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.

Academic Integrity

Students at Davidson College abide by an Honor Code. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form.

Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.

Classroom Courtesy

While this course embraces the digital world it also recognizes that digital tools and environments complicate personal interactions. Studies have shown that students who use laptops in class often receive lower grades than those who don’t. Even more worrisome are studies that show laptop users distract students around them. I permit laptops and tablets in class, but only when used for classroom activities, such as note-taking or class readings. Occasionally I may ask students to turn off all digital devices.

Text messaging or other cell phone use is unacceptable. Any student whose phone rings during class or who texts in class will be responsible for kicking off the next class day’s discussion.

Late arrivals or early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided.

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