The Secret Life of Books

Peter D. McDonald, University of Oxford

In this three-part series, Peter D. McDonald addresses the challenge of uncovering, and then relating, the fugitive history of reading’s inwardness.

March 14, 2021 5:30 pm - March 17, 2021 5:30 pm - @ Orrery Pavilion, Kislak Center, 6th Floor Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Collage from William Kentridge’s 2nd Hand Reading project (2014), using the 1936 revised Oxford English Dictionary, Kentridge Studio

Registration information: all three lectures will be held in person and also streamed virtually, via Zoom webinar. Please register separately for each lecture (see below).

The difficulty lies with reading itself,” the leading book historian Robert Darnton remarked in 1996. “We hardly know what it is when it takes place under our noses.” Detailing its “external circumstances” is one thing; capturing the more elusive process of “inner appropriation” quite another—in fact, he thought the latter “may remain beyond the range of research.” Darnton was thinking mainly about the difficulty of recovering what readers in the past made of the books they read, but his doubts about our ability to describe “the ultimate stage in the communication circuit” remain as relevant for multimedia readers today.

In this three-part series, Peter D. McDonald addresses the challenge of uncovering, and then relating, the fugitive history of reading’s inwardness.

Event Series

A.S.W. Rosenbah

The A.S.W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography

The Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliography, established by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania in 1928, honors a gift for that purpose from A.S.W. Rosenbach, one of America's greatest book dealers and collectors.
Drawing of a physician picking herbs from Paris, BnF lat. 6862, f. 18v (detail)

Workshop in the History of Material Texts

The Workshop in the History of Material Texts is a weekly seminar that features scholars presenting a wide variety of research in book history, bibliography, manuscript studies, history of reading, publication and printing, and related topics.

Featured image: Collage from William Kentridge’s 2nd Hand Reading project (2014), using the 1936 revised Oxford English Dictionary (with permission of Kentridge Studio)