Book Parts

Chair: Dennis Duncan, Oxford University


Dennis Duncan, Oxford University – Indexes
Adam Smyth, Oxford University – Errata Lists
Gill Partington, Warwick University  – Jackets
Hazel Wilkinson, Cambridge University – Ornaments

Over the past decade, the field of English Studies has undergone a powerful ‘material turn’, with history of the book perhaps the fastest growing research area in the discipline today. Thinking beyond the in-the-abstract text of a literary work, the book in which it appears can be anatomised as a complex of different parts, each with its own conventions and history: footnotes, errata lists, dustjackets, catchwords, illustrations, indexes, etc., etc. Some, like page numbers or prefaces, are there for the benefit of the general reader; others, however, have a different audience in mind: binders or booksellers, librarians or lawyers. Taken together, these are what Kevin Jackson has termed ‘invisible forms’, and if we know how to read them they can tell us a great deal about a book’s history and its readership over time.

This panel will consider how best to teach undergraduates to ‘read’ the paratexts of a book. What use are they to us? What questions can they answer? How can this type of reading inform more traditional approaches to the literary text? Taking one paratext each, and ranging from the medieval to the contemporary, each speaker show how their book part can offer a way in to understanding the text – and the book – in which it appears. The panel will conclude with a broader discussion of the role of paratexts in teaching book history.

Wednesday 5th July, 12.30