Monday, February 14, 2011


Now it’s time to really get this new blog started. And we’re a little more than one busy semester (my first) behind. We will start where I did, with a First Year Experience course (or FYE, as we call it in the biz) called Culture, Society, and History: Cultures of the Book, taught by Professors Carol Neel and John Williams, both from the History Dept., with assistance from: Jessy Randall, Curator and Archivist of Special Collections, Steve Lawson, Humanities Librarian, and myself.

[A quick aside, for those of you not familiar with the way that Colorado College works—we don’t operate on semesters. We use a system called the “Block Plan,” where students take one class at a time, 5 days a week, for 3 and a half weeks. Yes, it’s intense. The FYE classes, like the one being described here, run for two consecutive blocks, so seven weeks.]

This was a long and busy class, with regular sessions here at the Press. I documented it all pretty thoroughly, from our initial “getting acquainted” workshops through to our big project. In order to cover it in a way that makes sense and is digestible I will be breaking things up into multiple posts. But we will start at the beginning, with that all-important document—the syllabus. Here is the official class description:

This two-block course will explore the ways in which ancient and subsequent European and Asian peoples have read, copied and used writing from the origins of script to the contemporary electronic book. The course's central readings will be major sources in the development of Western and Chinese civilizations. Attention to these works from both ancient and more recent pasts will stress the ways in which culturally normative texts both reveal and critique the power of the manuscript and printed word. Further readings by modern historians and critics will explore the book-making technologies known to historical readers and writers.

Students will write individual critical essays on the respective common readings and collaborate to choose, research and print in limited edition a text of significance for the cross-cultural history of the book. The faculty coordinators of this course, members of the History Department, will support students in discussion and written assignments, and Special Collections and Humanities librarians as well as the letterpress printer who oversees the Press at Colorado College will engage with students throughout, especially in preparation of their final publication. Class members will collaborate with these non-departmental experts in handling of manuscript and other primary source materials, researching these works’ contents and contexts, and producing a hand-set and hand-printed edition of the text they choose and the commentary they construct. Students will thus develop familiarity with modern research tools and postmodern critical frameworks as they enter into the experience of historians and printers of the past as well as the subjects whom their technologies of the book revealed. Although all course activities including the production of printed matter are grounded in prior cultures, their goals are contemporary: for student participants to develop awareness of the power of the written word and the indebtedness of even electronic information storage to the historical frameworks shaping literacy.

So yes, a big, gorgeous, almost overwhelming class, especially for students just beginning their college careers. But the students here are sharp, and they did really well. And we’ll see just what they did in the next few posts.

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