Welcome to the website for the University of Pennsylvania's Workshop in the History of Material Texts! Here you can find announcements about upcoming events as well as a searchable database of seminars we have held since the fall of 1996. (Information about speakers and talks from the initial years of the Workshop has unfortunately been lost. If you have such information, please contact us.)
We are back in person on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library in Fall 2021, and we are also live-streaming all events. For updates and Zoom links, please sign up for our listserv.
Recordings of previous talks are available on our YouTube channel.
On Monday, November 1st at 5:15 PM, we will be welcoming Elizabeth McHenry (NYU) for a talk entitled “'Utterly Worthless'?: Race Publishing, Subscription Books and Black Communities.” Elizabeth writes:
At the center of my talk is an interest in movement: the movement of African American learners after the Civil War, from basic literacy to a more sophisticated understanding of the value of the literary, and the movement of sites of Black study, from the schoolhouse to the book. I trace this movement through a specific kind of book: those sold by subscription in Black communities at the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. With titles like Progress of a Race and A New Negro for a New Century, these books are among the most critically disregarded, considered poorly-packaged and inferior literature in their own time and our own. In recognizing them, I make visible not only a curriculum of study that circulated within African American homes and local communities rather than primary schools or institutions of industrial or college education, but also a readership and modes of authorship that literary history does not adequately recognize. In my talk I will reflect on the materials that informed my study and speak to my own process of piecing together the importance of subscription publishing to our understanding of African American literary culture. I’ll also consider how a study of subscription publishing fits into my larger project on the unsettledness of Black literary culture around the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, a moment when African American intellectuals sought to define and structure “Negro literature” and establish its readership.
Elizabeth McHenry is Professor and Chair of the English Department at New York University. Her research and teaching are focused on African American literature and the various histories of Black print culture, particularly in the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. She is the author of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies (Duke UP, 2002), which explores the long history of African Americans as readers in the context of their organized literary practices. Her most recent book, To Make Negro Literature: Writing, Literary Practice, and African American Authorship (Duke UP, 2021), returns again to the archives of Black literature to examine a variety of projects and conditions of authorship that have been dismissed or gone largely unnoticed in traditional accounts of African American literary history. She is currently at work on a project that aims to uncover the work of Black job printers in the production and distribution of African American literature and the extension of Black literary culture.
The Stallybrass Prize in the History of Material Texts will be awarded annually to the two best essays by students in any school at Penn—one by an undergraduate, one by a graduate student—on any aspect of how texts take material form and circulate in the world. Our field covers texts of all kinds, from printed books, manuscripts, scrolls, and tablets, to e-readers, websites, hard disks, and server farms; from illuminations, woodcuts, and engravings, to GIFs and TIFFs; from title pages, flyleaf advertisements, and dealer catalogues, to listservs and email signatures. We are interested in printing and publishing histories, authorship, reception, piracy, censorship, and all themes related to the networks through which these texts circulate.
The Prize honors Peter Stallybrass, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor Emeritus of English, who founded Penn's Workshop in the History of Material Texts in 1993. The seminar has been meeting every Monday evening since then, at 5:15 in the Kislak Center, Van Pelt Library. It has been one of the most influential institutions in the field and has led to numerous similar workshops around the world.
Like the Workshop itself, we encourage work that brings together the technical, material, and cultural aspects of texts. Essays will be judged by the directors of the Workshop and members of its Advisory Board, listed on the About page.
Congratulations to our Spring 2021 winners!
Winner: Vito Acosta, "The Act of Authorship in Early China"
Honorable Mention: Zoe Braccia, “‘Payment Received in Full’: Women’s Labor Contributions to the Philadelphia Printing Industry at the Turn of the 19th Century”
Co-winner: Drew Starling, “Unmasking Publius: Authorial Attribution and the Making of The Federalist”
Co-winner: Natale Vacalebre, “Divine Markets: Producing, Selling and Reading Dante’s Commedia in the Early Typographic Age"