Workshop in the  History of  Material Texts
HMT About Search Events Impact

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.)


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we're going virtual for spring 2021. Our schedule is now posted on our Events page. We are also posting recordings of our talks online through our YouTube channel. Check back weekly for new videos.


Our next workshop will be April 12th. We will be welcoming Diego Pirillo (UC Berkeley) for a talk entitled "How to Organize a Library: Three Examples from the Atlantic Republic of Letters." Diego writes:

Between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment European scholars envisioned themselves inhabiting an “imagined community,” a “Republic of Letters” that transcended political and religious divisions, bound together by the common goal of sharing and advancing knowledge. This imagined community has been variously described by modern historians as the age of polymaths and generalists who moved freely between the two cultures, or as the epoch that invented the “intellectual” who claimed his status and independence vis-à-vis states and churches, or even as the birthplace of the modern notion of objectivity, nourished by the ideal of impartiality in relationship to both others and oneself. Yet, only in recent years has the global turn pushed scholars to consider the ways in which the Republic of Letters expanded beyond Europe, setting up outposts in places as far as Mexico City, Kolkata, and Beijing. Focusing on eighteenth-century Philadelphia, this talk (and the larger project behind it), contributes to the recovery of the “Atlantic Republic of Letters,” an international community that stretched between the Old World and the New just as it traversed religious borders in post-Reformation Europe. More specifically, using evidence gathered from letters, catalogues, and marginalia, I will focus on colonial libraries and demonstrate that they were not simply repositories of books but hubs of intellectual exchange that forged ties across the Atlantic and devised new ways for managing scholarly information.

Diego Pirillo is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at UC Berkeley (where he is also the current director of REMS, the graduate program in Renaissance and early modern studies) and currently visiting Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth College (2020–21). He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Italy, Europe, and the Atlantic world. His latest book, The Refugee-Diplomat: Venice, England and the Reformation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018), was awarded the MLA Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies. His work has been supported by many institutions, including a Francesco De Dombrowski fellowship at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.


The Stallybrass Prize in the History of Material Texts

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.

In order to be considered, submissions must be received by April 15, 2021, through the form at:


Essays should be no more than 10,000 words (but can be shorter, of course).

1) For undergraduates: essays must have been written in Spring 2020, Fall 2020, or Spring 2021 semesters;

2) For graduate students: essays must be unpublished work.


                                             University of Pennsylvania Logo                                              Logo for the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts