Workshop in the  History of  Material Texts
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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.


Our final seminar for the fall semester is Monday, December 9th. We will be welcoming Kathryn James (Yale) for a talk entitled "Imperfect: Bibliography, Natural History, and the Problem of Incomplete Knowledge." Kathryn writes:

Gathered in an album, planted in a garden, pickled in a jar: the specimen was the particular object of bibliographical and natural historical projects of taxonomy in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Britain. This paper takes as its focus the London collectors John Bagford (bookseller) and James Petiver (apothecary) as they gathered specimens for the physician and collector Hans Sloane. Bagford and Petiver were striking collectors, both in their range and in their willingness to collect imperfect specimens: the broken butterflies or waste fragments that resisted classification in globalizing taxonomies of a British bibliography, or histories of paper or printing, or a system of British plants. Looking in particular at the collecting trips Bagford and Petiver each made to the Netherlands in the early eighteenth century, this paper asks about the mechanisms of the specimen: how was it relationally constituted? When and how did remediation happen, and when was it successful? In doing so, it revisits the old question, familiar from the work of Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, of how the specimen acted as evidence, and when the part could be taken as representative of a whole.

Kathryn James is the Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library. She received an M.LIS from the University of Pittsburgh and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. In 2015-2016, she was the Munby Fellow in Bibliography at the University of Cambridge. She is the author of English Paleography and Manuscript Culture, 1500-1800 (Beinecke & Yale), forthcoming in February 2020.


See our events page for the full schedule for this academic year. We hope to see you at the seminar!