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.)


We meet each Monday on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania. We also live-stream our events via Zoom. For updates and Zoom links, please sign up for our listserv.

Recordings of previous talks are available on our YouTube channel.


Next Meeting

On Monday, February 6th at 5:15 PM, we will be welcoming Zachary Lesser and Whitney Trettien (Penn) for a talk entitled “‘Preserved as a Relic’: What Happened to Edwin Forrest’s Burned First Folio?.” Zachary and Whitney write:

In the Kislak Center at the University of Pennsylvania, there is an unusual item: a glass case containing the charred remains of a Shakespeare folio that once belonged to Edwin Forrest, the great Shakespearean actor and Philadelphia native. Forrest’s extensive collection of early modern English drama was heavily damaged by a fire that broke out in his townhome in January, 1873, shortly after Forrest’s death. In the days after the fire, the Variorum Shakespeare editor Horace Howard Furness identified this burned book as Forrest’s First Folio, and it has been displayed as such ever since. But it is not. In this essay, we unravel the mystery of which book is really in the glass case and why. Tracking this story from Furness and Forrest’s papers to university archives and oral histories shows the enduring power of the Shakespearean relic to change what even the sharpest scholars and curators see when they look at a book labeled as a First Folio. It has also revealed another mystery: a missing 1637 quarto of Hamlet. We use this case study to illuminate the larger debate among researchers, librarians, and archivists over narratives of “discovery” in the archive and to suggest a way forward in this debate.

Zachary Lesser is the Edward W. Kane Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. A general editor of the Arden Shakespeare, 4th series, for which he is editing Macbeth, Lesser is the author of Ghosts, Holes, Rips and Scrapes: Shakespeare in 1619, Bibliography in the Longue Durée (Penn Press, 2021), Hamlet After Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (Penn Press, 2015), and Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (Cambridge University Press, 2004). He is the co-creator of two online resources for the study of early printed drama: DEEP: Database of Early English Playbooks (with Alan B. Farmer, and the Shakespeare Census (with Adam Hooks,

Whitney Trettien is assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she works in the fields of book history and digital humanities. She is the author of Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the History of Bookwork (University of Minnesota Press, 2021), a hybrid print/digital monograph on seventeenth-century books assembled from fragments. She is also the co-editor and designer of thresholds, an occasional digital zine, and editor of Printing in Prisons, a digital project on newspapers written and printed by incarcerated individuals. She is currently working on nineteenth-century histories of computation.


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.

Congratulations to our Spring 2022 winners!

Undergraduate Category:

Winner: Katherine Hann, "An Analysis of the History of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels"

Honorable Mention: Quinn Gruber, “Crestomazia dei poeti italiani del Cinquecento: un manoscritto ignoto ed enigmatico”

Graduate Category:

Matthew G. Aiello, "Trauma, Aurality, and the Wounded Orrmulum Manuscript (c. 1170)"


Fall 2022 Recordings

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