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 April 15th, 2024 at 5:15 we will be welcoming Zhenzhen Lu (Bates) for a talk entitled: "Popular Literature and Manuscript Culture in Rural North China in the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries: The Liaozhai Collection at Keio University"

Zhenzhen writes: Pu Songling (1640–1715) is known to the world for his Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales of Liaozhai), which has come to represent the epitome of the Chinese classical tale. Yet his name is also associated with a diverse body of other writings that have been transmitted largely through manuscript culture before the early twentieth century in his native Shandong. This talk introduces a representative collection of these materials, gathered from the area in the 1930s by a Japanese collector and preserved today at Keio University in Tokyo. Presenting the multiple layers of the collection, from manuscripts in Pu’s own hand to the notebooks of later scholars, I proceed from questions of authorship and authenticity to ask what we might learn from such a motley corpus about the textual worlds and reading practices of rural scholars. I conclude with reflections on how we might approach ensembles of “popular” materials, as well as what the perspective of a local corpus has to offer for the study of Chinese literature and book history.

Zhenzhen Lu received her PhD from the Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations at Penn and teaches Chinese language and literature at Bates College. The talk draws from her forthcoming book, The Vernacular World of Pu Songling: Popular Literature and Manuscript Culture in Late Imperial China (Brill). Previously, she was a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures at the University of Hamburg and has published articles on commercial scribal publishers of nineteenth-century Beijing, which she plans to further explore in a broader study of the scribal circulation of Chinese vernacular literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


The Stallybrass Prize in the History of Material Texts, 2023

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 2023 winners!

Undergraduate Category:

Winner: Erin Brennan, "Popular Culture: The Cries of London and Elite Exoticism of the Common People"

Honorable Mention: Magnolia Wang, “A Woman’s Work is Never Done: Examining the Intersection of Gender Identity and Racialization in Indigenous Governance and Early American Colonization”

Graduate Category:

Co-winners: Zain Mian, "Through the Lens of Urdu: Reading World Literature in Adabī dunyā" and Anna Lehr Mueser " 'So the memories need not fade': Writing Continuity Across Rupture"


Recordings of Past Talks

See our YouTube channel for recordings of talks from this year and previous years.

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