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. (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'll be back on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library in Fall 2021, and are also planning to live stream events. For updates and Zoom links, please sign up for our listserv.

We have posted recordings of last year's talks on our YouTube channel.


Next Meeting

On Monday, September 27th at 5:15 PM, we will be welcoming Christina Lupton (University of Copenhagen) and Ben Davies (University of Portsmouth) for a talk entitled "Corona Time: Reading Fiction During the Covid-19 Pandemic." Christina and Ben write:

This paper is the result of study that began in the summer of 2020, into the habits of novel readers under lockdown in Denmark and the UK. Our report builds on 800 surveys and sixty extensive interviews in the two national contexts, suggesting that the consumption of novels, both in paper and audio form, played a critical part in the way many readers experienced the pandemic. While we began the study in the spirit of many journalists reporting on the upsurge in book sales in Spring 2020, by imagining people seizing the time they had been waiting for to read Proust or Joyce, we have ended up reaching a somewhat more complicated set of conclusions. Although some of the readers we spoke to do fall into this category, of being people who had more time to read under lockdown, most describe more complicated engagements with narrative that reflected the unique moment in history in which they were accessing books. This paper stresses the way temporal co-ordinates matter – both to the way readers interpret and respond to books – and as a dimension in which the effects of novel reading make themselves felt.

Christina Lupton is Professor at the Institute of Modern Languages at the University of Copenhagen. She is author of three monographs: Knowing Books (Penn, 2012), Reading and the Making of Time (Johns Hopkins, 2018), and Love and the Novel: Life After Reading (Profile, 2022).

Ben Davies is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth, UK. He is the author of Sex, Time, and Space in Contemporary Fiction (Palgrave, 2016), editor of John Burnside (Bloomsbury, 2020), and co-editor of Sex, Gender and Time in Fiction and Culture (Palgrave, 2011)..


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 2021 winners!

Undergraduate Category:

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”

Graduate Category:

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"


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