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, April 24th at 5:15 PM, we will be welcoming Roger Chartier (Penn) for a talk entitled “Who Died on April 23? Three Textual Connected Histories between Peru, Spain and London.” Roger writes:

This seminar is based on the encounter between a date and a book. In 1995, UNESCO decided that World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated every year on April 23, considered “a symbolic date for world literature. It is the date on which several prominent authors, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died.” But we cannot be so sure. Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, and April 23 in the Julian calendar (Shakespeare’s calendar) was May 3rd in the Gregorian one. Only Inca Garcilaso de la Vega really died on April 23. This is one reason to pay attention to him. Another is the recent acquisition by the Kislak Center of a copy of the first edition of his book, Primera Parte de los Commentarios Reales, printed in Lisbon in 1609.

After introducing this fundamental book — the only early modern printed text in which, according to its 1625 translation, we can “hear a Peruvian speaking of Peru” — the seminar will raise two questions. First, what was Peru for Cervantes? He never went to Peru (but Don Quixote did). For Cervantes, as for Lope de Vega, Peru was the land of the “peruleros” who came back rich from the Indies. Cervantes could have also read one or another of the books that described the Peru of the Incas and the civil wars that followed the Conquest. Secondly, what could Shakespeare and English readers have known about Garcilaso’s lost world? We can try to find answers in the corpus of English translations of Spanish books on Peru (by Zarate, Las Casas, Acosta, and Garcilaso himself) and in the “Guiana craze” and the myth of El Dorado created by Walter Raleigh’s expeditions, a myth that Falstaff shared. A final coda devoted to the coat of arms designed by Inca Garcilaso as an emblem of his mestizo identity will perhaps justify these textual connected (or disconnected) histories that began in Cuzco.

Roger Chartier is Annenberg Visiting Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania (and Emeritus Professor of the Collège de France). His most recent books, composed during the plague, are Éditer et traduire. Mobilité et matérialité des textes (XVIe–XVIIIe siècle), Gallimard and Seuil, 2021; Cartes et fictions (XVIe–XVIIIe siècle), Collège de France, 2022; and Won in Translation: Textual Mobility in Early Modern Europe, translated by John H. Pollack, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022.


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 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"


2022–23 Recordings

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