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 will meet in person on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library, and we will also live-stream all events. 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, December 5th at 5:15 PM, we will be welcoming Chi-ming Yang (Penn) for a talk entitled “Finding Octavia E. Butler in the Archives and Around Black Pasadena.” Chi-ming writes:

For this talk I will share excerpts from my forthcoming book on the juvenilia of African American science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, which draws heavily from her manuscript collection housed at the Huntington Library. In an effort to portray Butler’s youth with accuracy, sensitivity, and transparency, I have combined close analysis of her childhood writings and drawings with first-person narration of the research process. I will discuss how the pandemic limits on library access shaped the project and how my archival research was supplemented by interviews with her former schoolmates as well as current residents of Pasadena and the Los Angeles area. I hope to discuss with the group the challenges and ethics of biographical research; the limits of material evidence; and the practicalities of working with literary estates.

Chi-ming Yang is Professor of English at Penn. She is the author of Performing China: Virtue, Commerce and Orientalism in Eighteenth-century England, 1660–1760 and H is for Horse: Otherworlds of the Young Octavia E. Butler (forthcoming). She has published recent essays on chinoiserie and racialized porcelain, plantation ecologies, and abolitionist pedagogy. Her training in eighteenth-century British literature and culture and postcolonial studies informs her current research in animal and environmental studies, race and visual/material culture, and the histories of slavery, orientalism, and empire.


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)"


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