You are here

French 551 A: Theories Of The Text From Medieval Manuscripts To Digital Media

Meeting Time: 
T 12:30pm - 3:20pm
PDL C242
Joint Sections: 
ENGL 501 A, C LIT 551 A
Geoffrey Turnovsky

Syllabus Description:

Overview of historical and recent thinking about the “text,” considered as an object of literary and cultural analysis and in light of the text’s materialization, circulation, and reception. We’ll consider historical roots of textual theory in humanism, philology, and 19th-century literary studies; early 20th-century textual criticism and bibliography; formalist notions of aesthetic autonomy and post-structuralist critiques of authorial intention and meaning; book history and the material text; the question of publication and the sociology of texts; readers, publics, and the public sphere; networks, media, transmediations, and the role of technology; and new understandings of the text (as data) entailed by digitization.

This is a comparative course and students from all departments are invited to join. The basic syllabus will emphasize scholarship from French (Cerquiligni, Chartier, Bourdieu, Barthes, Foucault) and Anglo-American traditions (New Bibliography, McKenzie, New Criticism, Stallybrass, De Grazia, McGill, Moretti), but students will be encouraged to introduce into it readings/questions/topics related to their own fields and graduate work.

This course counts as the required introduction to the Graduate Certificate in Textual and Digital Studies (information on the certificate below).


Course objectives and learning goals:

To understand key articulations and moments in the history of textual and literary interpretation from early humanistic textual criticism, via the birth of institutionalized literary studies in the 19th century, through critical editing and bibliography, cultural historical methods such as book history, to the contemporary transformations being brought by digital textuality and digital access.

To describe, according to a variety of perspectives, how a text is constructed as text and how it articulates its meanings: in light of authorial personality and biography; in light of language and its structures; in light of subjacent meanings; and in light of changing technologies for reproducing, disseminating, and accessing texts: the manuscript, the printed book, the digital platform.

To define, describe historically, and be able to critique basic concepts, phenomena, and critical categories of literary analysis and interpretation: author, work, book, reader, public, critic, etc.

To undertake an extensive research project in the field of textual scholarship: a critical analysis of one of the debates; a historical investigation into the development of a particular perspective on the text.


Readings: The following books are required:

David Greetham, Textual Scholarship: An Introduction(Garland, 1994)

Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship(Cambridge, 2013)

Optional: D.F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts(Cambridge, 1999)

Other readings will be distributed as scans through the Canvas site.


Requirements and break-down:

-- Final project: 40%.

This is normally a traditional research paper (10-12 pages). Other projects are possible, such as a critical edition of a short text or part of a text (with introduction and notes), “published” either as a paper text or online.

-- Intermediate exercises: an abstract (posted to discussion board in Canvas);

annotated bibliography: 10%

            -- Commentary on at least 2 colleagues’ abstracts: 5%

            -- Leading discussion on one reading (or set of readings): 15%

            -- Presentation of final project: 15%

            -- Participation in class discussion: 15%




Tues, Oct 4 – Historical Backdrop

Grafton, “The Humanist as Reader,” from A History of Reading in the West, 178-196

Leah Marcus, “Textual Scholarship” in Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures(2007), 143-159

Greetham, “Introduction” and “Textual Criticism,” from Textual Scholarship: An Introduction, 1-13 and 295-322

[or -----, “A history of textual scholarship,” in Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, 16-41]

Warren, “The politics of textual scholarship,” in Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, 119-133


Tues, Oct 11 – Textual Scholarship. Visit to Special Collections

Greetham, “Enumerative and Systematic Bibliography” and “Descriptive Bibliography” in Textual Scholarship: An Introduction, 1-46 and 153-168 (in addition, skim chs 2 and 3 on the bibliography of manuscript books and printed books, 47-152) 

Kathryn Sullivan, “Anglo-American editorial theory,” in Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, 42-60.

Lernout, “Continental editorial theory,” in Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, 61-78.

[optional readings:

Roger Laufer, “Pour une description scientifique du livre en tant qu’objet matériel,” Australian Journal of French StudiesIII, 3 (1966): 252-272

And Dominique Varry, “Qu’est-ce que la bibliographie matérielle”:

WW Greg, “The Rationale of Copy-Text,” in Studies in Bibliography3 (1950-1): 19-36]


Tues, Oct 18 – Textual Scholarship II

McGann, “The Socialization of Texts,” from The Textual Condition, 69-87

Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” Sewanee Review54 (1946): 468-488

DF McKenzie, “Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts,” in Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, 1-77.


Tues, Oct 25 – The Text and its Meanings      

McGann, “Shall These Bones Live?” TEXT: Transactions of the Society for Textual Scholarship(1981): 21-40

Barthes, “Death of the Author” and “From Work to Text,” in Image, Music, Text, 143-148; 155-64

Jonathan Culler, “Language, Meaning and Interpretation,” from Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, 55-68

De Man, “Resistance to Theory,” Yale French Studies63 (1982): 3-20

Heather Love, “Close but not Deep: Literary Ethics and the Descriptive Turn,” New Literary History41 (2010): 371-91


Abstract due: Friday, Oct 28


Tues, Nov 1 – Book History; Material Texts; Material Philology

Margreta De Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text,” in Shakespeare Quarterly44, 3 (Autumn 1993): 255-283

Chartier and Stallybrass, “What is a book?” in Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, 188-204.

Randall McLeod, “Spellbound Typography and the Concept of Old-Spelling Editions,” Renaissance and Reformation, 3 (1979): 50-65

Masten, “Pressing Subjects; Or, The Secret Lives of Shakespeare’s Compositors,” in Language Machines: Technologies of Literary and Cultural Production

Stephen Nichols, “Why Material Philology? Some Thoughts,” Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie116 (1997): 10-30


Tues, Nov 8 – Curation; Archiving; Binding. Guest: Justin Johnson, Senior Conservator, UW Libraries

            (we’ll meet in Special Collections)

Paris, Jan. "Conservation and the politics of use and value in research libraries." The Book & Paper Group annual, no. 13 (1994), pp. 61-65:

Pickwoad, Nicholas. "Determining how best to conserve books in special collections." The Book & Paper Group annual, no. 13 (1994), pp. 35-41:

Henderson, Cathy. "Curator or Conservator: Who Decides on What Treatment?" Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarianship, vol. 2, no. 2 (1987), pp. 103-107:

Cullison, Bonnie Jo & Jean Donaldson.  “Conservators and Curators: A Cooperative Approach to Treatment Specifications”:

David McKitterick, “Restoration and Invention,” from Old Books, New Technologies: The Representation, Conservation and Transformation of Books since 1700(2013).

Jeffrey Todd Knight, “Special Collections. Book Curatorship and the Idea of Early Print in Libraries,” in Bound to Read



Tues, Nov 15 – Process and Publication; Authorship; Genetic Criticism

Charter, “Figures of the Author,” from The Order of Books

George Hoffmann, “The Company of Secretaries” and “The Art of Proofreading,” in Montaigne’s Career(1991), 39-62, 85-107

Foucault, “What is an Author,” in The Foucault Reader(1985; orig. 1969), 1-20

Louis Hay, “Genetic Criticism: Origins and Perspectives,” in Genetic Criticism: Texts and Avant-Texts(2004), 17-27


Annotated bilbiography due: Friday, Nov 18


Tues, Nov 22 – Reception; Transmediation; the Networked Text

Matt Cohen, “Introduction,” in The Networked Wilderness. Communicating in Early New England(2010), 1-28

Roger Chartier, “From Court Festivity to City Spectators,” in Forms and Meanings. Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer(1995), 43-82

-----, “The Text between the Voice and the Book,” in Voice/Text/Hypertext

Peter Stallybrass, “Printing and the Manuscript Revolution,” in Explorations in Communications and History, ed. Barbie Zelizer(2008), 111-118.

Heidi Brayman Hackel, from Reading Material in Early Modern England: Print, Gender and Literacy


Tues, Nov 29 – The Digital/Digitized Text. Guest: Helene Williams, Information School

Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What is Digital Humanities, and What’s It Doing in English Departments,” ADE Bulletin150 (2010), 1-7

Ted Underwood, “Seven Ways Humanists are Using Computers to Understand Text,” blog post, June 4, 2015:

Laura Mandell, “Gendering Digital Literary History: What Counts for Digital Humanities,” in A New Companion to Digital Humanities, 511-523

Stephen Nichols, “Materialities of the Manuscript: Codex and Court Culture in Fourteenth-Century Paris,” in Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures4, 1 (spring 2015): 26-58


Tues, Dec 6 – Analyzing the Digital Text

Franco Moretti, “Style Inc. Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles (British Novels, 1740-1850),” Critical Inquiry36 1 (2009): 134-158.

Matthew Jockers and Ted Underwood, “Text-Mining the Humanities,” in A New Companion to Digital Humanities(2016), 291-306

Glenn Roe, Dan Edelstein, Robert Morrissey, “To Quote or Not To Quote: Citation Strategies in the Encyclopédie,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 74, 2 (2013): 213-236


Final Paper due: Mon, Dec. 12



Flyer for TDS certificate Image.jpg


Catalog Description: 
Overview of textual theory and literary criticism. Foundations in philology and literary history. Bibliography and textual criticism. Formalist and poststructuralist critiques. Sociology and materiality of the text. History of the book. Texts in the digital age. Offered: jointly with ITAL 551.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:00pm