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FRENCH 224 A: Culture And Media Forms

The Age of Print: Lessons from a Modern Communications Revolution

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 2:50pm
SMI 205
Joint Sections: 
JSIS A 224 A, CHID 270 A
Geoffrey Turnovsky
Course conducted in English

Syllabus Description:


Ceci tuera cela. Victor Hugo described the rise of the printed book in Notre Dame de Paris as a force that would condemn previous forms of communication (such as the walls of the Cathedral) to obsolescence. Today, of course, it is the print’s turn on the chopping block. Yet reports of its demise are premature: a September 2015 article in the New York Times notes a decline in e­-book sales and a recent rise in brick-and-mortar bookstores selling ink on paper.

This course studies the rise, influence, and durability of print culture through the modern era in France and Europe. It's a truism to say that Gutenberg's moveable type press was "revolutionary." But how so? What does it mean to describe it as such? We will explore some of the key changes to the fabric of intellectual, social, and political life that can be associated with what Victor Hugo, four hundred years after Gutenberg, still described as a “new media revolution.” We’ll explore how printed books contributed to new understandings of the natural world, to new kinds of religious experience in the context of Reformation, to new legal and economic priorities (such as intellectual property and censorship), to new political forces and agencies (public opinion), and to new cultural values (originality, innovation, authorship). Our society remains heavily invested in many typographic forms, even as they are being, in turn, transformed by a new media revolution – consider to what extent e-readers emulate the look, even the sounds, if not the feel or smell, of the book (sensory perceptions that those most resistant to the rise of digital reading inevitably point to as what they miss the most). What is more, a recent survey has shown that 81% of respondents dreamed one day to “write a book.” Why, in the age of blogs and Twitter, would this continue to be the case?

Course goals:

** Discover the history of the development of printing technology in 15th-century Europe and its uses in the following centuries; understand better how this new communications system transformed key aspects of life, culture, society and politics in an increasingly modern world. 

** Consider these issues in light of our contemporary moment, in order to acquire a deeper sense of how changes in communications and media today – of which we have become very conscious – are shaping our world in new ways.

** Develop analytical and research skills: using the resources of the UW and its libraries, as well as other archives, to access information about a topic. Develop strategies for finding information and evaluating sources; hone writing skills as you draft the results of your research.

Books (ordered at the University Bookstore; easily available at other vendors, too):

Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge)

Martyn Lyons, A History of Reading and Writing in the Western World (Palgrave)

Other readings will be available at the course Canvas site.

You will also find the syllabus and all other handouts (assignments, review sheets) there.

TAs and RAs:           

Anna Wager (, Teaching Assistant

Office hours: Mon 11-1; ART 341

Florentina Dedu-Constantin (, Teaching Assisant

Office hours: Mon, Wed 12:30-1:30; PDL C-236   

Gabrielle Benabdallah (, course-affiliated RA                    

Office hours: Tues, Thurs, 11:30-12:30; PDL C-230

* You are strongly encouraged to visit Anna, Florentina, Gabrielle, and myself during our office hours to discuss any aspect of your work in the course, especially as you think about a final paper. We are also available by appointment, if you cannot make any of these times.


Deb Raftus (, Romance Languages and Literatures Librarian

Sandra Kroupa (, Books Arts and Rare Books Curator, Special Collections

Expectations are graded work for the course:

  1. Two non-cumulative tests: Mon, May 1 and Wed, May 31
  1. Three papers:

The first paper (1-2 pages, due Fri, April 14) will ask you to describe in detail an early book which you will examine during our class visit to Special Collections (on April 7). You will focus on ONE detail that you found especially interesting, and relate it to one of our readings.

The second paper (1-2 pages, due Fri, May 19) will ask you to study a document at the site Primary Sources on Copyright (, summarizing and explaining it and putting it into the context of our course.

For your final paper (5 pages – due on Monday, June 5), you will tell the history of a book. This book could be a book you worked with in Special Collections or another book you know.  In either case, this is a short research paper, which will require that you develop a bibliography. Your work on this final paper will include preparing two paragraphs to be checked for completion: the FIRST (due Fri, April 28) identifies the book you’d like to write about (saying a little about your own interest in it: why you chose it; when you encountered or read it); the SECOND (due Fri, May 12) will be a progress report on your research: in a paragraph, you’ll explain what aspect of the history of the book you’re examining in your paper, what you’ve already discovered, and what you still plan to do.

All papers and associated work are to be uploaded to the appropriate   assignment page in Canvas on the date and time indicated, double-spaced in 12-pt font with 1 in. margins.


  1. PARTICIPATION and IN-CLASS or AT-HOME EXERCISES. This consists of the following:

– keeping up with the assignments. Unless I indicate otherwise, always read the material assigned for the day of the class, even if we spend part of that class catching up on the     previous session’s reading.

– bringing with you to class the texts on which we’ll be working (whether in paper or digital format). Again, this might entail the readings from a prior class, if we hadn’t completed our discussion in the earlier session. If at the end of class it’s clear we haven’t finished discussing a topic or a text, bring the relevant material to the next class.

– participating in group discussions/activities in both regular class and in the Friday sections (including the visit to Special Collections)

-- completing any at-home or in-class exercises assigned: reading questions, short research exercises, or finding relevant items in the press. There will be 4-5 such exercises in the quarter.

Grades: Will be determined according to the following scale:          

Tests: 40% (20% each)

Papers 1 and 2: 20% (10% each)

Final paper: 30% (including 5% for completion of the two paragraphs)

Participation; class activities and written exercises; Friday sections: 10%

      Conversion scale to 4.0 


Summary of important dates

First paper due:                                             April 14

First paragraph for final project:                April 28

Test 1:                                                            May 1

Second paragraph for final project:           May 12

Second paper:                                                May 19

Test 2:                                                            May 31

Final Paper:                                                   June 5



  1. Academic honesty and uses of sources: This course requires the writing of a research paper, entailing the use of sources. You will be expected in this and in all aspects of the course to adhere to UW policies regarding Academic Dishonesty. This includes all forms of cheating and especially plagiarism, which involves presenting writing and research done by others as your own, whether this is done verbatim or whether in your own words. Please refer to the statement prepared by the Committee on Academic Conduct in the College of Arts and Sciences for definitions of academic misconduct, including plagiarism and cheating, as well as for descriptions of institutional recourse in the case that academic misconduct is suspected:
  2. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the office of Disability Services which coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities:


Additional Details:


Catalog Description: 
Explores French, Francophone, and European culture in history through a focus on varied and evolving media forms: manuscripts, printed books, digital media, visual forms, etc. Taught in English. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 224.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
November 1, 2018 - 11:42am