2022 Warren Lecture: A Bibliographical Disturbance: Teaching and Learning in Book History After 2020

On April 26 I was delighted to give the 19th Frederic Alden Warren Lecture for the John W. Graham Library at Trinity College, University of Toronto, titled “A Bibliographical Disturbance: Teaching and Learning in Book History After 2020.” For a list of references and links to some of the materials I discuss in the talk, scroll down below the poster.


When something disrupts the normal process of making a book, the disruption often leaves a material trace which textual scholars call a “bibliographical disturbance.” The year 2020 will long be remembered as a similar kind of disruption writ large, leaving its own material traces in our scholarship, careers, and lives. For the Book History & Print Culture (BHPC) program at the University of Toronto, 2020 also happened to be its twentieth anniversary as a graduate program. What should have been a year of celebration instead became a year of adaptation, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to rethink BHPC’s normally library-based, book-focused courses for remote delivery. BHPC’s twentieth anniversary became an occasion to re-examine the field’s rationale and pedagogy—just as bibliographical disturbances are opportunities to understand a book’s structure and nature.

In that spirit, this talk will reflect on lessons learned about book history education during the pandemic. From the representation of physical books on digital screens, to the status of born-digital literature, to the social value of the book arts, to questions about diversity and equity in the field of book history—2020 brought a reckoning with all these topics and more. Yet book history education has never been more necessary than today, and textual scholarship has important work to do in the post-2020 world. This talk will look back on what we’ve learned from twenty years of book history at the University of Toronto, and will look ahead to the next twenty.

Here are some footnotes to certain points in the talk where I referenced a specific book or other source. I’ve organized them here in the sequence they appear in the three sections of the talk.

Part 1: Bibliographical Disturbances

  1. The lightning bolt/tree image from the poster and video is a wood engraving made by Canadian artist and filmmaker Laurence Hyde for a planned edition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth from Golden Dog Press, a private press founded by J. Kemp Waldie, many of whose books and records are held by the Graham Library at Trinity College (including the 1497 Dante book I showed in the lecture). The Golden Dog Press edition of Macbeth never came to pass, but a copy of Hyde’s Engravings for Macbeth (ca. 1939) is held by the Fisher Rare Book Library.
  2. The concept of bibliographical disturbances is one that David Greetham discusses at several points in his work; in particular, see his chapter “Slips and Errors in Textual Criticism” in Textual Transgressions: Essays Toward the Construction of a Bibliography (New York: Routledge, 2011), 349–356.
  3. The example of a bibliographical disturbance in which the hair- and flesh-sides of parchment leaves face each other in an opening is from a copy of William de Wycumbe,Vita venerabilis Roberti Herefordensis episcopi (Llantony Secunda: ca. 1200), held by the Fisher Library. I discuss it in more detail in this entry on openings in books for the project Architectures of the Book.
  4. The Dante book is an early edition of the Divine Comedy held by the Graham Library at Trinity College (and formerly owned by J. Kemp Waldie of Golden Dog Press), Danthe alighieri fiorentino (Venice, 1497). On the reading and censorship of Dante generally, and on the paratextual commentary by Christophoro Landino, which accompanied Dante’s poem on the page in this and many other editions, see Simon A. Gilson, Reading Dante in Renaissance Italy: Florence, Venice, and the ‘Divine’ Poet (Cambridge University Press, 2018). I compared the censored Dante book with images from this story from CNN from April 22 about Florida’s censorship of math textbooks.
  5. For a digital facsimile of the copy of the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio discussed in the lecture, see the Internet Shakespeare Editions (the link should take you straight to Troilus and Cressida). For more information on the First Folio, including details on reading collation statements and understanding the Troilus and Cressida anomalies, see the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website. On the use of digital First Folio facsimiles, see Sarah Werner’s website (this page links to her excellent chapter in the Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s First Folio). I have also written about the First Folio’s bibliographical features in chapter 3 of my book The Shakespearean Archive: Experiments in New Media from the Renaissance to Postmodernity (Cambridge University Press, 2014), and in an article co-authored with Rebecca Niles, “Moving Parts: Digital Modeling and the Infrastructures of Shakespeare Editing,” Shakespeare Quarterly 68, no. 1 (2017): 21–55.
  6. The tree rings image comes from a blog post by Sarah Nason and Sonya Odsen, “A Wildfire Story: Decoding the Past with Tree Scars,” for the Landscapes in Motion project (April 9, 2019). Note their use of the word disturbances to describe environmental events that leave material traces in trees as living organisms.

Part 2: Teaching and Learning in the BHPC Program, 2020–2022

  1. For more about the Book History & Print Culture collaborative program at the University of Toronto, see bhpctoronto.com.
  2. On book-making kits as an emergent genre during the pandemic, see Leah Price’s talk “Book Leaning, Hands-Off?” for Princeton University’s 2020 colloquium on “The Virtual Materiality of Texts: Book History During a Pandemic” (and see the other talks as well). See also Shannon Mattern’s essay “Unboxing the Toolkit” on Tool-Shed.org (July 9, 2021).
  3. For more about Toronto’s Paperhouse Studio, see paperhousestudio.com.
  4. The William Caxton book shown in one of the slides (being examined by a student with a magnifying glass) contains an English translation of two essays by Cicero, De Amicitia (“On Friendship”) and De Senectute (“On Old Age”), and one by Giovane Buonaccorso da Montemagno, De Nobilitate (“On Nobility”), and was printed by Caxton in Westminster in 1481, making it the first English translation of classical humanist texts and presently the oldest printed book in Canada. For details, see the library catalogue entry linked above and this media release on the book’s acquisition in by the Fisher Library.
  5. The box of artists’ books shown in one of the slides is Millennium in a Box: a Portfolio Collection of Work by Book Artists from Across Canada, from the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.
  6. There has been much bibliographical writing that deals with the field’s need to engage with the world outside the reading room windows, so to speak. For some recent examples, see Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Bitstreams: the Future of Digital Literary Heritage (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021), particularly the conclusion; Matt Cohen, “Time and the Bibliographer: a Meditation on the Spirit of Book Studies,” Textual Cultures 13, no. 1 (2020): 179–206; Kate Ozment, “Rationale for Feminist Bibliography,” Textual Cultures 13, no. 1 (2020): 149–178; Michelle R. Warren, Digital Holy Grail: a Medieval Book on the Internet (Stanford University Press, 2022); Whitney Trettien, Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the History of Bookwork (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021); Brigitte Fielder and Jonathan Senchyne, eds., Against a Sharp White Background: Infrastructures of African-American Print (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2019).

Part 3: Archives and the Future

  1. On the need to understand archives beyond metaphors, see Michelle Caswell, “‘The Archive’ is Not an Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies,” Reconstruction 16, no. 1 (2016). I have also written about the need for textual and literary scholars to engage with archival studies (i.e. the scholarly literature of actual archivists) in chapter 2 of my book The Shakespearean Archive (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and more recently in “The Work and the Listener,” Textual Cultures 14, no. 1 (2021): 50–64.
  2. The Fisher Library has an extensive and detailed set of finding aids for Margaret Atwood’s literary manuscripts, typescripts, and other archival materials. At present (April, 2022) some of Atwood’s annotated typescripts from her writing of The Handmaid’s Tale are on display in the Fisher’s exhibition space along with other items of interest from the collections.
  3. On Marshall McLuhan’s annotations in his copies of James Joyce’s books (especially Ulysses), see my blog post and two articles, “Reading McLuhan Reading Ulysses, in “Many McLuhans or None at All,” ed. Sarah Sharma, special issue, Canadian Journal of Communication 44, no. 4 (2019): 503-26; and “Imagining Marshall McLuhan as a Digital Reader: an Experiment in Applied Joyce,” in “Reading McLuhan Reading,” ed. Paula McDowell, special issue, Textual Practice 35, no. 9 (2021): 1525–49. For more on McLuhan’s library, see his grandson Andrew McLuhan’s blog, Inscriptorium, and his essay in the Textual Practice special issue. The Fisher Library has detailed finding aids for McLuhan’s library and archival materials.
  4. Near the end of the talk I mentioned two initiatives worth supporting. One is the Children’s Book Bank, which makes books and literacy support available to children and families in high-needs areas in the Toronto area. The other is the Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) project, which is working to preserve websites and other forms of digitial cultural heritage in Ukraine that have been put at risk by the Russian invasion.
  5. The image on the final slide is from the Wikipedia page on the Birnam Oak, believed to be one of the last remaining trees from Birnam Wood, which plays a key role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.