We read books, they surround us, yet we do not really notice them. In this course we will learn to see books in new ways. Books and the activity of reading bring people together—both across space and time. Indeed, individual books often have “lives” of their own, and the stories of the books can be just as intriguing as the stories found within their pages.
The Social Life of Books was an online course offered as part of the Mellon Foundation-funded COPLACDigital initiative in the Spring of 2017. For seven weeks, students from seven campuses met twice per week via videoconference for an introduction to questions of bibliography and book history: How do we “read” books as material objects? How can the physical properties of books provide clues of the history of their manufacture? What traces do they bear of the hands through which they passed? How might we go about reconstructing histories of readership? How can the study of books lead us to insights about the people in whose lives they figured?
The students also explored a range of digital tools and methods, from data scraping and manipulation, to the construction of interactive timelines and maps, to creation of social network graphs. In the second half of the semester, teams from each campus worked on original projects aimed at uncovering the stories of books in the libraries of their home institutions and using the affordances of the digital medium to tell those stories in new ways online.
This site serves as a gateway both to the students’ completed projects and to the original course site, including the blogs in which students recorded their initial responses to the questions raised by the course.