The Social Life of Books – COPLACDigital
Spring 2017
Benjamin Bankhurst, Shepherd University (
Benjamin Pauley, Eastern Connecticut State University (
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 12:30-1:45 (Eastern)

The Social Life of Books

Course Description

We read books. They surround us. Yet we don’t really notice them, as such. 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.

Students in this class will uncover the hidden lives of books. They will conduct research into their local archives and use books of their choosing to reconstruct the stories of the people who owned and used them. Students will then explore a variety of digital tools necessary to bring these stories from the shelves to a wider audience.

Learning Objectives

Students in this course will:

  • Develop a familiarity with diverse methods and processes of digital liberal arts and utilization of technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation
  • Work together cooperatively and creatively
  • Conduct research in a variety of settings and media
  • Demonstrate application of critical analysis, written, and oral communication skills through the website and oral presentations
  • Gain an understanding of the course subject and content and to effectively communicate the content to the public using digital technology.

Students are expected to attend all class sessions or view the class sessions online and meet with professors as needed/required, read all assigned texts, and participate in class.

Students are also responsible for submitting all project drafts and the final product by the contracted due date. Assignments are considered late if turned in/posted any time after the appointed due date. Late projects will be penalized one half letter grade per day.


Class Participation (including blog posts) 20%
Short Assignments 20% (5 @ 4% each)
Presentations (individual assignment) 10%
Project Proposal (group assignment) 10%
Project Contract (group assignment) 5%
Final Project – Product (group assignment) 15%
Final Project – Process (individual assignment) 15%
Self-Assessment 5%


Week 1: Getting Started

Tues 1/17 – Welcome! Introductions and course overview

  • Reading: Leslie Howsam, Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture, chs. 1 and 2 [Posted to Google Drive]
  • Archives etiquette
  • Basics of WordPress


  • Begin to customize your individual blog (change the theme, title, subtitle, etc. consider categories, tags, and menus.)
  • Blog post (due Wednesday, 1/18 by 8pm): Provide an account of your meeting with your university’s archivist or special collections librarian (see prompt).

Thur: 1/19 – Discussion: Survey of archival materials

Week 2: Books as Manufactured objects

Tues 1/24 – Bibliography workshop

  • Reading: Philip Gaskell, from A New Introduction to Bibliography (selections) [Posted to Google Drive]
  • Slides
  • Look for blog post from B. Pauley, including links to online videos about book production.
  • Before-class exercise: Examine the scan of the copy of James Thomson’s play The Tragedy of Sophonisba from Oxford University’s English Faculty Library available at Google Books. Using Gaskell’s imposition diagrams for half-sheet octavo format, try to determine what happened with signature H in that particular copy of the book.


  • Blog post (due Wednesday, 1/25 by 8pm): Provide a description of an old book in your university’s collection (perhaps the oldest book that you identified in your discussion with your university’s archivist or special collections librarian, or another book of interest). Don’t worry if you don’t have all the terminology down pat; just  do your best to describe what you’re seeing as you examine the book (see prompt).

Thur 1/26 – Presentations: Bibliographical show and tell

Week 3: Visualizing the History of a Book

Tues 1/31 – Provenance and visualizing the history of a book

  • Establishing proof of contact. What did books mean to people the past, how did they use them, and what do books tell us about their owners?
  • The physical object in an age of digital facsimiles.
  • Before-class exercise: Find a book in your university library (or your own!) that contains evidence of past ownership and reader engagement (marginalia, bookplates, doodles, etc.). If available, find a book that has provenance from multiple owners/readers. For evidence of provenance look at examples on sites, or the Dissenting Libraries site.
  • Introduction to TimelineJS


  • Blog post (due Monday, 2/1 [update: given Professor Bankhurst’s illness, we’ll say Monday, 2/6] by 8pm): Present a narrative of the history of a book using TimelineJS. Include the following: information on the book’s production (where was it published and who published the book?); information about the book’s contents (genre? What was the book’s intended purpose? Who was its intended audience?); ownership and proof of contact (what provenance is contained and what does this information tell us about how the book was used?); current condition (where is the book today and has its use changed overtime?).

Thur 2/2 – Historians’ Boot Camp

  • How do I find information on ordinary people from the past? Discovering resources for biographic history. Look for a link from B. Bankhurst on possible avenues for online research.
  • Online resources: census material, thematic databases.
  • Physical resources: state and local historical society catalogues, community group resources, etc.


  • Before next class: Install Zotero and B. Pauley’s Zotero translators for the English Short Title Catalogue

Week 4: Mapping book production

Tues 2/7 – “Books” vs. “Records”

  • Reading: G. Thomas Tanselle, “Descriptive Bibliography and Library Cataloguing” Studies in Bibliography 30 (1977): 1-56. [Posted to Google Drive]
  • Slides
  • Before-class exercise: Use WorldCat to identify copies at other libraries of the book with provenance information you found at your university’s library. Double-check at least three of WorldCat’s results by searching the holding library’s online catalog directly.
  • Demonstrations: Zotero; Geocoding; Mapping


  • Blog post (due Wednesday, 2/8 by 8pm): Identify a work published before 1800 that the English Short Title Catalogue shows to have been published in at least three different places and create a map showing those locations.

Thur 2/9 – Presentations on mapping exercise

Week 5: Mapping Networks of Readers

Tues 2/14 – The History of Libraries as the History of Communities

  • Introduction to Dissenting Academies Online
  • Demonstrations: Web scraping; data cleaning and manipulation


  • Scrape data from Dissenting Academies Online and prepare it for social network mapping (see tutorials). You may either reproduce the dataset for Manchester New College in 1845 as described in the tutorials or, if you feel like you have a handle on the techniques, extract data to visualize a different network.
  • If you reproduce the dataset for 1845 borrowing described in the tutorials, think of at least one other potential network of borrowers that you think it would be interesting to try to find in the DAO data, if you could figure out how to do it. Make an “inventory” of the information you would need to scrape to from the site to find this network.
  • Before the next class: Be sure to set up an account at

Thur 2/16  – Thinking about networks in Dissenting Academies Online

  • Troubleshooting data scraping
  • Demonstration: Mapping networks with Kumu


  • Blog post (Due 1/20 by 8pm): Create a map of your Dissenting Academies Online data in Kumu (import the data, apply decorations, consider filtering/focusing, etc.). Embed your visualization in your blog post and discuss what you think this visualization might help us see about the relationships among books and borrowers.

Week 6:

Tues 2/21 – Catching of breath, gathering of wits

Thur 2/23 – Proposals posted to blogs, five-minute presentation in class (submit contract to profs)

To be continued…

Beginning in week 7, we will meet less frequently (probably only once a week most weeks) so that you can spend your time actually developing your final project. We will have to make decisions about the scheduling of the second half of the semester once we have a clearer sense of the nature of your projects. One thing we can say for sure, though, is that each group will provide a final presentation on their project the week of April 25 and 27.