This seminar offers an interdisciplinary introduction to the history and sociology of texts from the blossoming of scribal cultures around 1400 to the invention of the telegraph in the 1830s. In one sense, the course will be devoted to the study of a single transforming event: the invention of printing in the middle decades of the fifteenth century, its spread across the globe, and subsequent inventions that improved its technologies. But we will not follow the development of printing technology in detail. Rather, we will examine a series of historical problems and questions connected with the production and consumption of books on a local and global scale: how texts circulated in the last great age of the manuscript book; how existing book markets, communication circuits and readerships mutated under the impact of print; how different sorts of text, from high editions of the classics to low political pamphlets, took shape and reached their readers; how new careers came into being in the printing house and how old scribal practices survived beside and inside them; and the history of reading. Throughout, the seminar will place classic texts in intellectual history in conversation with recent interdisciplinary scholarship on the global history of the book, an emerging field of study.

Students will gain experience working with items from Vienna's special collections. A list of appropriate materials, designated as “examples,” forms part of each week’s reading in the syllabus that follows. Further materials in printed facsimile or digital form will also be listed, and students should feel free to draw on their own expertise and choose items entirely outside the lists of suggestions. A central point of the course is simply to give participants the opportunity for hands-on experience in the historical analysis of manuscripts and early books.