For this lab, I have selected books from Northeastern University’s Archives and Special Collections for us to investigate. As when we looked at Harlequins on the first day, this lab is an exercise in close looking. I’ve arranged the books in pairs, each designed to illuminate a particular textual contrast: between time periods, technologies, or cultures.
You should choose one pair of books and compare two facing pages (one opening) from the first book with two facing pages from the second. You are not bound (pun so very much intended) to analyze pages I discuss in the guided part of the lab, and in fact I encourage you to find others. Feel free to browse, carefully, for two sets you find particularly interesting. And then you should look and feel and smell and listen (but not taste) closely! Consider returning to Special Collections to spend more time with your chosen books. You should also choose two facing pages from one of the digitized books listed at the end of this assignment and compare them with the physical books you studied, so that in total you compare and contrast six pages from three books.
Your fieldbook entry should analyze salient similarities and differences among the pages in your three chosen books. Don’t simply list comparisons—though you might use bullet points to organize your thoughts—but work to understand significances. What can we learn from just a few page openings about relationships among technology, media, and culture during your texts’ periods? What do these books teach us about shifting reading, writing, and publishing practices? How does each set of pages signal what a book is, who a book is for, and what a book does during its historical period? What are the logics, codes, and protocols through which a “book” operates in each period? Can you trace an evolutionary path from earlier books in your set to latter ones?
In your lab report, you should link your thoughts and observations about these specific texts to our course readings, which can help you understand the features and effects I want you to attend to.
A book is a machine to think with, but it need not, therefore, usurp the functions of either the bellows or the locomotive.
I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism