‘A Bookshelf of the world: Bringing students’ books inside the classroom’

Activity: Lecture / PresentationAcademic


This semester, I will be teaching an online course on the material book at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Instead of using the University Library’s vast collection of editions of Milton or Bunyan, as I would normally do, we will work with the materials that students find in their own homes. Using the personal libraries of my students, we will explore how, and by whom, books are made and read in different parts of the world. Each student will choose a book that is meaningful to them, and study both the ‘human presence’ in the book and the ‘non-human components’ the book is made of. Who made the book, are there any traces that reveal the age, gender or profession of the (previous) owner, what materials were used to make the book and what is their environmental impact? The course thus combines the sociology of texts (McKenzie 1999) with the ecology of texts (Calhoun 2020). Together, students will put together an online bookshelf to display the results of their research.

I would like to discuss what it means for students to share their private books in a classroom context. Will it make them feel involved, or will some students feel embarrassed, pressured or excluded? To what extent will this ‘bookshelf of the world’ help decolonize book history?
Period4 Nov 2020
Event titleBookshelves in the Age of the COVID-19 Pandemic: an online conference
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational