“Why Books?” brought together speakers from a variety of disciplines—from literature and history to sociology and computer science—to probe the form and function of the book in a rapidly changing media ecology. Although cultural commentators today speak of “the book” as if it were a well-defined term, its boundaries have been and remain shifting and porous; therefore, one aim of this conference was to expose the complexities and internal contradictions of the “before” against which the digital-era “after” is defined.
In order to look forward to the future(s) of the book, the conference opened with a dialogue on the public-policy implications of new media forms, looking in particular at Harvard’s own response to current technological, legal, and commercial developments. The three panels that followed explored some of the major functions that we identify with books today: production and diffusion (of texts and images, of knowledge and information); storage and retrieval (of widely varying content in different media and genres); and reception and use (including, but by no means limited to, reading).
Ann Blair '84, BI '99
Leah Price '91, RI '07
Nancy F. Cott
David D. Hall
Jennifer L. Roberts
George M. Whitesides
Barbara J. Grosz, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Ann Blair ’84, BI ’99, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History and Harvard College Professor, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Leah Price ’91, RI ’07, Senior Advisor to the Humanities Program, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Professor of English and Harvard College Professor, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Opening Conversation: "Future Formats of Texts: E–books and Old Books"
Nancy F. Cott, Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library and Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor, Harvard University
Stuart Shieber RI '07, James O. Welch, Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Faculty Codirector of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School
Session I: "Storage and Retrieval"
John Palfrey, Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law, Vice Dean of Library and Information Resources, and Faculty Codirector of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School
Adrian Johns, Professor of History, University of Chicago
"The Use and Abuse of the Universal Library"
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Associate Professor of English and Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland
"The .txtual Condition"
Session II: "Circulation and Transmission"
David D. Hall, Bartlett Research Professor of New England Church History, Harvard Divinity School
Isabel Hofmeyr, Head of the Discipline of African Literature and Professor, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand
"Indian Ocean Books"
Meredith L. McGill, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Cultural Analysis, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
"Print Outside the Book"
Session III: "Reception and Use"
Homi K. Bhabha RI '05, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities and Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Paul Duguid, Adjunct Professor, University of California at Berkeley School of Information
"The World According to GREP:search in Context"
Elizabeth Long, Department Chair and Professor of Sociology, Rice University
"Loving Books in the Digital Age"
Closing Remarks and Discussion
Charles E. Rosenberg, Professor of the History of Science and Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Peter Stallybrass, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English and of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Pennsylvania