Conferences & Symposia

Why Books?

“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).

Organizing Committee

Organizers

Ann Blair '84, BI '99
Leah Price '91, RI '07

Advisors

Emanuel Carrilho
Nancy F. Cott
Susan Dackerman
Marilyn Dunn
Lisa Gitelman
David D. Hall
Jeffrey Hamburger
Lindy Hess
Stephen Kosslyn
Debora Mayer
John Palfrey
Jennifer L. Roberts
Stuart Shieber
Diana Sorensen
William Stoneman
George M. Whitesides

 

Schedule

9:00am

Welcome Remarks

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

09:15am

Opening Conversation: "Future Formats of Texts: E–books and Old Books"

Moderator:
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

Panelists:
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

 

10:00am

Break

10:30am

Session I: "Storage and Retrieval"

Moderator:
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

Panelists:
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"

 

12:00pm

Break

1:15pm

Session II: "Circulation and Transmission"

Moderator:
David D. Hall, Bartlett Research Professor of New England Church History, Harvard Divinity School

Panelists:
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"

 

2:45pm

Break

3:15pm

Session III: "Reception and Use"

Moderator:
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

Panelists:
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"

 

4:45pm

Closing Remarks and Discussion

Moderator:
Charles E. Rosenberg, Professor of the History of Science and Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Discussant:
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