Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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English 204: History and Future of the Book

Posted: May 05, 2018 09:05;
Last Modified: May 05, 2018 13:05


About English 204: History and Future of the Book

The calendar describes English 204 as

[a]n introductory history of the concept and technology of the book. The course focuses on the development of the book as a vehicle of communication and on its ideological and political impact, with some attention to the emergence and consequences of digital platforms such as e-mail, the web, and electronic books.

As we will see, “book” in this description is a kind of synecdoche (a use of the part for the whole). What we really mean by “book” is “public communication”: literature (fiction and non-fiction), science, history, news, letters and contracts, even, in some contexts at least, Social Media posts and hastags (we will define what we mean by some of these terms in our first few classes). While much of the course will be concerned with books in the usual sense of the word, we will also be looking at some of these other forms of communication, including oral poetry, the role of tradition in the law; diaries; written poetry and essays; news articles and blogs; the communication of science and scholarship, and, indeed, Social Media.

As we look at this material, we will be focussing on the way external contexts are used to define the purpose, meaning, and significance of such communication: how authors and readers use technological, institutional, political, ideological, economic, and generic “cues” to frame or interpret individual works. “Book History” is also sometimes described as the history of “Authorship, Reading, and Publishers.” By the course end, you’ll see why!

After some preliminary work on the concepts involved, we will cover the main points in the broad technological, economic, and institutional history of public communication. After that, we will turn to a number of case studies that illustrate different problems in the History of the Book and model how a knowledge of external context can be used to interpret historical and other texts.


Learning goals

This course is one of the four “Foundation” courses in the English programme. As such, it teaches core skills that will be of use throughout your studies in English and beyond.

In this particular case, the course teaches you to understand critically the relationship between context and understanding in public communication: how your reading and those of others of a given work can be affected by technology of transmission, markers of institutional prestige or endorsement, political, ideological, and cultural contexts and desires, and economics of how such communication is produced and transmitted. You will learn how authors and publishers use these contexts to frame their meaning and how readers rely on them to situate their interpretation. You will learn that these contexts and cues change over time, both intrinsically (for example due to changes in technology or ideology) or in terms of the meaning and value we and others ascribe to them. You will also learn that they can be misused or misunderstood and examine some of the consequences when such misuse or misunderstandings occur.

Since all discourse is affected by such cues, this course should be broadly applicable far beyond English. Lawyer’s letters, government documents, scientific and scholarly articles, news reports, even syllabi and university calendars are all framed and understood by the material, technological, and other contexts in which they occur. Knowing how this works and understanding how it can go right or wrong will make you a better reader and producer of public communication in any context.

Contact information

Office hours: Mondays, 4pm-5pm; Tuesdays 1pm-2pm (and by appointment or drop in).
Note: I am usually in my office and you are welcome to drop by. If I am unavailable, if there is a yellow or a red hanger on the door handle, I am busy and would prefer if you came back later unless it is an emergency. Otherwise, feel free to knock.

My office is room B810B.

My email is

My telephone number is +1 403 329-2377.


We will be relying on a combination of required texts and online readings. Because the History of the Book is partially about specific physical and digital artifacts, it is essential that you get the editions or versions listed here.

Note: These references supply ISBN numbers in order to help you identify and buy the correct edition. This is not usual MLA style. You should not include ISBN numbers in your essays.


Other readings


This course uses three types of evaluation:

Formative Assessment

Most of your work in the course is formative in nature. The important thing with formative work is that you make a good faith effort to complete it and that you learn from the mistakes (if any) you make.

In this course, there are two types of formative assignments:

All formative work is graded mastered / not mastered / not submitted.

All work graded Pass receives a grade of 100% for the assignment. Work that is graded Not mastered will receive a grade corresponding to the degree of mastery (e.g. 60%, 45%, etc.); in most cases (except the blogs and quizzes), students may resubmit work marked “Not mastered” for regrading. Work that is “Not submitted” receives a grade of 0.

Formative work that has been submitted for regrading will be marked out of 80% (i.e. your maximum grade for the assignment will be 80%).

At the end of the year, the average of your scores in these two categories will be added to your final grade.

I reserve the right to add additional formative assignments to these categories throughout the semester in response to class interests and needs.

Summative Assessment

Summative assignments are used to determine how well students have accomplished the course’s learning goals. In addition to an average of students’ best score in each formative category, these will include two term papers (i.e. research essays) and two exams.

Assignment Value
Participation (average) 10%
Exercises and quizzes (average) 10%
Best term paper 25%
Other term paper 15%
Best exam 20%
Other exam 10%
Badges 10%


Badges are intended to celebrate and reward exceptional work of any kind (formative or summative). There are two kinds of badges:

Badges can be earned on any assignment and are worth the same regardless of the value of the underlying assignment. I.e. a badge of “Great Distinction” adds 5% to your final grade, whether you have earned it on the final exam (worth 15%) or your poster (worth a maximum of 2.5%).

You can receive a maximum of three badges in the course of the year


The following policies will be followed in all my classes unless otherwise announced. You are expected to be familiar with the policies reproduced here and in the more general section on my website. These additional web pages are to be considered part of this syllabus for the purposes of this course. Failure to conform to any of these policies may result in your grade being lowered.

Grade scale

The University of Saskatchewan keeps track of student performance using a percentage grade system and associated rubric. At the end of the year, I will submit your grades as a percentage.

During the year, I use three approaches to grading, depending on the nature of the assignment. The following table shows how they relate to each other:

Descriptor Exceptional Excellent Good Satisfactory Minimal pass Failure
Traditional letter grade A+ A A- B + B B- C+ C C- D+ D D- F
Conventional value 100 95 92 88 85 82 78 75 72 68 65 62 58 55 52 45 33 25 20 0
Percentage 100-90 89-80 79-70 69-60 59-50 49-0
Formative Mastery (100%) Not Mastered (74%-0%) Not submitted (0%)

How your grade is determined depends on the type of work being assessed.

In marking work I use the University’s official descriptions. This means that if you get a grade between 100 and 90, it is because I believe that your work is exceptional and is described by the terms in the University’s rubric. The same is then true for each of the remaining grade categories.

I have prepared more specific rubrics for many types of qualitative assignments (assignments that do not expect the student simply to provide a correct factual answer). These can be found in my Academic Policies section:

Submitting Work

Tests, Exams, and Quizzes

Tests and Exams will be written on Blackboard at the University’s testing centre.

Essays and Reports

Essays and reports will normally be collected using Blackboard. Please use the Department’s guidelines for essay format.

Academic Honesty

It is the responsibility of every student to become familiar with the definition of plagiarism, ways to avoid
charges of plagiarism, and consequences when plagiarism is found in student work. You are plagiarizing if
you present the words or thoughts of someone else as if they were your own – exceptions are proverbial
sayings or common knowledge – or if you submit without approval of the instructor any work for which
credit has previously been obtained or is being sought in another course.

Avoid charges of plagiarizing by acknowledging your sources in your essays and including them in the lists
of works cited. When quoting, make sure that all words and phrases from the source are in quotation
marks. When paraphrasing, acknowledge the source of the idea but rewrite in your own language. For
further information, see the Department of English Requirements for Essays at

Plagiarism, whether from the web, from other students, or from printed sources, is a serious academic
offense. Acts of plagiarism will have varying consequences, depending on the nature of the offense. Less
serious instances may be handled by instructors, but more serious offenses will be reported to the Dean, to
be investigated by a College committee. Penalties can range from a “0” on an essay to a reduced mark for
the course to expulsion from the University; see Records
of penalties assessed by the College are kept on file by the University Registrar; penalties become more
severe for subsequent offences. For more information on academic integrity, see

Student Supports

Student Learning Services (SLS) offers assistance to U of S undergrad and graduate students. For
information on specific services, please see the SLS web site at
The Student and Enrolment Services Division (SESD) focuses on providing developmental and support
services and programs to students and the university community. For more information, see the SESD web
site at

Students who have disabilities (learning, medical, physical, or mental health) are strongly encouraged to
register with Disability Services for Students (DSS) if they have not already done so. Students who
suspect they may have disabilities should contact DSS for advice and referrals. In order to access DSS
programs and supports, students must follow DSS policy and procedures. For more information, check, 306-966-7273, or

I strongly support disability accommodation and gladly work with students to ensure that they have an optimum learning environment.

Class schedule

The following schedule is intended to help you plan your work for this course. The schedule is tentative and subject to change.





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