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 4400a: History of the Book (Fall 2007)

Posted: Sep 10, 2007 12:09;
Last Modified: Jan 02, 2008 12:01



This course will examine how readers use external clues about a text’s origin, genre, and intellectual context to construct its meaning. Book History, in other words, understood in its broadest sense as “the History of Authorship, Readership, and Publication.”

We will be conducting our examination by reading a number of works with controversial dissemination and reception histories   from Beowulf and Old Frisian Law (read in translation) to the Diary of Anne Frank (in translation), Lolita and Internet Pornography/Erotica (Please see the section on required reading below for a list of texts and a special warning about the potentially offensive content some of these works may contain).

By the end of this course students should have a historical awareness of of issues surrounding the transmission, and reception of literary and other texts. Equipped with this knowledge, they should be able to take an intelligent and historically informed position in contemporary debates about the use and position of various kinds of artistic works in society   from the transmission of pornography and hate literature on the World Wide Web to the censorship of books and other material in our schools and libraries.

Required Texts

Warning: Some of the texts we will be covering in this course contain intentionally racist and/or sexist material. While we will endeavour throughout to read these works in a historically responsible fashion, students are likely to find at least some of the readings politically, morally, or socially discomforting.


Assignment Value
Participation, Attendance, and Quizzes 10 %
Oral Report 20 %
Essay 1 25 %
Essay 2 45 %

General policies

The following policies will be followed in all my classes unless otherwise announced. You are expected to be familiar with these policies and any other documents cited here. Failure to conform to these policies may result in your grade being lowered.

Grade scale

The University of Lethbridge keeps track of student performance using a letter and grade point system (See section 4 of the University Calendar). Instructors assign students a letter grade at the end of each course (the University does not issue or keep track of mid-term grades). These letter grades are converted to a numerical value (a Grade Point) for assessing overall academic performance (a Grade Point Average or GPA). The University does not record percentage-type grades and does not have a fixed scale for conversion from percentage scores to letter grades and grade points. Each instructor is responsible for determining their own methodology for determining students’ final letter grade.

In my classes, I use the following letter-grade to percentage correspondences:

  Excellent Good Satisfactory Poor Minimal pass Failing
Letter A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
Percent range 100-94 93-90 89-86 85-82 81-78 77-74 73-70 69-66 65-62 61-58 57-50 49-0
Conventional value 100 92 88 84 80 76 72 68 64 60 56 49-0
Grade point 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0

How your grade is determined depends on the type of work being assessed. Tests of specific skills or knowledge (such as identification questions in literature classes, or fact-oriented tests in my grammar and language classes) are usually assigned a numeric score which is easily converted to a percentage. Essays, presentations, and other performance-oriented tests are usually graded by letter. I convert letter grades to percentages by taking the median value in each grade-range, and rounding up to the nearest whole percent. The only exceptions are A+ (which is converted to 100%), and F (which is converted to an arbitrary percentage between 0% and 49% based on my estimation of the work’s quality). These scores can be found in the convention | | |al value row of the above table.

In marking work I try to keep the University’s official description of these grades in mind (a description can be found in the University Calendar, Part IV.3.a). If you get an A it means your work is excellent; a B means your work is good; a C means it is satisfactory; a D that it is poor; and an F that it is failing to meet University-level standards.

Class schedule

The following schedule is intended to help you plan your work for the course. It is subject to change.

Week Date Unit Readings Due
  Mon. 3/9 Labour Day (no class)
1 Mon. 10/9 About the Course (Syllabus and concepts)    
2 Mon. 17/9 Introduction Concepts and methodologies; major secondary research; some examples Please read the Notes for discussion ; secondary sources: Foley 1988 and Bakhtin 1986. These will introduce you to the major concepts we will be pursuing. Our examples will be popular music as discussed by Adorno 1992 and the Old English Physiologus poem (translation Gordon 1959). Read O’Donnell 2001 for one reading of genre in this poem. Fitzpatrick 1933 has a translation of the Latin original from which the poet is working.  
3 Mon. 24/9 The Archaeology of Genre: How do we know how to read old texts? Primary readings: Chaucer, The Squire’s Tale (if you need a translation, here’s one ); Milton, Il Penseroso ; Spenser, Faerie Queene, IV.ii and IV.iii . Secondary readings: McCall 1966 ; Root 1957/01 ; Stillwell 1948 . Please also see the Reading Notes  
4 Mon. 1/10   Primary readings: Beowulf; other texts from the Beowulf Manuscript: Passion of St. Christopher ; Wonders of the East ; The letter of Alexander to Aristotle ; Judith
Secondary readings” Tolkien 1936 ; Sisam 1953 .
Please also see the Reading Notes
  Mon. 8/10 Statutory Holiday (no class)
5 Mon. 15/10 The Politics of Genre
“What Anne Meant”: the transmission and reception of the Diary of Anne Frank
Primary Readings: Diary of Anne Frank ; O’Donnell 1988; Lecture: “What Anne Meant”; Please read also the “Reading Notes”  
6 Mon. 22/10 The “Revisionist” Challenge to the Diary of Anne Frank Secondary Readings: Lipstadt 1993; Faurisson n.d.;  
7 Mon. 29/10 Harmless Fun: The Motive, Moral, and Plot of Huckleberry Finn. Primary Readings: Twain, Huck Finn; Secondary Readings: Booth 1988; Articles from the sections “Controversy over the Ending” and “Controversy over Race” in Huckleberry Finn.   
8 Mon. 5/11 The Ethics of Genre
Introduction: The Goose and the Gander: what makes a book ‘Literature’?
Primary Sources: Lolita; Secondary Sources: Review Adorno; Jameson 1979  
  Mon. 12/11 Remembrance Day (no class)
9 Mon. 19/11 Should Lolita be Banned? de Grazia 1993; Booth 1988b  
10 Mon. 26/11 Classic Porn (?): Generic exhibitionism and generic modesty in the transmission of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure Primary Sources Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure ; Secondary Sources: Arcand 1993a; Arcand 1993b  
11 Mon. 3/12 “Football and Fashion”: Why is there no “Oxford World Classic” category romance? Primary Sources: Category Romance (TBA); Secondary Sources: Douglas 1980; Radway 1984; Modleski 1984  
12 Wed. 5/12      
13 Thur. 6/12      




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