Program launches Yale into book history

December 4, 2013

On a Wednesday afternoon in November, the audience at a lecture in the Beinecke received instructions they likely did not expect from an English professor: The guest speaker told them not to read the Dante excerpt before them.

He asked them to look at it instead.

The scholar, Randall McLeod, a professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, had come to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to give a lecture on the relationship between text and type. McLeod — the inventor of the McLeod Portable Collator, a device that allows scholars to compare copies of printed books by merging two texts into a single perceived image — was the second of six guest lecturers this year in the “Yale Program in the History of the Book” at the Beinecke.

The three founders — English professor David Kastan, Curator of the Early Modern and Osborn Collections at the Beinecke Kathryn James and Aaron Pratt GRD ’16 — established the program last year in an effort to make Yale a leading player in the developing field of book history, a discipline focused on the study of the book as a material object.

“Book history is not only the history of books: It’s the expansive rubric that covers various platforms in which writing gets recorded, distributed and otherwise engaged,” Kastan said, adding that the field of book history has only really emerged within the last 15 years.

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