Friday, May 19, 2023

This semester, Matthew Brown (English), Elizabeth Yale (History and UICB), and Sara Parr (UICB MFA 2023) designed and taught the new course UICB 2190, “The Book in Global History.” In lecture, discussions, Special Collections, and the UICB studios, undergraduates from across the university explored the material and cultural history of the book in pre-modern China, early modern New Spain, and the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Black Atlantic World. As a new introductory, general education course, "The Book in Global History" used the book arts to immerse undergraduates across the university in the hands-on study of book history.

Studying the development of paper, printing, and learned Confucian book cultures in Imperial China, students tried their hands at making paper, carving and printing wood blocks, and stitching butterfly bindings. By making and painting with Meso-American and European pigments, they explored vibrant indigenous Meso-American book cultures and how books were both destroyed and created in encounters between Aztecs, Mayans, and the Spanish in colonial New Spain. Turning to the role of books and newspapers in histories of slavery, abolition, and liberation in the Black Atlantic, students designed and printed their own versions of nineteenth-century newspapers, drawing on period examples of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator in University of Iowa Special Collections. Students capped off the semester by creating research-based, creative final projects reflecting the craft techniques, research skills, and knowledge they had learned.

The development of this course was supported by a three-year Humanities Initiative Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant is led by Brown and Yale in collaboration with faculty, library, and graduate student colleagues from across the university. Over the next two years, the work continues, as Professors Paul Dilley (Religious Studies, Classics, and the UICB) and Kendra Strand (East Asian Languages and Literatures) work with Parr to develop immersive, hands-on activities for their course on Global Manuscript Cultures, which examines the history of manuscripts and their cultural contexts in Asia and Europe from ancient times to the present . The team as a whole will work to incorporate more hands-on study in courses across the humanities and develop the undergraduate curriculum in book history and the book arts.