Texts in Transition (Gen Ed 1034)





What makes some texts long-lived while others are ephemeral, today and in the past?


Histories, Societies, Individuals icon with text Aesthetics & Culture icon with text

Ann Blair and Leah Whittington

We live in a moment of “crisis” around regimes of preservation and loss. As our communication becomes ever more digital— and, therefore, simultaneously more ephemeral and more durable—the attitudes and tools we have for preserving our culture have come to seem less apt than they may have seemed as recently as a generation ago. This course examines how texts have been transmitted from the past to the present, and how we can plan for their survival into the future. We will examine what makes texts durable by considering especially the media by which they are transmitted, the changing cultural attitudes toward their content, and the institutions by which they are preserved. The European Renaissance will provide a central case study. During this period scholars became aware of the loss of ancient texts and strove to recover and restore them insofar as possible. These interests prompted new developments in scholarly conservation techniques which we still value today (philology, libraries, and museums) but also the creation and transmission of new errors, ranging from well-intentioned but overzealous corrections and “improvements” to outright forgeries. What can the Renaissance teach us about how to engage productively with these problems, both as the source of our current attitudes toward preservation and loss, and as a case study of another culture dealing with anxiety over preservation and loss? Ultimately, we hope that students will be able to think productively about how to preserve from the past and the present for the future, while recognizing that all preservation inherently involves some kind of transformation.

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