Literature and Formats

Over the past decades, research into the materiality of texts has shown that readers interpret and respond to more than just the words on the page. The intellectual content of a text cannot be separated from its embodiment in a particular ‘format,’ whether this may be a book, broadside, or digital space. Texts are not immaterial, fluid things that can move from one format to another without losing their identity; without becoming something else. This symposium will explore the complex relationship between text and format.

Formats are never just containers of content, and a text’s embodiment in print or as digital image may rival its narrative in both diversity and creativity. This invites a series of essential research questions. What kind of friction occurs when texts travel between formats; when they move from period to period in different covers, onto other pages, onto new screens? Can format be a generative space – for genres, for specific ideas – and can those genres and ideas then be transferred to other formats? What do literary texts lose, and gain, from transient formats? How do modern formats shape our engagement with literature of the past?

Talks could touch on the following themes (but are not limited to them):

  • Formats vs. media
  • Formats of the page, the codex, the browser, the mp3 file
  • Scale and size; scaling up and down as texts are reprinted
  • How texts travel between formats
  • How literary formats generate new texts
  • Transient texts; ephemera
  • Literary periods and the ways they are bridged by literary formats
  • Stretching, squeezing, and cutting text
  • Mise-en-page: typesetting, stereotyping, bindings: the material formats of literature and their abstract implications


Tore Rye Andersen (Aarhus University):
Between Paper and Pixels: Reformatting Jennifer Egan’s ‘Black Box’

Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent):
Miscellaneity as Form: The Case of the "Lady’s Magazine" (1770-1832)

Maria Damkjær (University of Copenhagen):
Page Fillers in Victorian Periodicals

Matthew James Driscoll (University of Copenhagen):
Sizes and Formats of Icelandic Manuscript Books, ca 1200-1900

Simon Frost (Bournemouth University):
Pushed off the Platform: Why neither Literary Criticism nor Economics Can Adequately Model the Retailed Book

Bonnie Mak (University of Illinois):
Documenting the Humanities

Tom Mole (University of Edinburgh):
Form and Format in Byron’s Poetry

Emily Rohrbach: (University of Manchester):
Codex Poetics: Landon, Hunt, and Clare

Matthew Rubery (Queen Mary University of London):
Book Audio

Jonathan Sachs (Concordia University, Montreal):
What Is an Edition Now?

Whitney Trettien (University of Pennsylvania):
Forme / Platform / Format