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


15 November

12 - 13  Lunch

13 - 14  Scholarship and Its Formats: Documenting the Humanities
              Bonnie Mak (University of Illinois)

14 - 15  Forme / Platform / Format
              Whitney Trettien (University of Pennsylvania)

15 - 15:30  Coffee

15:30 - 16:30  Sizes and Formats of Icelandic Manuscript Books, ca 1200-1900
                        Matthew James Driscoll (University of Copenhagen)

16:30 - 17:30  What Is an Edition Now?
                         Jonathan Sachs (Concordia University, Montreal)

17:30 - 18:30  Codex Poetics: Landon, Hunt, and Clare
                        Emily Rohrbach (University of Manchester)

16 November

09 - 10  Page Fillers in Victorian Periodicals
             Maria Damkjær (University of Copenhagen)

10 - 11  Miscellaneity as Form: The Case of the "Lady’s Magazine" (1770-1832)
              Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent)

12 - 13  Lunch

13 - 14  Form and Format in Byron’s Poetry
              Tom Mole (University of Edinburgh)

14 - 15  Between Paper and Pixels: Reformatting Jennifer Egan’s ‘Black Box’
             Tore Rye Andersen (Aarhus University)

15 - 15:30  Coffee

15:30 - 16:30  Book Audio
                        Matthew Rubery (Queen Mary University of London)

16:30 - 17:30  Pushed off the Platform: Why neither Literary Criticism nor
                        Economics Can Adequately Model the Retailed Book
                        Simon Frost (Bournemouth University)