The Social Life of Paper

G41.2944 & E58.2344

Spring 2012

Meets in Mondays 4:55-7:05, Location: Goddard B07

Lisa Gitelman
411 Lafayette St. #336
Office hours: Mondays 4:00-4:50 and by appointment

Those who are careful (as they call it) to principle children well, instill into the unwary and as yet unprejudiced, understanding (for white paper receives any characters) those doctrines they would have them retain and profess.
--John Locke (1690)

It is unfortunately the perogative of this papering age of the world that, since the universe has fallen into the hands of the merchants of book and images, thousands of authors and artists, now blinded by the direct light of nature, see however quite well, as soon as this light is reflected from a piece of paper.
--Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1795)

The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.
-- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1803)

Susie, what shall I do—there isn’t room enough; not half enough, to hold what I was going to say. Won’t you tell the man who makes sheets of paper, that I haven’t the slightest respect for him!
-- Emily Dickinson letter to Susan Gilbert (1853)

Common Sense on a Roll™
--Kimberly-Clark Worldwide (2008)

Course Description. What is the cultural work performed by or with the technology of paper? How can a history of paper supplement and enrich recent histories of printing technology and printed artifacts like "the book"? What would it mean to imagine a paperless future? Organized around discussions of readings in common, this course considers the history, production, circulation and use of paper in the social production of knowledge, the shared imagination of value, and the mutual relations of consumers and commodities.

Course Requirements. Written work will consist of one shorter essay (10% each) and a final project due in at the end of the semester (70%). Informed participation in class discussion is an additional requirement worth 20% of the final grade and will include at least one in-class presentation. Written work is due in class as indicated on the syllabus and will be graded for both insight and effectiveness. Please type, spell-check, proofread, and print out. All work must be your own, and any plagiarism—no matter how accidental—will result in failure for the course. Late papers will be penalized and may not receive comments.

Attendance is expected in this course: Absences may have a depressing effect on your grade.

Readings. The following books have been ordered for you at the NYU bookstore but are also readily available from online booksellers.

City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York by David Henkin (Columbia)

Empire of Letters by Eve Tavor Bannet (Chicago)

Paper Machine by Jacques Derrida (Stanford)

Paper Machines by Markus Krajewski (MIT)

The majority of the course readings will be available as PDF files, either in the “Course Documents” area of the course Blackboard site or via persistent links in the syllabus. Readings should be completed for the class sessions indicated on the syllabus. Also, please bring the assigned reading to class with you, printing PDFs whenever possible. If you notice any dead links on the syllabus or in Blackboard, please email me a.s.a.p., and I will try to help.

Policies and etiquette. If you are entitled to special accommodations in light of a documented disability please speak to me in private to make arrangements.

The calendar below offers an outline of the course. Incidental changes may be made as the semester proceeds, though any changes will be announced ahead of time in class. If weather or other circumstances cause disruptions in the academic calendar, please look for an email announcement via Blackboard.

Calendar of Class Meetings and Assignments


1. January 23
Readings (3): Adventures of a Quire of Paper (1779)
Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, “Preliminaries: The Introduction of Paper into Europe”
Michael Winship, 5 pp. on paper and papermaking, from The Industrial Book, 1840-1880
Browse: The Memory of Paper and Paper Through Time

2. January 30
Readings (2):
Christina Lupton, Knowing Books (selection)
Craig Dworkin, "The Logic of Substrate"
Josh Calhoun, "The Word Made Flax"

3. February 6
Bruno Latour, “Visualization and Cognition: Drawing Things Together”
David Kaiser, Drawing Theories Apart (excerpt)     

4. February 13
Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine (selections)

February 20 Presidents' Day, no class

5. February 27
Reading: Krajewski, Paper Machines        

6. March 5
Readings (4):          
Martin Campbell-Kelly, “Information Technology and Organizational Change in the British Census”
Melville, "Bartleby the Scrivener"
Baker v. Selden U.S. Supreme Court Decision (1880)
Nicholson Baker, “Discards” The New Yorker

March 12 Spring Break, no class

7. March 19th Digital Humanities colloquium, details TBA

8. March 26
Sherman, Used Books (especially Chs. 1, 2, 7, 8)

9. April 2       
Bannet, Empire of Letters (selections)
John Guillory, "The Memo and Modernity"

10. April 9
David Henkin, City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York

11. April 16
Ben Kafka, The Demon of Writing (Blackboard)
Ann Komaromi, "Samizdat as Extra-Gutenburg Phenomenon" (Blackboard)
If you have time: Serguei Alex. Oushakine, "The Terrifying Mimicry of Samizdat"     

12. April 23
Will Straw, "Pathways of Cultural Movement"
Janice Radway, "Zines, Half-lives and Afterlives"
Latour and Lowe, "The Migration of the Aura, or How to Explore the Original Through Its Facsimiles"

13. April 30
In-Class discussion of paper topics
(Wild card selections from the bibliography below)
Paul Duguid, “Inheritance or Loss: A Brief Survey of Google Books” First Monday

14. May 7
Reading: TBA (Wild card selections from the bibliography below)



Selective Bibliography of Related Readings

Anon., Jack and the Bean-stalk: A New Version (1848).

Augst, Thomas. The Clerk’s Tale: Young Men and Moral Life in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Trans. Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.

Becker, Peter and William Clark, eds. Little Tools of Knowledge: Historical Essays on Academic and Bureaucratic Practices. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001.

Brown, John Seely and Paul Duigud. "Reading the Background" 173-205, The Social Life of Information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000.

Casper, Scott E., Jeffrey D. Groves, Stephen W. Nissenbaum, and Michael Winship, eds. The Industrial Book, 1840-1880. A History of the Book in America. Vol. 3. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Dierks, Konstantin. In My Power: Letter Writing and Communications in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

_______. "Letter Writing, Stationery Supplies, and Consumer Modernity in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World," Early American Literature 41 (2006) 473-94.

Duguid, Paul and John Seely Brown, “The Social Life of Documents”

Fleming, Juliet. Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Freud,Sigmund, "A Note on the Mystic Writing Pad," Standard Edision of the Complete Psychological Works. Volume XIX. London: The Hograth Press: 1961.

Henkin, David M. The Postal Age: The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

King, W. Davies. Collections of Nothing. Chicago: Unviersity of Chicago Press, 2008.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008.

Lau, Estelle T. Paper Families: Identity, Immigration Administration, and Chinese Exclusion. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Levy, David M. Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age. New York: Arcade, 2001.

Luskey, Brian P. "Jumping Counters in White Collars: Manliness, Respectability and Work in the Antebellum City" Journal of the Early Republic 26:2 (2006) 173-219.

McGaw, Judith A. Most Wonderful Machine: Mechanization and Social Change In Berkshire Paper Making, 1801-1885. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

McLaughlin, Kevin. Paperwork: Fiction and Mass Mediacy in the Paper Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Melville, Herman. "Bartleby the Scrivener" ( 1853) and “The Tartarus of Maids” (1855).

Mihm, Stephen. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Pellegram, Andrea. "The Message in Paper" Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter, ed. Daniel Miller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Poovey, Mary. Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

William Powers, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal”

Robertson, Craig. The Passport in America: The History of A Document. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Rosenberg, Daniel. “Early Modern Information Overload” Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (January 2003) 1-9.

Sandage, Scott A. Born Losers: A History of Failure in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Sellen, Abigail J. and Richard H. R. Harper. The Myth of the Paperless Office. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002.

Sherman, William H. Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Trollope, Anthony. The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson by One of the Firm (London, 1870)

Tudge, Colin. The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why they Matter. Three Rivers Press, 2007.

Vismann, Cornelia. Files: Law and Media Technology. Trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).

Andrew Warwick, "A Mathematical World on Paper," pp. 114-175 in Masters of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Modern Pysics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Weber, Max."Bureaucratic Authority," Sociological Writings. Ed.Wolf Heydebrand and trans. Martin Black with Lance W. Garmer. New York: Continuum, 1994.

Yates, JoAnne. Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.


And a Few Video Links Just for Fun

(Please Send Your Suggestions)

"Photograph of Jesus" a film by Laurie Hill (2008)

Recycling in an economic downturn, Wall Street Journal 2009

Recycling in 1903 Edison Manufacturing Company

"Dunder Mifflin Commercial" framed, (The Office, 2008)

"A Day in the Life of India" Times of India 100 Rupee ad

These Are the People an industrial film (1944)