Tuesdays, 9 January–3 April 2018, 9:10–10:30, BL 325; 10:40–12:00, BL 224/225
Dr Andrew Dunning,
Office hours
Tuesdays during term, 13:00–14:00, BL 618
Teaching Assistant
Sarah Lubelski, (available by appointment)


This course considers the history and possible futures of books in a digital world, in their full range of physical manifestations. It introduces various approaches to these objects and their contents, including book history, textual studies, the history of reading, and digital humanities.

The readings and classes survey topics such as the ontology of born-digital artefacts, critical assessment of digitization projects, collaborative knowledge work, reading devices (old and new), e-book interface design, text/image/multimedia relationships, theories and practices of markup, the gendering of technologies, the politics of digital archiving, the materiality of texts, and the epistemology of digital tools. Balancing theoretical speculation with practical implementation, students will receive a practical introduction to text markup and visualization tools.

This course does not presume prior knowledge of book history or digital publishing tools, or of languages other than English.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, you will be able to demonstrate that you are able to:

  • Use different disciplinary and theoretical frameworks to understand the changing form of the book from a range of perspectives.
  • Interpret the basic markup standards underlying electronic texts and their presentation, notably Unicode, XML, HTML, CSS, and EPUB; create and manipulate media in these formats using open-source text editors and processors operated through the Unix command line.
  • Understand how specific technologies affect the design possibilities, implementation choices, and preservation challenges inherent in various forms of digital text.
  • Situate changes in authorship, publishing, and reading within historical, social, and cultural contexts.
  • Apply theoretical and practical knowledge gained in the course to current debates regarding the digitization of print books, the dissemination of e-books, and experimentation with new forms of the book.

We will assess your development of these skills through participation in class discussions, lab assignments, and written work.

This course builds on the learning outcomes set out in the Master of Information programme. It requires students to be able to apply a range of concepts, theories, and practices derived from a range of information-related disciplines (learning outcome 1). The book’s historical centrality to the preservation and dissemination of human knowledge means that the evolving forms of digital books are a core concern for information professionals, especially those who work to ensure access to knowledge (outcome 2). Understanding the changing forms of the book, from manuscript to print to digital text, requires a synthesis of theoretical and practical knowledge, linking theories of interpretation to specific encoding and digitization technologies (outcomes 4 and 5).

Course materials

Readings are listed below in the course schedule. All required readings are available online via the Learning Portal. Over the term, we will read most of Leslie Howsam, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), which you can access through the University of Toronto’s subscription; it is also available as an inexpensive paperback and on the course reserve in the library.

Class structure

Most classes are divided into two parts:

  1. Historical and theoretical discussions;
  2. A lab teaching practical skills in creating and analysing digital texts.

Master the items listed under the ‘Read’ heading on the schedule before each class, during which we will argue about their implications. The readings listed under ‘Optional’ are further background to what I am thinking about in planning each class.

The tutorials listed under ‘At-home lab review’ are suggestions for further developing the skills for the lab assignments.