Transforming Books Symposium

6-7 October 2017, McGill University, Thomson House, Ballroom

For a few decades now, the social and material life of books has been a central object of study among scholars of a wide array of disciplines. Thanks to the work of experts in the fields of critical bibliography, literary analysis, history, and media studies, we now have a sense of the crucial role of the material forms of texts – including their format, typography, illustrations, and other paratextual features – as well as the role of the context of production and circulation of those texts for their reception and the creation of meaning. In turn, recent scholarship has also aimed at better understanding how the mediation of texts in the public sphere helps foster different kinds of transformation that touches readers, writers, and publishers as well as the literary and material forms of books.


Building on this scholarship, the Transforming Books Symposium aims to bring together the study of the transformative power of books (on individuals, communities, as well as in relation to large-scale social and political change) with the ways in which books are themselves transformed by the processes of production, dissemination, translation, transvaluation, and adaptation. A key focus will be the many ways that the material forms of books enable and transform the meanings and social agency of texts. The symposium aims to consider books in many forms, including electronic kinds of publication, and across a range of historical periods.

The participants in the symposium will represent different areas and periods of study and different approaches to the key questions. They will share their particular archives and approaches with each other; they will also work together toward an understanding of the interrelationship between the transformative power of books and the many ways by which books themselves are transformed (including, of course, by other books).    


Transforming Books is a collaboration between McGill University’s Department of English and the Early Modern Conversions Project, directed by Professor Paul Yachnin.  

Keynote speaker : David Lee Miller, University of South Carolina