SIMS Online Lecture Series
Growing a Research Network: Approaches to Global Book History
Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Institute for Advanced Study, and Alexandra Gillespie, University of Toronto
The Book and the Silk Roads approaches the “book” in a capacious way: it is a writing surface, taken from the natural world, hand-crafted to bear textual records. Books can be rolls, leaves, screenfolds, codices, tablets, and even standing stones. To reveal their meanings, to read their diverse texts and scripts alongside their materials, physical structures, and layers of accretions, we need to marshal innovative, interdisciplinary approaches and a collaborative methodology, embedded within a global perspective. Over the past year and a half, we have worked to transform our understanding of the human past and its nonhuman contexts by establishing a wide range of research partnerships, laying the groundwork for a global history of the book. In this talk, we will offer an overview of The Book and the Silk Roads that 1) summarizes the lessons learned during the pandemic, as our project has pivoted in a nimble way to accommodate increased use of online environments and limitations on research travel; 2) outlines some of our research findings, from birchbark Kashmiri manuscripts to palimpsests from Sinai; and 3) describes our increasingly substantial public humanities focus, including our upcoming exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum, Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads.
Suzanne Conklin Akbari is professor of medieval studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Her books are on optics and allegory (Seeing Through the Veil) and European views of Islam and the Orient (Idols in the East), and she’s also edited volumes on travel literature, Mediterranean Studies, and somatic histories, plus the Open Access collections How We Write and How We Read. Her most recent book is The Oxford Handbook of Chaucer (2020), co-edited with James Simpson.
Alexandra Gillespie is Principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga, Vice-President of the University of Toronto, and Professor of English and Medieval Studies. Her research is concerned with medieval and early modern texts and books, especially: the shift from manuscript to print; the relationship between book history, literary criticism, and literary theory; the global development of early book technologies; and digital and non-destructive scientific approaches to the study of premodern books. She is a faculty member in the University of Toronto Mississauga Department of English and Drama and the University of Toronto Department of English, Centre for Medieval Studies, and Collaborative Program in Book History and Print Culture. She is a Fellow of Victoria College and Trinity College at the University of Toronto.
Professor Akbari and Professor Gillespie are Co-PIs on The Book and the Silk Roads project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.