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Agents of Contact: Books and Print between Cultures in the Early Modern Period, City College of New York

Our one-day symposium will present research on the impact of books and print on intellectual contact (broadly construed) within Europe as well as between European and non-European cultures.

The symposium is intended to encourage cross-disciplinary conversation, and is therefore defined by a conceptual framework rather than a strict thematic focus. Its title is an homage to Elizabeth Eisenstein’s seminal book, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, which helped to establish the study of print culture as an area of study in its own right, one that has contributed to – and helped to transform – research in intellectual history, literary studies, the history of science and of visual culture, among others. While Eisenstein’s interest was in uncovering the “impact of print on western society and thought” (as she put it in the title of an early article), this symposium will explore the impact of forms of paper-based media on how western society and culture understood other cultures and societies, how western societies and cultures understood each other, and how non-western cultures and societies understood the west.

Participants will present work on how books and print mediated contact across ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundaries in the early modern period. They will explore how such boundaries were produced and reworked by the formal, material features of print and manuscript, by the structures of the production and circulation of books, texts and images – in other words, on how the materiality of textual and visual artifacts articulated connections, distance and difference between cultures, countries and communities.

In order to allow for a stimulating conversation across disciplines as well as for focused scholarly exchanges, the event will consist of a series of panels of 2-3 participants giving short (10-15 min) presentations based on their pre-circulated work, followed by extended discussion.

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