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Books and Print between Cultures, 1500-1900, Amherst College

Books and Print between Cultures investigates the role that books (printed books and manuscripts, including maps, scrolls, etc.), prints, and their associated technologies played in mediating and instantiating cultural difference in the early modern period. It approaches these materials as intermediary (“between”), but also as “flows,” a term borrowed from social-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, to underscore the fluid and yet chaotic manner in which books and prints proliferated and were circulated, reconfigured, and reconstituted around the globe. Rather than considering books and prints through a strictly semiotic or iconographic lens—i.e., as assemblages of signs and symbols, texts and images—this symposium foregrounds the materiality of these objects qua objects. It asks, for example, in what ways the formal features and physical components of books shaped their reception abroad; how artisans, collectors, merchants, priests, and litterateurs made sense of alien alphabets, inks, type, and handwriting, among other book and print technologies; with what other media—including textiles, sculpture, architecture, and drawing—books, prints, and their makers were in conversation; and how book- and print-making, -collecting, and -viewing practices translated across space, from one locale to another. By framing the history of books and print as meandering and material, this interdisciplinary symposium aims to contribute new dialogues to the study of the global early modern.

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