Old Books and New Tools (MLA 2012; abstract deadline 3/5)

by Jessica C. Murphy

full name / name of organization:
Sarah Werner
contact email:

This proposed roundtable special session aims to generate a discussion about what we gain from thinking about old books and new tools together. How might the digital help us explore the materiality of books? What might the currency of the digital offer for understanding the past of books? How might new tools reshape how we think about old books? How might old books alter how we conceive of new tools?

This CFP is a call for participants to debate these questions, and others, in a roundtable at MLA 2012. Each participant will have five minutes to address one aspect of the relationship between old books and new tools from the perspective that represents their experiences in working with and thinking about these issues. The individual presentations will then lead to a group discussion about the possible intersections of old books and new tools, with the discussion finally opening up to a conversation with the audience. The goal of the session is to think of new ways in which to use tools that we have, new tools that we would like to see developed, and new meanings that are generated by both tools and books when they are put in conjunction.

Interested participants should send a brief statement (500-800 words) articulating why they have a viewpoint that should be included in this conversation and a short bio that highlights any relevant information as to your experience in working with old books and/or new tools, including any scholarship, teaching, programming, or other work. Participants need not be actively engaged in both digital humanities and book history, but must be invested in exploring how these fields might interact. Talking points might include examinations of specific tools being used, the challenges of adapting or creating tools specifically for the study of old books, or discussion of specific books or topics that have benefitted or could benefit from the use of digital tools. Proposals from the perspectives of either book historians or digital humanists are welcome, as are those from students, faculty, staff, and librarians.

Proposal should be emailed by March 5th to sarahDOTwernerATgmailDOTcom; all panelists will need to be MLA members by April 7th. (Please note that this is for a proposed special session at MLA 2012, not a guaranteed offering.)