The Start of a New Chapter (Get it??? Because books… I’m adorable.)



  1. Syllabus
  2. What is a book?
  3. Blog/Daily Scribe
  4. Break?
  5. Readings
  6. Medieval help desk
  7. Writing as a technology
  8. Plato’s Phaedrus

Hello all! Since I have volunteered myself to go first, I’m just going to dive in headfirst and hope for the best. I gotta confess, going first felt like a better idea earlier, as I now find myself anxious about straddling this line between diary/journal entry and actual helpful information to you, my classmates. But I digress and let’s go for it.

First of all, I want to say how terrible it is to have the semester start on your birthday, which today was for me. But I had a pretty decent class line up so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world but still. We started class by going over the syllabus, as usual. Here is where I expected to get let out early but as we all know that is not what happened. But I was weirdly happy to just immediately jump into this class because this class is easily the coolest concept ever. I love the idea of tying together history and literature and the logistical aspects of books and then also a bit of philosophy like we did today. So onward into today’s events.

After some brief syllabus overview. Alex posted the question: what is a book? While I went super abstract, more so focused on the emotional aspects of a book (what it does, is there such thing as a “real” book, etc.), a lot of people went literal (binding, production, etc.).  We started in pairs, discussing our writing on the question, and then eventually dovetailed into a group discussion. This led to discussions of not only what makes a book but what does a book do, as well as whether or not e-readers count as books. (Spoiler alert: they do!) This is where I attach a picture of all the notes on our discussion because I’m the best. img_3487

From there, we briefly talked through the wiki page and then scribe duties. And here is where I volunteered to go first. Then we took a class vote on whether we wanted to do breaks halfway through class or end early, and more of us voted to end early than to take breaks. I wonder whether the split was grad vs. undergrad, grad students preferring the shorter class to a break. Not that it really matters either way but it’s interesting to think about. I digress. Then we did a little more “syllabus-ing” (direct quote) before discussing the meaning behind the image on the wiki.

Alex then showed us a video of a medieval help desk, spoofing the modern IT desks, which got us into a conversation on how writing serves as a kind of technology, which led into an even deeper conversation on the difference between the reaction to books and the reaction to computer technology. (Spoiler alert: both times people swore society was going to crumble. Both times, of course, society did not.) This is where Plato came in, and we split up into more groups to dissect and discuss his fears and opinions on writing. Of course, like all older generations exposed to new technology, he wasn’t exactly digging it but he allowed that as long as younger generations were still contributing to the ideas people were now writing down, we as humans would probably be okay.

And that was today’s class. See you all next Monday!





11 thoughts on “The Start of a New Chapter (Get it??? Because books… I’m adorable.)

  1. This is an excellent first scribal entry, Megan! I’d be especially curious to know from others how their thoughts about “what a book is” were either confirmed our challenged by our discussion. Likewise, I’d love to hear more about Plato’s opposition of speech and writing, his equation of writing and painting, and his somewhat moderated fear of what writing as a technology will do to our memories and our souls.

  2. Hi all,
    To answer Alex’s question about whether the “what is a book?” discussion confirmed or challenged my thoughts, I would say my mind was definitely blown by the varying opinions and it made me question my original definition. I definitely thought I was more content oriented but quickly realized how important form and physicality is to the definition of a book. A textbook is still literally a book, no? But when I think of a book for some reason I immediately think of a novel. I think it was a great discussion to start off our course and I’ll constantly be reevaluating what the true (if there is any) definition is.
    I had a similar feeling about the Plato discussion. I’ve read that piece before and thought my opinion was firmly that writing was just as valuable as speech but after class last night, now I am considering the importance of memory and it’s relation to speech instead of writing. Will our memories fade because of our dependence on the written word?
    Both conversations challenged my original opinions on the topics and I’m excited for more discussions like these!

    • I’m with you, Sam. When I picture a book in my head, it’s usually a novel or piece of fiction. When we talked about it in class, I realized how strongly I felt about the physicality of a book. For me, a book has a binding, but I do think it can be used as an umbrella term with many different kinds of books falling under it, including audio books and textbooks. I think it’s important to include audio books because it would be ignorant to ignore people that cannot read, whether it is because of medical reasons or because of poor literacy wherever they grew up. But the book itself for me, not the reproduction, is the physical object, pages of words bound together by leather or some other material.

      • I agree with both Sam and Emma regarding my opinion about a book – I thought I had it all figured out until I started to hear everyone’s varying perspectives. Emma, your mention of audiobooks really threw my through a loop because I had not even thought about audiobooks before your comment. After hearing this comment, along with comments such as “newspapers aren’t considered books, e-readers, and comics, etc.” I started to reevaluate what a book actually is. I don’t think I’ve come to a distinct definition yet, and like Sam, I’m not entirely sure there is just one answer but I am excited to explore this topic as we continue throughout the course!

        I also thought that I had a specific stance on Plato’s reading until the mention of writing contributing to our deteriorating memories was brought up. I hadn’t thought of writing as a tool to take away memory, on the contrary, I had always thought of it as a tool to help us remember stuff. Before heading to the grocery store many people write down the groceries that they need so that it can help them remember. However, analyzing that after reading Plato’s writing, I am beginning to see that this is a way to depend on writing versus deepening on your brain to remind you of things. Therefore, I think the problem is the reliance and/or the dependence on outside sources such as writing to tell us things that we should hold the capacity in our minds to remember on our own. So far this class is already challenging me to take on different perspectives and to constantly challenge my thinking and I can’t wait to explore more challenges throughout the semester!

      • I like your emphasis, Emma, on the physicality of books. I know that I’m a dinosaur when it comes down to it, but one of my favorite memories growing up was the smell on an old, dusty book. I can still recall the smell of Avi’s Ragweed which I picked it up in Mrs. Bershaw’s third-grade classroom. I’m certainly not opposed to new forms of reading, ebooks, Kindles, and I admit that I consistently find myself reading the BBC on my phone while I’m on the train into work, but there’s something important and affective for me in owning,reading, and annotating a physical copy. It would be interesting to further examine and study people’s emotional ties with their reading materials, since many people seem so tied to their first editions and dogeared copies.

      • I agree that it is important to include things like audio books, e-books, textbooks, etc. under the definition of what a book is. Above all, I think that the definition of a book must be fluid and able to adapt. The concept of a book has changed and developed along with society, so I think that the definition must be able to change to reflect this. To have the definition be totally static and ignore new technology would be a mistake, in my opinion.
        I was thinking about this earlier in the week as I re-read one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the novel, the Guide itself is an e-book (from the descriptions, it probably looks pretty close to a Kindle and in terms of organization and concept it is almost Wikipedia-like). I thought this was interesting because the novel was published in 1979, so definitely earlier than e-books as we think of them today really got started. Within the novel, the Guide is always described as book, and all of the character accept it as such. It reminded me of our conversation in class Monday because it made me think about how the initial readers of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (before the rise in prominence of e-books) would have thought about the Guide in the novel. Without the context of e-books as a pretty standard part of everyday life, would they have been as willing to accept the Guide as a book as readers encountering the novel now in the age of the e-book might be? I think today the Guide isn’t all that much of a surprise to readers since it really does seem like a fairly normal (though massive) e-book.

      • I would like to echo Victoria’s appreciation for the mention of “audio books”, Emma. I wonder though, why did we consider an “audio book” a book, but not a “comic book” a book? Why were some forms more problematic for us than others? I also found that Plato’s “Phaedrus” forced me to reflect on the habit of relying on technology – whether it be books or smartphones – to assist memory. We didn’t get a chance during class, so it might be worth noting that Plato is thinking the book as technology from the first line. He employs words such as “produce” and “use” when describing how we interact with books. These words are often part of the language of technology. The translator’s inclusion of “invented” also suggests technology.

      • Prior to the discussion in class, I had no intention of ever accepting an audio book as a valid example of what a book is, but after some people in class made their case, it seemed that my rigid definition of a book was up for re-examination. I thought about audio books during the rest of class, wondering if perhaps I had been too harsh on them as a medium, and wondered if perhaps my exclusion of audio books was similar to the elitism surrounding books and writing touched upon during the discussion of Plato’s Phaedrus.

        I wonder, then, if the exclusion of audio books is indicative of some sort of last-ditch effort to cling on to outdated ideas of literacy. Does listening to an audio book instead of reading the physical copy mean a person is any less literate? What if the person listening to the book actually understands the themes of the text more than the person reading a physical copy? That is a question that I think we should attempt to address as a class.

        As for e-books, I’m still on the fence about them. Some of you have made strong arguments in favor of considering them a valid example of a book, and yet, something about them makes me uneasy. Perhaps it is the absence of a page beneath my fingers that turns me away from them? But the same should apply to an audio book, you might say. True, but yet I cannot help but wonder if the audio book’s ability to stimulate one’s auditory senses lets me see it as more of a book than the e-book, something that only stimulates your visual senses.

        Perhaps my opinion on this will change as more individuals in the class make a case for the e-book?

  3. Personally, even though I am in disagreement with our version on which e-books should be considered books, I do agree that this class has such an interesting concept, and the whole concept of learning about the history of the book is so appealing, that I rearranged my entire course schedule(work included) to fit this class in. I love old medieval texts and stuff, and I feel as if I will be hard pressed to be bored in this class. I do realize that it is a three-hour course, which doesn’t prevent me from doing so, since this is my 12th+ three-hour sectioned course. I lost track.

  4. While I’m more on the old-fashioned side of the e-books being classified as books argument, I still think that e-books have a lot to offer that physical books cannot. A Song of Ice and Fire is releasing a sort of e-book that’s interactive the entire way through, and if you’re a fan of the series or show, or completely new to it, then it’s a great way to read while knowing exactly what is happening, which is sometimes hard in George R. R. Martin’s world. I’ve only looked at previews of it myself however but if I ever want to reread the books I might be interested in the interactive enhanced edition you can only get electronically.

    – I remember Professor Mueller said he disliked Game of Thrones last semester so I had to bring it up as soon as possible.

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