This spring I had the pleasure of participating in the Newberry Center for Renaissance Study’s inaugural Virtual Reading Group based on the theme “the history of the book,” which was organized by CRS Assistant Director Christopher Fletcher. Each meeting focused on an article or book chapter that posed interesting questions on what premodern books were, how they were made, and how they were used. The Zoom discussions were led by various experts in the field, including Michael Johnston of Purdue University, Carol Symes and Mara Wade of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Claudia Brittenham from the University of Chicago, and my own professor, Walter Melion, of Emory University. Each discussion leader gave presentations about the readings, introduced participants to fascinating examples of premodern books, and posed discussion questions for the group.
A diverse array of professors and graduate students attended the meetings, all united by their interest in premodern books and their readers. The fifty-plus participants who joined each week had the opportunity to discuss the readings and how they applied to our various projects in smaller breakout rooms on Zoom. We then selected spokespeople to report back to the group at large and pose questions to the expert discussion leaders. My own dissertation, which focuses on premodern Italian publications, will undoubtedly be impacted by these discussions on the materiality of books, the relationship between medieval manuscripts and premodern books, and the role of publishers in shaping premodern readership.
In the midst of what has doubtlessly been a lonely and difficult period for many, the Center for Renaissance Studies found a way to foster community and bring the Newberry into the homes of scholars around the world. While I know we are all looking forward to the day when we can return to the Newberry’s beautiful reading room and lose ourselves in their historic collection of premodern material, I also look forward to future virtual Newberry events.
PhD Candidate, Art History