Course Metadata

Course Number: HONR 3310
Meeting Room: Mostly Zoom; occasionally Hastings Suite 205
Days & Time: Wednesday and Friday, 11:45am-1:25pm Professor: Ryan Cordell
Fall Student Hours: Tuesday and Friday 2-3pm, and by appointment

COVID Caveat

I have adapted much of the prose on this page and the linked syllabus pages from other courses offered in very different semesters. I have tried to adjust the course policies and expectations to account for the strangeness of the times. I am certain, however, that I have not imagined every situation that might arise, or fully accounted for the full range or extremity of situations you might find yourselves in this term. Frankly, I will rely on your understanding and grace as I teach this course in entirely new ways. I hope to extend the same understanding and grace to you.

Consider this caveat an override switch for everything—yes, literally everything—else on the syllabus. I mean this sincerely: everything on this syllabus and in this class is subject to this one clause. We’re all doing our best to learn together during an unprecedentedly difficult time. We’re working in new ways and in unusual environments. We are caring for others while trying to keep ourselves healthy, sheltered, fed, and sane. We are worried all the time, and some of us are dealing with fear and loss. Among all these challenges, I still want to come together and talk about the history and future of the book because I find this topic fascinating and—dare I say it, given this world we find ourselves in—important. I believe we can learn a lot from each other and even have some fun together in the next months. I will operate from the base assumption that each of you is here in good faith: that you are curious, engaged, and eager to do the best work you can.

Taking all that as given, I also want you to know that your health—both physical and mental—is always more important to me than this class. Your family and friends’ health is always more important to me than this class. You don’t have to apologize to me if attempting to learn during a pandemic forces you to work at a different pace from what’s outlined on this syllabus, or if we need to find an alternative path for you through this class. My primary role as a teacher is to support you however I can. Let me know how I can do that better. I mean all of this, sincerely. Let’s work together to meet the challenges and find the joys of this strange semester.

Course Description

What is a book, and what might it become? This studio-based course will be a historical, imaginative, and experiential introduction to one of the most enduring and influential human technologies, the book. Students will investigate intersections among media, literature, and computation in order to understand the history of the book and imagine its future. Students will learn about the technical skills that helped produce books historically, such as letterpress printing, while cultivating new technical skills that will enable them to effectively use contemporary textual technologies, such as interactive, online storytelling. The course will draw extensively on online resources for book history and rely on real-time online discussions and workshops, while—depending on public health developments—potentially engaging in a few hands-on activities in Northeastern’s experiential letterpress studio, Huskiana Press.


In developing this course I learned from many people and existing courses, such as Matthew Kirschenbaum’s graduate seminar, BookLab: How to Do Things with Books. I am especially grateful to have co-taught a version of this class in the summer of 2019 with Élika Ortega, from whom I learned an immense amount and without whom this current class could not exist, and to Kenny Oravetz for pointing me to Kit Davey’s incredible artist books. I am also grateful to Giordana Mecagni and Molly Brown for her help developing and running this course’s Zines unit, as well as Regina Pagani for developing Snell’s collection of artist books.