Practicum on Research Techniques

L504 — Spring 2022

Christoph Irmscher
Days and Times
9:45 - 11a TR (4 CR)
Course Description

*This course fulfills one course of the two-course research skill for English Ph.D. students.

Topic: Modern Literary Archives

Manuscripts are a literary critic’s bread-and-butter; this course will introduce you, in hands-on fashion, to the practical and ethical principles of working with modern literary archives. We will draw exclusively on original materials and will pay particular attention to those that reflect the diversity of the Lilly Library’s holdings: Mary Catherwood’s letters, Amiri Baraka’s notebooks, drafts written on prison toilet paper by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, the occult seductions of Aleister Crowley, the social networks of gay poet beat Harold Norse, and many more writers both famous and obscure.

Collectively, we will reflect on how archival study may help us challenge, in our work, tried-and-true disciplinary narratives in literary history, cultural studies, gender studies, and the history of the book. Some of the topics and skills to be covered might include: the nature of literary collections; the role(s) of archivists, technical staff, curators, and public service librarians; the use of finding aids, catalogues, and digitized sources; or, more specifically: the “archeology” of literary texts (i.e., all that comes before the “fair copy” of a manuscript, such as drafts, notebooks, reading notes, and letters); page proofs; exercises in deciphering handwriting; principles and types of textual transcription; the work that goes into designing exhibitions for special collections.

The class will be co-taught with Rebecca Baumann, the Head of Public Services and Associate Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at the Lilly. Each participant in the class will complete an independent research project, accompanied by a pop-up or virtual exhibition (or a combination thereof). The class is designed for graduate students in English from a variety of backgrounds. Because of the space restraints, we will only be able to admit a maximum of 15 students. No textbook required.