On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Dr. Michael B. Winship, the Iris Howard Regents Professor in English Literature II at the University of Texas Austin, will deliver a lecture in the Philips Autograph Library from 3:30-5 p.m.
For his talk, Dr. Winship will speak on the publishing history of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography “My Bondage and My Freedom,” which was published in 1855.
According to Dr. Winship, there is no “short answer” as to why he originally decided to focus on Douglass, who escaped slavery and went on to become a prominent abolitionist, and his work.
“This project is part of one that I sometimes refer to as ‘Producing American Literature’ and have been pursuing for over a decade,” said Dr. Winship. “I suppose that the immediate reason for choosing this text was a result of a conference ‘Editing Early African American Literature’ at the University of Toronto in November 2012 at which I realized just how little serious publishing historical work had been done on some of the classic African American texts.”
Dr. Eleanor Shevlin, Department of English, contacted Dr. Winship about coming to West Chester University as a part of the WCU Center for Book History and its Graduate Certificate in Publishing Studies program.
Shevlin reinforced the belief that it is important to study the publishing process of literary works.
“A lot of times, when we think of books, we might not think of their origins and how they came into the world,” said Dr. Shevlin. “Often we read the contents of a book, but we do not think of the ways in which our interpretation of that contents has been influenced by the book’s publisher and its physical packaging—its cover, size, paper, typeface used, digital format, and more. We think of books as contracts between authors and readers, but we have a third component here, which is the publisher and the editors, designers, marketers who form the publishing staff.”
Dr. Winship will also visit Dr. William Lalicker’s class, The Discipline of English Studies (ENG 500), where he will host a workshop for graduate students called “Adventures in the Archives” on Monday, Sept. 21. Graduate students from Dr. Rachel Banner’s History, Form & Ideology (ENG 550) course will be attending this workshop as well.
According to Dr. Shevlin, archival research “can be very exciting” and “can bring history alive.”
“It’s a particular craft. Research in the archives and working with primary materials are different from using only journal articles,” said Dr. Shevlin. “It’s really like a treasure hunt. You’re trying to recuperate the past, and there are so many surprises you might not expect to find.”
Dr. Shevlin explained that archives can contain various material items, from books to birth and marriage records to “a napkin that a poet wrote something on that people saved.”
“Archival research can shed light on ordinary people at a certain time,” said Dr. Shevlin. “It can tell us a lot about how people lived their lives, like history from below.”
Dr. Shevlin expects people from other area universities to attend Dr. Winship’s lecture, because the event has been advertised at universities and colleges throughout the area.
According to Dr. Shevlin, the WCU Center for Book History program will continue to have various speakers, and she hopes to have a literary agent come speak in the spring, as well as some craft workshops.
The generous support of the College of Arts and Sciences, the WCU Center for Book History, the Department of English, and Friends of the WCU libraries has made these two events possible.
Casey Tobias is a second-year student majoring in women’s and gender studies. She can be reached at CT822683@wcupa.edu.