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notes on feminist bibliography

One of my current projects has been thinking about what a feminist practice of bibliography looks like. As I’ve shared before, I struggled when writing my book to figure out how to build a feminist stance when I was focused on machines and processes rather than people. How do we create a feminist printing history when we’re not doing a history of a women printing?

Over the past couple of years I’ve given a few lectures and led a few workshops on the topic, and I wanted to collect some of that work in a single place to help others join in this work.

In December 2018 I gave the Lieberman Lecture for the American Printing History Association. You can watch “Working toward a Feminist Printing History” on YouTube (with or without captions); there’s also a transcript linked in the video description. I am grateful to Jesse Erickson and the APHA for extending the invitation to deliver that lecture.

That talk has been adapted into an article that will be coming out in Printing History sometime this summer, I believe. I’ve deposited the pre-print of “Working toward a Feminist Printing History” in the Humanities Commons’ CORE Repository. I’m really excited to have the talk appear in print (and Printing History is actually a print-only journal, gorgeously produced, which is fun), and PH Editor Brooke Palmieri was immeasurably helpful in shaping the talk into an article.

As an outgrowth of this feminist printing history work, I’ve been actively exploring what a feminist bibliography practice would look like. This past fall I did a sort of flipped plenary for the Behn-Burney conference, starting off with my walking through some of the background for and ideas behind a feminist bibliography, and then doing a group “drive” of a book through a document camera where we could as a community examine an artifact and then explore what feminist questions could come out of it.

The Bibliographical Society of America sponsored a workshop that I led at the Folger Shakespeare Library in the fall of 2019, which was a great group experience, albeit something that I can’t easily replicate into a readable piece for folks who weren’t there. But it was a chance to combine hands-on work exploring textual objects with a group discussion about feminist theory and pedagogy.

And I just remotely gave a talk as part of UCLA’s Feminist Bibliographies event, a panel that brought together my work with that of Kate Ozment and Tia Blassingame. It was livestreamed and the recordings of the talks will be shared as well. All three of us are wrestling with similar desires from different angles. I was very sorry not to be there in person, but grateful to Devin Fitzgerald for creating the event and to the library and special collections staff that made it possible, including the tech that let me Zoom in. (I’ll drop in the link to those talks once they’re up.)

The common thread through all of this is explicating a method that frees feminist inquiry from a sole focus on text and authors and printers. Instead, we can create an approach to bibliography that asks feminist questions about what we choose to study and the systems that get books from their origins to our hands today. We can shift from modeling expertise as bibliographers to modeling questioning, and in so doing, we can bring in newcomers to our work and expand the types of work that bibliography does. For me, one of the key elements of being a feminist is ensuring everyone has access and the tools needed to succeed. I try to model that in my way of teaching and leading workshops and giving talks.

There will be other workshops, and when normal travel and campus life resumes, I hope you’ll think about whether this is something you’d like to bring to your institution, either as a small workshop or a larger group event. In the meantime, read the pre-print and think about how a feminist bibliography can shape your own bookish practices!

The emblem for printing from a 1624 Padua edition of Cesare Ripa’s Della novissima iconologia (sig. 2T1r). This image from the Getty copy available in full on the Internet Archive.

One reply on “notes on feminist bibliography”

I wanted to thank you for posting this. I had the privilege of watching the stream of your paper from UCLA in that inspiring workshop, and am delighted to read more. Never has anything expressed more succinctly or precisely what I seek to do in my teaching and research than the process you outline around a “shift from modeling expertise as bibliographers to modeling questioning”, of bringing everyone along. Praxis for any (adult) educator, surely, with implications outwith book history.

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