A thorough rethinking of a field deserves to take a shape that is in itself new. Interacting with Print delivers on this premise, reworking the history of print through a unique effort in authorial collaboration.

The book itself is not a typical monograph—rather, it is a “multigraph,” the collective work of twenty-two scholars who together have assembled an alphabetically arranged tour of key concepts for the study of print culture, from Anthologies and Binding to Publicity and Taste.

Each entry builds on its term in order to resituate print and book history within a broader media ecology throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The central theme is interactivity, in three senses: people interacting with print; print interacting with the non-print media that it has long been thought, erroneously, to have displaced; and people interacting with each other through print. The resulting book introduces new energy to the field of print studies and leads to considerable new avenues of investigation.

In Praise of the Multigraph

What makes this an impressive production is the way in which it manages to combine powerful argument with detailed illustration. It is persuasive in its key aims. . . . Interacting with Print aims to demonstrate all the ways in which reading is interactive. At one level, it is ingenious that the innovations of its own genre force its readers to rethink the basics of the academic book. At another, more significant level, the lucidity of its observations and illustrations show us, brilliantly, the many different ways in which books make meaning.

—Times Higher Education

Interacting with Print refutes the assumption that print is static and less interactive than other media. . . .Collaborations on the scale of Interacting with Print might be one direction for scholarship in the future, but they also call upon habits ingrained in the past, both mundane and profound.

—Perspectives on History

One of the pleasures of this collaborative work . . . is its surprising readability. The book is meaty, consistent, vigorous, and free of jargon. . . . Innovative . . . . Highly recommended.

—CHOICE

Interacting with Print reminds us of print’s capacity to disrupt as well as produce forms of allegiance—to be an agent of instability as well as of standardization. The essays comprising this book are separately and together a pleasure to read. They are also unfailingly edifying. Collectively, the authors propose a new and persuasive account of how readers and viewers did things with print artifacts, both textual and visual, and the emphasis on interaction and intermediality that links these chapters complicates, to wonderful effect, prior works of book and cultural history.

—Deidre Lynch, Harvard University

In focusing on a memorable set of keywords, the authors in this interdisciplinary collective have blended their voices—and their many areas of expertise—to offer an array of inspiring new perspectives on printing in the complex media ecology of 18th- and 19th-century Europe. Interacting with Print is excitingly innovative and productive in both form and content.

—Ann M. Blair, Harvard University

Brimming with fresh ideas and international in scope, Interacting with Print challenges received ideas about what print culture was–for instance, that it was equivalent to national culture, or that its primary relationships were those between author and reader or reader and book. The collaborators become both authors and editors at once as they excavate the relation of print to other media, people to print, and social actors to one another, and we find a many-faceted picture of print’s interactive reach in a volume that vividly redraws the map of its material and intellectual history. The result is a textual and visual treat of collaborative scholarship, often exciting in the way it pushes the boundaries of media history.

—Jon Klancher, Carnegie Mellon University


The Goal

The aim of the multigraph is to investigate how individuals interacted with printed matter, how they used print to interact with each other, and how print itself interacted with other influential media from the period, such as handwriting, illustration, sculpture, the theatre, musical performance, public readings, and polite conversation. « Interactive » is a word most often associated with digital technologies, but we contend that a nuanced and historicized concept of interactivity is key to developing a deeper understanding of print technology. The multigraph provides readers with a systematic overview of key concepts for the study of this vital period of media transition, from print’s emergence as the predominant communications technology in Europe until the onset of electronic media in the twentieth century.

The multigraph not only aims to challenge how we think about the history of print media but also aims to challenge how we as scholars write about the history of print. Putting our own thematic concerns to work, the goal of the multigraph is to draw on the interactions of both digital and print media, ultimately taking the form of a printed book, but one whose creation utilizes the collaborative tools of online communication. Eschewing the two traditional models of scholarly publishing – the monograph (one author, one idea) or the edited volume (one conductor and numerous players playing their own tune) – the multigraph is a collaborative effort: a symphony of ideas in which the performers are the conductors.

One of the primary arguments of the Interacting with Print research group is that print still has a valuable role to play as a — if not the — central medium of humanistic communication. The relative stability of the printed book versus the all too fluid dynamics of the digital interface is a core component of the values associated with the durability and referencability of humanities research. New technologies allow us to challenge older paradigms of print production, however, emphasizing values of process, community, and collaboration over and above the long history of scholarly hermeticism, hierarchy, and charismatic insight that have largely characterized humanistic inquiry.

At the same time, the collaboratively authored monograph can be a useful tool for addressing one of the central problems of today’s scholarly landscape: the surplus of research. As no doubt many of us acutely feel, with so many journal articles and new books (not to mention blog posts and websites) appearing, it is increasingly difficult to make an impact on any particular field of study today. In bringing together a wide range of scholars in a way that works towards synthesis rather than differentiation, the multigraph addresses these dual problems of coherence and scale. It combines the multi-perspectival nature of the edited collection with the unified vision of the monograph.

The Process

The project took place over three stages:

Seeding: Participants began by offering brief contributions (roughly 1500 words) on a key concept for the volume from any area of their own research (see the seedbed for examples). Inherent in the idea of the seed is that it be generative, motivating further additions from other contributors. The ideal seed is one that can grow in several directions. It encourages us to think about the openness of our research questions.

Grafting: During the second stage, authors expanded on at least two seeds of other authors (roughly 500-1000 words per graft). Many contributed to more of the seeds. As in any good garden, the point of the graft is that it must take – it requires consideration of the ideas of another and an attempt to draw connections with thoughts that are not one’s own. In order for a graft to survive, and to promote subsequent grafts, it must integrate.

Pressing: The final stage was the fixation of the project into a stable form, shifting from the vitality of the web to the more permanent form of the hortus siccus, the specimen book of pressed flowers. For this stage, we asked authors to become editors, engaging in the pruning and refining that is necessary for any finished product. Each author was responsible for editing their own seed/section, but were encouraged to edit any and all parts of the multigraph. To promote the collaborative nature of this project, there was no hierarchy between author and editor.

The Outcome

The outcome of the multigraph project is a print book. Why, you might ask, a printed book in this our late age of print? Because we believe that the ability of print to order, shape, and fix an argument is essential to the mission of the humanities. Humanistic ideas are meant to be durable, to have a periodic impact, never timely and then immediately out of date. Print allows for the type of reception we believe in — extended, yet concentrated engagement with a text. We feel this type of reading is essential for the mission of the humanities and is not — or not yet — entirely possible online. Producing a print object ensures that our collaborative work is enrolled in the durable system of preservation that has come to be known as the modern research library. We argue for the importance of the intellectual stability and accessibility that libraries have stood for and that we do not yet see replicated online.

If there is a polemical edge to this project, it is this: producing a print object with multiple authors moves in a different direction than the academy’s increasing over-reliance on measures of accountability, in which, unable to measure what we value most, we have come to value what we can measure. Effacing the acute measurability of academic work is a first step in moving past the absurd — and in our view deleterious — tendency towards quantifying the assessment of learning and research today. It is time to develop new models of creativity and thought that are not easily subsumed within the accountant’s black arts. This project affirms the argument that when it comes to the making of ideas the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.