Université de Strasbourg

Lianne Habinek


USIAS Fellow, Knowledge in the Anglophone Area: Representations, Culture, History (SEARCH), University of Strasbourg

Lianne Habinek, USIAS Fellow 2019

Lianne Habinek is the author of The Subtle Knot: Early Modern British Literature and the Birth of Neuroscience (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in the journals Textual Practice, Shakespeare, and Configurations, as well as in essay collections. She has received fellowships from Wellesley College, Yale University's Medical Library, and the Huntington and Folger Shakespeare Libraries. Her undergraduate work, in literature and in neuroscience, was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States; her graduate work was at King's College, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) and Columbia University, USA. Her research interests are in 17th and 18th century British literature and natural philosophy, book history, and the history of (neuro)science. Most recently she was an Assistant Professor at Bard College.

Project - Unfolding the early modern page: transformations in print and paper

15/07/2019 - 14/07/2021

During the USIAS Fellowship, Lianne Habinek will work on her second book project, Unfolding the Early Modern Page, which will investigate how readers interacted with early modern books in the 16th to 18th centuries in England and on the Continent. This period saw a wealth of innovations in printing: from movable flaps and foldable pages to increasingly elaborate engravings to experiments with typography and the use of ink; all of which ushered in a new era of literacy. If facts and knowledge in the early modern period point to objects and ideas that are made (thus constructed by humans) rather than, as now, objects and ideas that are (thus assumed to be true), readers would be vitally engaged with creating knowledge by manipulating interactive books in ways subsequently lost with the rise of individuated, silent reading. How might changes in print design and page layout have influenced poetic form? Who read these instances of paper engineering – anatomical flap-books, volvelle-studded star charts, typography manuals that encouraged readers to mark up the page – and how were they marketed? What connects these experiments in printing to modern intellectual practices – especially current research into cognitive science and reading? How, ultimately, did early modern literature and its readers deal with (to borrow Margaret Cavendish’s resonant phrase) these “paper bodies”?

This project contributes to the recent impetus in literary studies to rethink culture through materiality. Foregrounding our concrete interaction with books, the goal is to show how that manipulation – in its root sense – shapes what we make of/with them. This re-contextualisation of the book’s shape will shape book history as well, opening up possibilities beyond the often dry empiricism of this sub-field. More widely yet, she takes seriously an insight central to contemporary science studies: there is no such thing as an isolated scientific discourse. Despite all appearances to the contrary, the human and natural sciences are as entangled today as they were in the Renaissance, though in different ways. In the background, then, lies a debate – six decades old but newly relevant again – spurred by C. P. Snow’s contentious assertion of a chasm between the “two cultures”. Unfolding the Early Modern Page seeks instead to reestablish a genuine conversation by requiring humanists to truly engage with science, even as it asks scientists to yield the assumption that the humanities are simply a transparent window onto a particular point in history.

During her Fellowship, Lianne Habinek will be hosted by professors Anne Bandry-Scubbi and Jean-Jacques Chardin in the research unit Knowledge in the Anglophone Area: Representations, Culture, History (SEARCH) at the University of Strasbourg.

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