Form, Function, Intent: Materiality and the Codification of Knowledge

deadline for submissions: 
December 11, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
University of Toronto, Book History & Print Culture


Book History & Print Culture Student Colloquium: 11 March, 2017 University of Toronto

so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words
From Dylan Thomas, “Notes on the Art of Poetry”

Form, Function, Intent: Materiality and the Codification of Knowledge

Texts inhabit many material forms: they can be passed down orally, marked on papyrus scrolls, handwritten into spiral-bound notebooks, and typed into digital blogs. Scholars of book history, information sciences, media studies, and digital humanities have long maintained that form is inseparable from content. Whether physically recorded or orally transmitted, texts codify human experience as factual, aspirational, instructional, and/or normative. Literary critic Caroline Levine argues that different material literary forms enable different “affordances”, or expressive potentialities. Consider the glossy pages of a fashion magazine, the seals and stamps on legal documents, or the hypertext within born-digital texts. Additionally, the iterative process of recording human experiences results in the codification of practices: from publishing for academic or commercial purposes, to self-publishing, to writing for social media platforms like blogs or Twitter, as well as how communities collect, classify, describe, arrange, and make use of these texts. The rapidly evolving digital world further emphasizes the need to engage with the relationship between form, content, and knowledge.

In light of this year’s University of Toronto Book History & Print Culture colloquium theme “The Codification of Knowledge,” we ask participants to consider the socio-cultural, political, linguistic, and aesthetic concerns of the material forms in which knowledge is recorded or created. How does the material framing of a text shape how the text authorizes, alters, creates, or otherwise transmits information? What is the reader’s role in receiving codified information? Can we use form to begin to challenge and unpack established and “official” forms of knowledge and, if so, how? And ultimately, what counts as “materiality”?

We welcome applications from graduate students, independent scholars, and emerging academics working in any discipline, time-period, and geographical region.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Challenging definitions of material form

  • Types of textual intent (e.g. instructional, normative, professionalizing, legal,

    performative, descriptive).

  • The relationship between textual intent and material form

  • Codified practices in textual production, (e.g. peer-review processes, textual

    editing, design, and distribution)

  • Orality, oral histories, and passing on knowledge orally

  • Debates regarding print versus digital form

  • Gaming forms and interactive fiction

  • Deviations from the “norm” within form/content relationships

  • Questioning dichotomies between fluid and rigid notions of materiality in creative

    versus non-creative texts.


    Paper proposals:
    Single document containing the following elements:

    1) Abstract(150-200words)
    2) Biographical statement of the presenter (100-150 words)

    Multi-person panel proposals:
    Single document containing the following elements:

    1) Brief overview of the proposed panel theme
    2) For each panel presenter, 150-200 word abstracts
    3) Biographical statement of each presenter (100-150 words)

    Deadline for paper and panel proposals is December 11th, 2016. To submit an abstract or for further inquiries, please contact: