Gamze Kazakoglu, Contributing Photographer

On March 31, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library hosted a public panel discussion on the “Yale Book History Presence Project,” a creative and critical exploration of the meanings of presence in relation to material texts. The project is an undertaking of the Yale Program in the History of the Book, which is a collaboration between the Beinecke Library and the English Department.

The Presence Project centers around the different meanings of presence in a material text. According to the project description, this includes “to be present in the archive, to be present with the material text, to be found or lost, survive, bear witness.” The group aimed to emphasize the political implications of these relationships.

The event was hosted by Kathyrn James, curator for early modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke and one of the organizers of the Yale Program in the History of the Book. Other panelists — who participated in the project by introducing their own works — included Bonnie Mak, an associate professor at the University of Illinois who studies the production and circulation of knowledge, and 39 Step Press, a group of academics interested in the history of the printed page. Members of 39 Step Press included Dennis Duncan, Gill Partington and Adam Smyth.

“The project has really been an amazing opportunity to draw together some of the most brilliant and incisive scholars and critics I know,” James wrote in an email to the News.

Each participant in the project will write an essay, to be published by the Beinecke in chapbook form. James noted that participants have also been asked to compile a process archive of their thoughts on the essay and project, which will serve as “a kind of time capsule” for future readers at the Beinecke.

During the discussion, participants addressed the communication and preservation of ideas in libraries, textural transmission and different modes of knowledge production.

“The event really asks us to think about what scholarship is or should be and how we can create spaces and invent venues to support different modes of scholarship,” Mak told the News.

According to Mak, the panel fostered communication between “like-minded” scholars and students. For her, the event also presented the rare opportunity to present research ideas and materials that were not fully formulated. Both Mak and 39 Step Press discussed their ongoing research at the event.

“Generally, when you’re presenting in a scholarly venue, you already have an idea, you’ve thought about it a lot, you may have even written a paper or a book about it,” Mak said. “Trying to say something that is interesting to people while you yourself aren’t quite sure what it is yet was a unique opportunity in this event.”

Beinecke Library will host its next panel discussion on April 7 with Tia Blassingame in discussion with Jesse Meyer.

Gamze Kazakoglu | gamze.kazakoglu@yale.edu