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Textual Form and Content


Admission requirements

Only accessible for MA students Book & Digtal Media.


In five and a half centuries of printing, the book as a textual form has acquired a huge range of symbolic meanings, of wisdom and authority, but equally of protest and subversion. Moreover, from our earliest exposure to books and print we learn to read the page not just for the meaning of the actual words it contains, but also for the typographic form they have been given. The mise-en-page and the mise-en-livre — the way we place text two-dimensionally on the page and three-dimensionally in books— have become an indissoluble part of all textual meaning. Typography thus extends the semantic richness of language through enlisting the possibilities of typographic form. Historically evolved conventions enable _Homo typographicus, the species inhabiting our Order of the Book, to recognise instantly the genre to which a text belongs (say, poetry by its lines and stanzas, or a footnoted scholarly argument), and grasp the meaning and significance of the particular way a text has been articulated or segmented. All this takes place largely unconsciously. Now, Homo typographicus is faced with an exciting new substrate for textual content: that of the digital medium. This gives us a unique opportunity to explore with fresh eyes to what extent the properties of a particular textual form (or ‘substrate’) help to define the range of meanings of the textual content, now as in the past.

The course will study the nexus between form and content with the help of primary and secondary sources, a hands-on exploration of some book production methods, and individual research projects.

Course objectives

Students will

  • Learn to recognise conventions of textual form and how they have contributed to make meaning;

  • Learn to understand how textual form is created in practice, through analogue and digital processes;

  • Gain some hands-on experience in creating textual forms;

  • Gain insight into the intricate relation between textual form and the social significance of literacy and reading.

Time table

Timetable on the website

Mode of instruction

Choose from:

  • Lectures

  • Seminars

  • Individual research

Course load

A brief calculation of the course load, broken down by:

  • Total course load is 140 hours.

  • Attending lectures and seminars: 2 hours per week x 14 weeks = 28 hours

  • Reading/studying the compulsory literature and other homework assignments: 62 hours

  • Concluding paper (including reading / research): 50 hours

Assessment method

  • essay, assignments: 25% assignments; 75% final essay

  • presentation, essay proposal

In the case of a fail, you are entitled to rewrite the final course essay (plus if course assignments were insufficient, an additional assignment).


Blackboard will be used to provide students with an overview of current affairs, as well as specific information about (components of) the course.

Reading list

  • D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the sociology of texts (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986)

  • Bonnie Mak, How the page matters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011)

  • David Olson, The world on paper: The conceptual and cognitive implications of writing and reading (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996)

  • David Pearson, Books as History: The importance of books beyond their texts (rev. edn., London, British Library, 2013)

  • Van der Weel, Adriaan, Changing our textual minds: Towards a digital order of knowledge (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2011)

  • Selected articles (full bibliography to be provided)


Enrollment through uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, tel. 071 5272144 or mail:

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable

Contact details

Media Studies student administration, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 102C. Tel. 071 5272144;

Coordinator of studies: Mr. J. Donkers, MA, P.N. van Eyckhof 3, room 1.01b.