Andrew Piper

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Andrew Piper is Associate Professor of German and European Literature and an associate member of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. His work focuses on the intersection of literary and bibliographic communication from the eighteenth century to the present. His research follows three main lines of inquiry:

  • the history of networks and literary topologies;
  • practices of textual circulation, copying, and sharing;
  • the relationship between media and translation (the nexus of image, letter, and number).

His new book, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago), will be appearing this Fall. It addresses current debates about the future of reading through a study of the long history of our embodied interactions with books. In exploring our tactile, visual, spatial, and social relations to reading — from the scholarly study to the arboreal bower, from medieval manuscripts to urban interactive fictions — Book Was There attempts to map out the possible futures of reading through an understanding of the historical entanglements of books, bodies, and screens.

Prof. Piper is also the author of Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (Chicago, 2009), which The New Republic named one of the best art books of 2009 and which was awarded the MLA Prize for a First Book as well as honorable mention for the Harry Levin Prize for the American Comparative Literature Association. In addition, he is the author of a number of articles on the cultural role of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century book genres such as atlases, translations, miscellanies, diaries, ballads, note-books and gift-books.

In addition to these writing projects, Prof. Piper is the co-founder of the FQRSC-funded research group, Interacting with Print: Cultural Practices of Intermediality, 1700-1900, which explores through its annual “Interactions” conference how print shaped literary and visual form, individual identity, and social community through its interactions with other media, including handwriting, sculpture, music, theatre, and oral performance.

He is currently at work on two new research projects. The first is a comparative study of the interconnections between the genre of autobiography, the life sciences, and the medium of the book at the turn of the nineteenth century entitled, “Writing Life.” Its aim is to understand the history of how “life” emerged as a key graphical object of knowledge around 1800 and the ways it traversed two distinct modes of knowledge, from the literary to the scientific.

The second project is an exploration of new quantitative ways of understanding the relationship between the novel and eighteenth-century writing. Through the use of topological maps of lexical relationality, “The Werther Effect,” as it is curently titled, seeks to understand the discursive impact of some of the most important literary publishing events of the eighteenth century: epistolary novels such as Goethe’s Werther, Rousseau’s Julie, or Richardson’s Pamela. While we have many excellent studies that document the numerous works that were explicitly indebted to these novels, this project is interested in understanding the way the language of these novels circulated in a less explicit and more diffuse sense. Topologies allow us to see the diverse patterns of how a work or an idea circulates broadly through a culture and in so doing, the way it allows new literary forms to take shape.