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“WHY BOOKS?” Conference Draws More Than 500

to Discuss the Past, Present, and Future of Books

A Hybrid Era of

Words in Print

by Deborah Blagg

A key aspect of the conference was what University of Pennsylvania professor Peter Stallybrass (who had the unenviable task of summation) called “its lack of expected oppositions.” There was little suggestion that books and ebooks must be an either/or proposition. “Technologies don’t necessarily displace each other,” Stallybrass noted. “They interact with other technologies. I have a Kindle, but I also read books.” The sense that we are in an era when


In booksellers’ parlance, the Radcliffe Institute’s “Why Books?” conference, held in late October, was a runaway best seller. More than 500 attendees filled Radcliffe Gymnasium and spilled over to an adjacent viewing location to consider the status of books in the context of a continually evolving media environment. The two-day gathering drew scholars of literature, computer science, history, and sociology and illuminated perspectives on books ranging from the first codex (pages bound together within a cover) in late-antiquity Rome to today’s e-books, which may exist only in “the cloud” (shared space on the Internet).

Technologies don’t displace one another— they interact.

Winter 2011 r a d c l i f f e m a g azine


Winter 2011 Radcliffe Magazine  

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University is a scholarly community where individuals pursue advanced work across a wi...