As a CCEPS fellow, I am taking a somewhat different approach than most. Instead of cataloguing a specific collection, I will be conducting a research project in the general fields of philosophy of technology and women’s fashion. Using materials from both the special collections at Honnold-Mudd Library and Ella Strong Denison Library, I intend to curate an online Omeka exhibit for students studying philosophy of technology and those interested in the way new technologies shape our values, identity, and structures of power.
This week, I had the privilege of touring the book rooms of both Honnold-Mudd and Denison Library. I got to touch books that would fit in the palm of your hand, as well as books so large I would need to team lift them. At Denison, I got to see and touch an early version of a hymnal made of real parchment. The stars of the show were artists books. Denison collects artists books, which are books designed by artists where special attention is paid to design an its connection to the words inside. Some of these books looked like very beautiful books, while some looked like a cell phone in a shoe, or a wallet. Seeing these books was a perfect way to begin my experience as a CCEPS student. I hope that my project will encourage more people to come into the book room and experience old and rare books for themselves.
Touching these rare books further reinforced my interest in philosophy of technology. Books created by hand before the advent of the printing press employed agriculturalists to grow and harvest cow skin, specialists to write each letter by hand, and artists to design cover pages, each costing countless hours in training and labor. These expensive books contributed to an entirely different power structure than mass-produced paperbacks, or further, an exclusively electronic book written and produced by the same person. Those who owned books in the 14th century would have power in the form of both money and of information. Today, books give power in the form of knowledge to anyone with a library card (and time to read.) Asking questions about the way that technology informs power, values, and identity is a fascinating way to view the world. It will become extremely important as the world becomes more and more reliant on the connection through the internet and as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent.