Anonymity (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2008 semester seminar led by Robert Griffin and Marcy North.

Authorial identity may be the organizing principle for most literary study today, but it offers a misleading picture of early modern English print and manuscript cultures. Before the nineteenth century, anonymity was a commonplace authorial pose and textual condition. The rise of print and the emergence of modern authorship did not quell either the practice of hiding an author or the interest in hidden authorship. Only by reincorporating anonymity into the history of authorship and books can we fully understand the dynamic and complex experiences of early authors and readers. Participants investigated anonymity’s broad historical reach, its enduring traditions and short-lived fashions, and its connections to certain genres, coteries, and political crises. Within the rubrics of the legal, the political, the cultural, the material, and the literary (broadly defined), participants mined the archives for familiar and overlooked anonymous texts; critiqued modern histories of authorship, copyright, and print; shared their own research and research materials; and pondered methodological questions with other scholars who are interested not simply in the authors behind anonymity, but in early anonymity’s meanings, uses, and significance.

Directors: Robert Griffin is Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M University. He is the author of Wordsworth’s Pope: A Study in Literary Historiography (1995), and editor of The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century (2003). He is currently completing a book called Anonymity and Authorship which is under contract with Columbia University Press.

Marcy North is Associate Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of The Anonymous Renaissance (2003) and several articles on early modern anonymity. Her current book project focuses on production labor and literary fashion in early modern manuscript culture.