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Teaching with Special Collections

Design a Book

Author: John D. Miles, LSU Department of English and Professional in Residence, LSU Libraries

(Originally assigned to Honors 2030, "History of the Book in America," Spring 2016)

This semester we have been talking about how the physical form of the book is implicated in the book’s web of meaning-making. In our last unit we spent a day looking at how the exterior of Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed to reflected the book’s use and its intent, as well as the print technology of its day. For your last short writing assignment you are tasked with thinking about these lessons, and then designing a new book form for one of the works that we have read this semester: creating a new paratext for one of our texts. However, more than simply making a new cover for an old book, you need make this new physical form respond to a new historical or social situation. For instance, you might imagine Charlotte Temple as published in the 1950s – the same time as Fahrenheit 451 – and design it as a pulp-style mass market paperback similar to Bradbury’s novel. You might also imagine Beloved as Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s peer, and design a cover that shows Toni Morrison’s novel speaking to Harriet Beecher Stowe in some way.

Your final project should include a mock-up of the cover (or dust jacket) for your novel. There a are a number of websites that allow for fairly simple cover designs, but you might also want to use Microsoft Word, some other design software, or even include some of your own artwork. Whatever route you take, please include a representation of how your book will look, complete with brief description of its materials. You will also need to make a brief description of the book’s page layout and typography – small print on small, densely packed pages; large fine print on fine paper with ample white space; etc. Finally, please include a short (one- to two-page) description of the historical situation of your book, what work the cover tries to do for the text, and how it hopes to do this. In this description be specific about how the design choices that you have made are warranted given your specific text and how you hope for it to engage its new context.

Your project will be graded on the complexity and polish of your book design, the sophistication and nuance of your description thereof, as well as your ability to imagine and design for an interesting historical context.

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