Zachary Lesser - Xeroxing the STC: The Uncanny Archive Between UMI and EEBO

Committee on Books and Media
Event date: 
November 11, 2015 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Zachary Lesser
Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Seminar Series: 
Committee for the Study of Books and Media

In the late 1960s, the University of Pennsylvania contracted with University Microfilms, Inc., then a subsidiary of the Xerox Corporation, to produce xerographic copies of the entire STC microfilm collection as bound codexes, at a cost of about $1.5 million in today’s money. These books were housed in the “STC Seminar Room” in the rare books library at Penn, before being moved in the early 2000s to New Jersey to a long-term storage facility. In this paper, Lesser undertakes a bibliographic and media-historical analysis of these Xerox books, comparing them to the microfilm that underlies them and to the EEBO project that made them seem redundant. What kinds of books are these? What kinds of scholarly work did they enable? Why were they perceived to be so necessary, and then so expendable? Through this investigation, Lesser tried to theorize our scholarly relation to the archive of early modern printed material on which we rely for our historicism.

Zachary Lesser received his Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia University and his B.A. in Renaissance Studies and Religious Studies from Brown University. Before coming to Penn, he taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His teaching and research interests focus on Shakespeare and early modern drama, the history of material texts, bibliography and editing, early modern political and religious debate, and digital humanities.

Prof. Lesser is a general editor of The Arden Shakespeare (fourth series), along with Peter Holland and Tiffany Stern. He is the author of Hamlet after Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (Penn Press, 2015); and Renaissance Drama and the Politics of Publication: Readings in the English Book Trade (Cambridge University Press, 2004), which won the Elizabeth Dietz Award, presented annually by Studies in English Literature to the best book of the year in early modern studies. With Alan B. Farmer, he is co-creator of DEEP: Database of Early English Playbooks, an online resource for studying the printing, publishing, and marketing of Renaissance drama. With Farmer, he is currently working on a revisionist study of print popularity, entitled Print, Plays, and Popularity in Shakespeare's England.

A reception will follow the workshop in the Faculty Lounge (Dickinson Hall, Room 136). To attend, RSVP to Jennifer Loessy at These workshops are free and open to the public.

Area of Interest: 
Book History
Material Culture
15th & 16th Centuries