CalRBS Director’s Intensive: Book History and Librarianship through Post- and De-Colonial Lenses

Current faculty: Robert D. Montoya

About the Intensive

The annual Intensive brings together individuals from different disciplines, backgrounds, and professions to engage in global problems as they relate to history of the book, libraries, and the information disciplines. The overall goal is to bridge theory and practice in ways that motivate the disciplines of book, library, and information studies into provocative directions, and to spur local actions that bring attention to these pressing global concerns. The result of the Intensive, ideally, would be the publication of a tangible outcome by participants, such as an essay, article, white paper, commentary, blog space, multimedia project, visual art-piece, creative writing exemplar, or some other publicly-accessible expression fit for use in professional spaces. All projects will be documented on the CalRBS website and will be integrated into open access curricular materials for library use in the form of a white paper (all course participants with a contributed piece will be given co-authorship). While the intensive is one week-long like all other CalRBS courses, participants are expected to continue their independent projects after the duration of the course for completion by the end of the summer of participation, usually October 1. An online, collaborative space will be provided by CalRBS to facilitate communication and collaboration. 

Tuition and Application

The CalRBS Director’s Intensive is partially subsidized by CalRBS. Participants accepted into the course will only pay 50% of the full tuition price for the course. A limited number of full-tuition scholarships will be available (travel and lodging expenses are the responsibility of the participant). Participants applying to the Intensive should gesture toward the kind of publication or project you might pursue as part of the Intensive in your Personal Statement. You are welcome to change your project at any time, this is only for course admission purposes, and to get a sense of your creative and intellectual approach. If you wish to be considered for a full-tuition scholarship please fill out the Statement of Financial Need.

2021 Course Description

This course examines the development of book history, libraries, and librarianship by way of postcolonial and decolonial theories. In recent years, numerous scholars have advocated for a more inclusive, diverse, and pluralistic approach to book and library history—one that does not depend on the oppressive and exploitative structures that emerge from Imperial and colonial desires. After all, as Robert Fraser notes, book history’s “main guiding lights have to date been drawn from a half millennium’s experience of print culture in the West” (2008, p. ix). This statement can be understood in at least two ways: (1) that book history has primarily focused on practices within Western countries, and (2) when non-Western countries are examined, they are viewed through the lens of what Walter Mignolo calls the ‘Western code.’ Western thinking, however, does not adequately contextualize the local specificities and knowledge structures from which texts, books, or manuscripts emerge. Nor does the code acknowledge the colonial structures still embedded within its matrix of power and control of knowledge. Secondarily, most books exist within the context of collections—whether in private libraries, monastic or religious repositories, or large-scale academic university collections. These institutions, too, are by-and-large Western, or function on Western-centric principles, and play an often-underrepresented role in how we understand and contextualize the existence of book-like objects at all, preserved as they are through curatorial practices and other institutional principles and standards. 

If we are to chart a way forward for book and library history, however, we cannot simply reiterate the scholarship and scholarly practices of the past, which inherit and are embedded within colonial and Imperial worldviews. This course, then, attempts to articulate new methodologies for book and library studies that do not depend on Western-centric epistemes as their primary platform of enunciation. The intent is to reframe the central questions, problematics, and discourses in these areas in ways that promote difference, pluriversality, privilege indigenous and diverse knowledge systems, and wholly rethink what it means to do book history in a way that eschews oppressive and appropriative impulses.

We will take a deep dive into the related—but intellectually distinct—domains of postcolonial and decolonial studies. Some questions we will ask include, How can such approaches help us free the narrative of book and library history from an Anglo- and Western-centric perspectives and knowledge frameworks? How does the rhetoric and logic of modernity and ‘postmodernity’ prevent us from breaking out of Western codes? Can we ‘reframe’ decolonially at all from within the structure of a Western university institution? How can indigenous and other local forms of knowledge and literary practices retain their sovereignty and power while still engaging with the larger discourse of book and library historicities? And, how can we realign our institutional collection practices to attend to these fundamental colonial problematics? 

It would be impossible to comprehensively cover the broad and deep history of the book and libraries in the span of one week. Further, participants will not exit the course as experts in postcolonial and decolonial theory. Rather, participants will gain the theoretical and methodological tools necessary to interrogate book and library history, institutional collections, and collection management techniques by asking post- and decolonial questions. 

We will read and discuss many prominent scholars that work within postcolonial, decolonial, and other allied areas, including (not exclusively), Walter Mignolo, Catherin Walsh, Ilan Kapoor, Leel Ghandi, Robert Fraser, Sandra Harding, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Arturo Escobar, Miranda Fricker, Iris Marion Young, Martin N. Nakata, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Edward Said, and Gayatri Spivak.

Assuming an in-person mode of instruction, we will visit local collections to examine both collections and individual artifacts. 

Years taught:  2021