Textual Mobility and the Global Humanities

Presented by: Stephanie Ann Frampton

When: 9:15 – 10:15 am Section 3: Hermeneutics and Tools; Panel 5, 5B


A book is where the far away
meets the near at hand…

—Ann Hamilton

Verba volant, scripta manent.

—Traditional saying

Mobility studies emerged at the end of the last century as sociology’s response to an increasingly globalized world and to the perceived diminution in the importance of “society” as an organizing unit of social meaning (e.g. Urry 2000, Addy et al. 2014). But scholars of antiquity know that globalization has an ancient history, recognizing that the ancient Mediterranean, for example, was already a “proto-global” space in which the movements of people, ideas, and objects indelibly shaped the development of local and trans-local identities.

At the same time, in the 1980’s and 90’s, the field now known as the history of the book was first articulated in resonance with anthropology’s incipient material turn, underscoring the critical role of networks of producers and consumers as agents that multiply constituted texts and their meanings (Darnton 1986, McKenzie 1986). Yet the continued concentration of book history on the era of the codex has likewise obscured the persistence of a “sociology of texts” across space and time and with reference to different media forms, including those that allow us to tell the earliest histories of writing across the globe: clay and wooden tablets, silk and papyrus bookrolls, painted accordion books and bamboo slip scrolls, and durable inscriptions in stone and bronze.

This conference—with its focus on cross-disciplinary methods for approaching the humanities both globally and historically—offers us the opportunity to put these two fields into conversation by turning to the material text in the pre-modern world. Taking inspiration from the earliest appearance in ancient Graeco-Roman literature of the now common trope of the poet’s envoi to the book as it is sent off to the reader, in this paper, I focus on the idea of the book itself as a phenomenon that stands at the intersections of “text” and “object,” “now” and “then,” and “here” and “there.” Lending greater clarity to the meaning of “book” as such, I argue that, cross-culturally and from its very beginnings, a book has always been imagined as a thing made to travel and to carry with it the communicative traces of its authors, makers, and readers.


Adey, Peter, David Bissell, Kevin Hannam, Peter Merriman, and Mimi Sheller, eds. 2014. The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. London: Routledge.

Darnton, Robert. 1986. “First Steps Toward a History of Reading.” Australian Journal of French Studies 23 (1): 5–30.

McKenzie, D. F. 1986. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. London: British Library.

Urry, John. 2000. Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge.