Symposium on the study of books and literature in exhibitions

Call for Papers

International graduate student symposium on the study of books and literature in exhibitions

The multimodal and multifaceted ways in which books and literature may be exploited in exhibitions has captured the attention of scholars from a variety of disciplines: from museum and curatorial studies to literary criticism, art history, communication and media studies, cultural studies, sociology, history, and reception studies as well as educational sciences and material culture scholarship. Although this wide-ranging interdisciplinary approach is testimony to the richness and singularity of books and literature as exhibition material, it also highlights the scattered ways in which this research has been conducted thus far. As a result, we are hard pressed to find a single source of theoretical and methodological frameworks whereupon we may build a dedicated museology of the book. This museology would seek to bring together analytical reflections on the book as exhibition object but also strands of academic research concerned with the use of literature as exhibition subject and with the exhibition space as a medium for literary explorations.

With this aim in mind, we are inviting contributions for a two-day graduate student symposium on the study of books and literature in exhibitions which will be held in hybrid format at the University of Manchester (UK) on 17th/18th July 2023 . The symposium has been organised in collaboration with PhD candidates from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the University of Helsinki, and the Institute for Cultural Practices at the University of Manchester.   

In organising this symposium, we seek to:

  • provide a platform for students at any stage of their research to present and discuss their investigations to fellow students in a friendly and constructive atmosphere 
  • bring together individuals who share an interest in this field, kickstarting conversations on potential collaboration projects and the formation of other interest-based networks within the community
  • build a body of academic resources for future reference
To narrow the focus of this symposium, we ask contributions to consider the ‘book’ in its many physical forms except digital, and to address the ‘exhibition’ as an in-person event of any scale and curatorial input which may take place in museums, libraries, writers’ houses, and any other venues dedicated to the promotion of books and literature. Likewise, to encourage the sharing of relevant methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks, we invite reflections around the following three research axes:
  • The first axis seeks to explore the impact that musealisation (Régnier 2015) may have on our literary heritage from an institutional perspective. As the decision to exhibit is never a neutral gesture (Bal 1996), we want to ask to what extent may an exhibition shape our connections with literature, literary history, and book culture. Has this changed over time, and if so, how (Martens and Roussel-Gillet 2022)?
  • The second axis interrogates the exhibition space as a specific form of communication (Davallon 2000). With this axis, we want to build on the latest interdisciplinary debates on the exhibition as a readable ‘text’ and discourse (Ravelli 2006; Bal 1996); on the museum and the library as a narrative space (Ryan, Foote and Azaryahu 2016), and on the act of exhibiting as a ‘literary dispositif’ (Anastasio and Rhein eds. 2021) amongst others. We also want to include here any investigations on issues of reception and knowledge transfer that may have been carried out, for example, through the lens of  “remediation” (Bolter and Grusin 2000).
  • The third axis seeks to deepen our understanding of the agency of books as exhibition objects. To this end, we build on material culture studies that allow us to consider the idea of the book  as ‘lively matter’ (Jane Bennet 2010; Muller and Langill eds. 2022). In addition, we want to draw attention to the emotional connections that people may have with books outside the exhibition context. We wonder to what extent these connections add to the agency of books and whether this affective agency plays any role in the elicitation of an exhibition experience. Is there also potential in this knowledge to  inform and transform traditional curatorial practice?

In this vein, contributions may address (but are not limited to) any of the following topics: 

  • the remediation process of an abstract concept such as literature in a physical space
  • the plasticity of narratological categories and theories (logo-centred) to study exhibitions (object-centred)
  • the contributions of literary studies to any aspect of the museological discourse on exhibitions
  • the influence of art history and visual culture to the display of books and literature in exhibitions
  • the formulation of new conceptual tools and paradigms to unpack exhibition experiences

Guidelines for Submission

We welcome contributions in the following formats: 

  • 20 minutes presentation addressing a particular topic followed by 10 minutes of general discussion,
  • Lightning talks (5 minutes) or short presentations in the form of PechaKuchas or similar suited for reporting on ongoing research and/or research in its early stages, followed by 5 minutes discussion
  • Roundtables: this should engage participants (max. 3) in a 1.5 hour discussion around a specific topic or issue and be moderated by the session organiser(s)

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a short biographical statement (c. 200 words) to using the subject heading ‘EBL Symposium Proposal’.Proposals must be submitted in English, the language of the conference.

The call for papers will remain open until 13 February 2023. We aim to set the programme and notify candidates no later than the end of March 2023. 
Participation and attendance, including meals and refreshments, is free of charge. Travel costs and accommodation are not covered.  For more information, please visit the symposium website: