HUMS 371, The Picturebook: Euro-American and Japanese Traditions

Meeting Time: 
T 1:30pm-3:20pm

Course Description:

This course surveys the history of the picture book, from the early modern period to the late 20th century, considering the Anglo-American tradition within a broader European context and especially in relationship to the long (and ongoing) picturebook tradition in Japan. As we will see, indeed, the famous late nineteeth-century breakthrough for the Anglo-European picturebook–with the work of Randolph Caldecott (for whom the annual Caldecott award for best American picturebook is still named) and Walter Crane–comes partly from these British artists’ intense engagement (as of artists all over Europe and in the Americas) with Japanese art. Hence these are not simply side-by-side traditions; what is usually seen as the “principal” (ie Euro-American) tradition is quite literally an off-shoot of the Japanese picturebook.

While organized chronologically, this course also delves deeply into questions both of content ( thematics and emerging generic conventions, narrative and pictorial) and of form. Throughout we will treat the picturebook as a kind of book whose formal dimensions (its experiments with size, shape, paper texture, collage, volvelles, fold-outs, fonts, and other modes of self-presentation) shape meaning just as much as its images and its texts. We will examine the picturebook as a multi-media object, discussing both its (multi-sensory) appeal to child readers and its aspirations to shape their ways of seeing, reading, sensing, understanding. At moments, the picturebook represents multi-medial wisdom literature. At others, it categorizes, questions, and upends the real world it finds itself in.


THIS COURSE WILL TAKE PLACE PRIMARILY ON ZOOM (the instructor is immune-compromised). Its primary weekly activity will be small group discussion. But there will also be virtual or live fieldtrips to the Beinecke’s Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children’s Literature, and perhaps other venues; and the chance to participate (if interested) in a live or virtual workshop on picture book construction.

Led by:

Professor Katie Trumpener works across the modern period (late 18th C. to the present), with particular interests in the history of the British and European novel; anglophone fiction (especially Scotland, Ireland, Canada); European film history; literature’s relationship to social and cultural history, visual culture and music; nationalism, regionalism and traditionalism’;  literature/culture of WWI, WWII and the Cold War; history of children’s literature 18th C-present; women novelists. She is currently researching the institutionalization of Marxist aesthetics in postwar Central Europe.