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OHC teaching fellow’s students curate exhibit

The Oregon Humanities Center’s Coleman-Guitteau Professorship seeks to promote the development of new or substantially revised interdisciplinary undergraduate humanities courses which focus on significant intellectual, societal, and cultural questions.

Mai-Lin Cheng

With support from a Coleman-Guitteau Professorship, Mai-Lin Cheng, Clark Honors College, developed a new workshop-style course titled “Book Love” (or, Reading Commonplaces) which was offered for the first time in the fall of 2017. In this class, students explored the origins the commonplace book and how it reflected a love of reading. The practice of writing commonplace books began in the seventeenth century as an artifact of active reading. Commonplace books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Often used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts, each commonplace book is unique to its creator’s particular interests.

Cheng’s students explored what it means to be an author as opposed to a compiler, a line that is often blurred in commonplace books in which readers assemble their own personal anthologies with passages, images, and other elements important to them. The concept of fluidity between the roles of author and compiler is familiar to us in our contemporary practices of cutting and pasting, tweeting and retweeting, liking and linking. Through exploring the history of book making, Cheng’s students deepened their awareness of the history of how ideas are curated and shared.

As a final project for their course, Cheng’s students selected items from the UO Libraries’ Special Collections to create an exhibit titled “Creative Commonplacing: The Facets of Book Love.” The exhibit is on view in UO Special Collections (2nd floor of the Knight Library) from January 15 through March 15, 2018.

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