Assistant Professor Bonnie Mak has been named the GSLIS Centennial Scholar for 2013-2014. The Centennial Scholar award is endowed by alumni and friends of GSLIS and is given in recognition of outstanding accomplishments and/or professional promise in the field of library and information science.
Mak holds a PhD in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame. Her research areas include the history of the book and the cultural production of knowledge, with a particular focus on the interplay between oral, scribal, printed, and digital cultures. Her work and teaching interests are located at the intersection of information studies and history. At GSLIS, Mak helps to organize the History Salon with Professor Alistair Black, and she also offers the popular course, History of the Book, for which she has been recognized by campus on its List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent.
“GSLIS has been a wonderful home for my work. Where else would I be able to explore the past, present, and future of the transmission of ideas—and across geographical, linguistic, and technological boundaries?” Mak said. “For instance, my students have been enthusiastic participants as we develop a genealogy for the iPad that involves the wax tablets of antiquity. History isn’t about a time period—it’s a way of seeing, thinking, and doing, and I enjoy being a part of a School that supports and fosters such exercises in humanistic inquiry.”
Mak joined GSLIS in 2008, and since that time she has made notable contributions to both scholarship and instruction. Her book, How the Page Matters, in which she examines a fifteenth-century text as a manuscript, a printed work, and a digital edition, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2011 and released in paperback the following year. Research for the project included the careful inspection of over one hundred hand-written, illustrated, printed, and digital copies of the text in repositories across the UK, the Low Countries, France, Italy, Austria, and the US.
Mak has also published on the notion of authenticity, especially as it relates to the preservation of archival records and the emerging field of digital forensics. Her work on digital books and archives was the foundation of two recent keynote addresses, “Reading the ‘E’ in E-Reading,” at the E-Reading: an Interdisciplinary Symposium at University of Toronto; and “Entanglements of the Page,” at Unbound: Speculations on the Future of the Book at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mak’s research has a strong interdisciplinary component, and she often works with scholars and professionals across multiple fields. Last year, supported in part by the Ernest J. Reece fund, she collaborated with Julia Pollack (MS ’12) to create the fascinating exhibition, “A Cabinet of Curiosity: The Library's Dead Time,” which explores the ways in which librarians historically have collected, catalogued, and curated materials. It featured, among other items, a card catalog that was once housed on the third floor of the Main Library at the University of Illinois. Mak related, “We were delighted to be able to acknowledge the history of the LIS library, highlight the contributions of the librarians through time, and imagine a future for the books that are still indexed by the cards in the catalog.” A portable iteration of the project was presented in Kavala, Greece, and was subsequently showcased at the Copenhagen Business School, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Centre for Creative Collaboration in London.
“For me, the Cabinet project was an experiment in embodying a humanistic argument. We could have written an article about how the materiality of information influences the process of meaning-making, but the challenge of the Cabinet was whether we could convey that same argument through sculptures of wood and metal. The exhibition was an alternative mode of academic publication, one that—we discovered afterwards—took up a lot of space, had a lot of pieces, and was really heavy. We knew that we needed a smaller version that could be circulated more easily to be shared more widely. Creating a portable version was therefore an opportunity for us to rethink the project, refine our argument, and cut out anything extraneous. After all, we were going to have to pay the airlines for any overweight or excess baggage!” Mak laughed.
Mak was named a 2012-2013 Faculty Fellow in the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH), giving her the opportunity to begin her next venture which explores the consequences of the digital reconfiguration of historical sources.
“My project grapples with the translation of physical objects into digital media in a climate of purported revolutionary change,” said Mak. “Drawing upon the traditions of bibliography, art history, philosophy, and medieval studies, I use the conventional tools of the humanities to offer a critical analysis of digitizations. It is by understanding what digitizations are—discerning the circumstances of their production and dissemination—that we can come to terms with how they are shaping humanities scholarship, cultural heritage, and identity.”
Mak’s work as IPRH Fellow forms the basis of her next book-length project on the cultural history of digitizations.
“Although we interact with digitized information every day, we have only begun to think critically about where that information came from, how it was made, what was left out, by whom, and for what purposes. These are pressing questions that affect how we understand the past and present, and indeed will shape how we are to be perceived by future generations.”
Mak is currently at work on an article about the sensations and spectacle of the digital page, and forthcoming publications include “Archaeology of a Digitization” in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) and a co-authored piece on the Cabinet project in Art Documentation, the journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America. She has assumed guest editorship of the IPRH blog for the academic year and will be featured in Ploughshares literary magazine in an interview series about the future of books. Mak will be participating in the discussion, “Provocations of Genre,” at the Eighth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen and has been invited to speak on the rhetoric of the page in medieval Latin manuscripts at the 145th annual meeting of the American Philological Association.
"We are fortunate indeed to have Bonnie Mak here at GSLIS, where she is providing a broad historical and humanistic perspective on the evolution, and nature, of technologies for communicating information. A clear and deep understanding of current changes in technology cannot be realized without the wider context she sets, and the unique perspectives that she brings to bear," said Allen Renear, interim dean and professor.