The Gutenberg Conspiracy is a (usually) monthly gathering, open to all, of people
interested in reading books and discussing them with others. It has no official standing,
having arisen strictly out of faculty interest in reading something other than what
was required for class preparation, but it has become part of the school’s intellectual
fabric and is often supported more faithfully by staff than by faculty.
Gutenberg participants suggest books they’ve read or want to read; the facilitator compiles and circulates a slate, tallies the votes, and announces the winners (usually) before summer begins. The facilitator also persuades various people to lead each book discussion. Some participants consistently read the books during the summer; others consistently read each book (or a portion thereof) immediately before the discussion; still others treat meetings as book review sessions to determine whether or not to read the volume. The chosen books have spanned genres in fiction and non-fiction, but have always been prose. Never has a theme governed any given year’s reading.
In addition to choosing books, the group each year (well, most years) asks one person (usually faculty) to give a "Last Lecture," and offers carte blanche to the deliverer. Sometimes, but not always, the vote goes to someone retiring or leaving as if it were indeed a final lecture. This tradition revived an earlier one originated by the Student Senate. Where possible, copies of those lectures have been included with the Gutenberg Conspiracy Lists. In some cases, a copy is no longer extant.
The Gutenberg Conspiracy originated in 1973 at English professor Jane Elizabeth “Missy” Archer’s call, beginning that spring by reading Islands in the Stream, The Painted Bird, and End of the Road. When Archer departed at year’s end, the idea languished. In the late 1980s, Psychology professor Randall Wight revived the custom. In 1998, when Wight became CORE Dean, he passed leadership to Music professor Edwina Thedford. At her retirement in 2005, Thedford delegated leadership to Political Science professor Susan Zlomke. Zlomke left in 2007, having designated Archivist Wendy Richter as successor. Richter left before exercising office; Circulation Librarian Shirley Dumais picked up the fallen mantle and coordinated the program until 2010, when historian Chris Mortenson assumed leadership.