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Book historians have become increasingly adept at interrogating the material evidence in historic books, to understand what it can tell us about reading, ownership, impact and influence. Among the various types of evidence we encounter, bookbindings remain one of the least well-understood or interpreted, partly because there is little training available, and partly because the subject has something of an art-historical mystique. Too much effort has been directed towards a quest to identify bookbinders, and much of the literature is more directed to collectors or conservators, than to historians.

Every historic binding tells a story, which ought to be brought in to any analysis of material evidence. What are the key questions to ask, and what skills are needed in order to answer them? This course puts practical guidance on recognising and dating bindings into that investigative context. It has been adapted for the online environment from a week-long course which has been successfully taught at the Rare Book Schools in London, Virginia and Sydney; it cannot cover the topic in as much depth as the full course, but focuses on essential knowledge.

Courses fees are £175 (standard) and £100 (student).

Course Format

An introductory reading list will be made available to students in advance of the course. The course website will go live shortly before the course. Preparatory content will consist of two pre-recorded lectures. Students will also be asked to complete a brief exercise before the three live sessions. Each live session will consist of lectures with practical exercises and discussion.

Live sessions will take place via Zoom. Students are expected to participate throughout the course, and should therefore ensure that their microphone (and ideally video) are working. Live sessions will not be recorded.

Course Schedule

Pre-recorded lectures (available 8 November)

-- Looking at historic bookbindings

-- Key principles for looking at bookbindings

Wednesday 10 November, 14:00-17:00 GMT

-- How bookbindings are made

-- Recognising covering materials

-- Repairs and Interventions

Thursday 11 November, 14:00-17:00 GMT

-- Dating bookbindings I: 1450-1660

-- Dating bookbindings II: 1660-1720

Friday 12 November, 14:00-17:00 GMT

-- Dating Bookbindings III: 1720-1850

-- Final exercises and concluding discussions

Course Convenor