The London Rare Books School (LRBS) at the Institute of English Studies, University of London runs a series of intensive courses on a variety of book-related subjects taught in and around Senate House and online.
LRBS runs short courses throughout the year, as well as a longer summer school in June and July.
LRBS will run across three weeks, from 19 June - 7 July 2023.
Unless otherwise specified, LRBS courses are introductory courses and no specialist prior knowledge is required, however participants are normally expected to hold an undergraduate degree. For more information, please contact the Director.
The London Rare Books School offers a small number of bursaries generously provided by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA), the Bibliographical Society, and the Sambrook Fund. These are designed to help those who could not otherwise afford to attend LRBS. To apply for a bursary, please follow the instructions on the Fees and bursaries tab. Our 2023 deadline for bursary applications will be announced shortly.
The fee for the London Rare Books School is £680 for one week, which includes the provision of documentary material, sandwich lunches and coffee and tea.
There is a further charge of £180 per course for students who wish to be assessed for credit offered by the University of London.
Student rates and multiple bookings are as follows:
Queries about the London Rare Books School should be directed to the IES team in the first instance. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can book onto the summer school courses by clicking the links under each course below:
Week one (19-23 June 2023)
A History of Maps and Mapping | Katie Parker
Maps are simultaneously ubiquitous in everyday life yet also strangely absent from much scholarly work outside the niche field of the history of cartography. How to catalogue, study, and discuss maps as historical sources for research is a subject that draws insight from critical bibliography, the history of the book, historical geography, and other subjects, making it an interdisciplinary and dynamic field. Since the 1980s, scholars have placed maps under critical review, questioning precisely what a map is and probing the social and cultural roles maps, and their makers and consumers, play. However, this re-envisioning of map scholarship has not reached general or popular literature.
The invention of moveable type is an incredible aberration in the history of communication. Its format obscures thousands of years of communication by clay and papyrus, and the rapid output of the press obscures prior book-making processes that were carefully controlled and lavishly constructed. No wonder the spread of mechanical printing processes has triggered constant debate over the centuries: is printing the work of God or of the devil? Is the multitude of new information useful, or an infectious plague?
The Modern Rare Book Trade | Angus O’Neill & Leo Cadogan
The aim of the course is to explore in a broad way the huge contemporary market in rare and collectable books. There will be discussion of the basic tenets and intellectual purposes of collecting, the interplay between academic research interests and market forces, the gauging of rarity and the calculation of value, the ‘rules’ of the game, and an overview of the current workings, structure, weaknesses and strengths of the rare book trade in the twenty-first century.
Modernist works such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway or James Joyce’s Ulysses are inseparable from the physical format in which they appeared. The 1922 Shakespeare & Company edition of Ulysses, with its iconic blue cover, is almost as famous as the characters in Joyce’s novel. But we need to look beyond those well-known first editions. By the mid-1920s, difficult modernist texts were no longer restricted to readers of little magazines or luxurious limited editions. They were read by a large audience in cheap reprint editions, and modernist writers became celebrities that often appeared in “slick” magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. To gain greater control over the publication process, Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Nancy Cunard and others created their own presses and engaged closely with the physical materiality of books.
Bookshops and Booksellers: Five Centuries of Selling Books | Rachel Calder
This course examines the characteristics of bookshops and bookselling in Britain and beyond from the earliest years of the printed book to the digital present. According to the publisher Stanley Unwin, ‘the most difficult task of all that a mortal man can embark on is to sell a book.’ Bookselling remains a precarious business, and the death of the bookshop is a common cry in the age of Amazon. Bookshops nonetheless survive and even thrive in the twenty-first century.
While ‘the artists’ book’ is increasingly prominent in special collections and archives, in art institutions and libraries, it remains a notoriously slippery object. The term itself can mean many different things, from monumental one-off book sculptures to ‘democratic multiples’, and from handmade ‘altered books’ to publishing as conceptual art practice. This course aims to orient students in this lively, fascinating but complex field. It looks at the artists’ book in the broadest sense, charting its evolution and critical history from the mid-twentieth century onward, following its various strands and examining the main figures and practices associated with it.
The course is an intensive survey of the origins of, and the changes in, textual culture that were practised between c. 3100 BC and 500 AD. It will set these changes into their related historical contexts and place close emphasis on the material nature of writing and book construction. This will involve extensive use of materials from the Museum of Writing Research Collection (Honorary Consultant: Alan Cole) currently housed in Senate House Library.
This course aims to provide participants with a comprehensive overview of the printed book during the Renaissance, broadly intended as the trans-European cultural renewal relying on the recovery of antiquity and spanning from mid-fourteenth century to mid-seventeenth century. Through a series of engaging seminars, students will be given the opportunity to explore the impact of printing at the dawn of the early modern era and to put the phenomenon in its appropriate historical context.
The main aim of this course is to give participants a toolkit to identify and date English bindings on historic books of the handpress period, distinguishing the contemporary from the later and the repaired, covering the progression of decorative styles which enable simple as well as upmarket bindings to be recognised. It will focus on external, visible features, rather than internal structures, but will cover the materials used to make bindings, and their distinguishing features.
Art & Science: The Art of Natural History Illustration | Henrietta McBurney and Roger Gaskell
The place of natural history illustration is often overlooked in traditional histories of art and visual culture. But images of the natural world created by such renowned artists as Dürer and Leonardo, lesser-known figures Hoefnagel, Ligozzi, and natural history illustrators Catesby and Ehret, hold an important place in the intersection of art and science. This course offers new perspectives on the ways in which nature has been viewed, drawn, and illustrated in books from the early Renaissance to modern times and examines the making and function of such images.
This course will take a thematic approach to the gnawed, rubbed and roughly handled material object of the children’s book from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century, covering topics such as alphabet books and primers, moveables and paper engineering, paratexts, child-made things and books-as-toys. Over five days, we will examine children’s books and other printed objects intended for ‘instruction and delight’, both fiction and non-fiction, including the intriguing subset of children’s books and comics which seek to explain printing history and the history of the book to young readers.
2023 marks the 1350th anniversary of the birth of the Venerable Bede (c.723-735), one of the greatest scholars of the post-Roman West and the ‘Father of English History’. But how, within a generation of the conversion of his Northumbrian people to Christianity did this Anglo-Saxon, who at the age of 7 was entrusted to the care of the new monastery of Monkwearmouth and who spent his whole life there and at its twin foundation of Jarrow, achieve this?
The history of bookbinding is not simply the history of a decorative art, but that of a craft answering a commercial need. This course will follow European bookbinding from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings themselves to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade.
This course is primarily a training ground to give students a personal toolkit to identify and interpret the various kinds of provenance evidence found in books before 1900. Interest in historical book ownership and what we can learn from individual copies and whole libraries has been steadily growing in recent years, among librarians, scholars and collectors, and more effort is being put into recording it in catalogues. The course will cover different manifestations of provenance – inscriptions, bookplates and book labels, armorials and other evidence from bindings – and include practical sessions on palaeography and reference sources. Teaching will be supplemented with exercises and opportunities to see examples drawn from the Senate House collections. Although the focus will be on practical and factual learning to take away, some time will be devoted to the theoretical and interpretative book historical context within which provenance evidence is of value.
This course will provide students with an introduction to typography in the early modern period, focussing on English books but taking an international outlook. It combines perspectives from descriptive bibliography, type design, literary history, and the study of the material text. We will cover the technical aspects of typography, including how fonts were manufactured, distributed, and used, procedures for identifying and dating type, as well as the language used by typographers and bibliographers to describe it. Primary materials are integrated into each seminar, giving students an evidence-based foundation. These will not only include canonical examples of typographical firsts and the work of highly skilled printers, but also the messier output of illegal presses and books that demonstrate the experience of the average reader.
A History of Reading | Shafquat Towheed & Edmund King
This course explores the nature of reading as it emerged in the late eighteenth century in the western world, and developed in the context of an industrial and then an advanced industrial society. The course will be a combination of two types of seminar. Firstly there will be ‘narrative’ sessions that will explain the ways in which the major aspects of the subject developed over time. Secondly there will be ‘case studies’ that will allow students to explore particular examples of these developments. In addition, the case studies will introduce students to a variety of research resources and methods used by historians of reading.