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2023 Summer School

LRBS runs across three weeks, from 19 June - 7 July 2023 in person at Senate House, London.

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.

These topics will be discussed in this course, which includes hands-on sessions and collection visits. Each student will also present a 5-minute talk on a map of their choosing. The talk will cover the map’s maker, design and technology, production, intended audience, and an examination of the meanings of the map with regard to its specific historical context and the larger history of maps and mapping.

This course will challenge students to:

  • destabilize and broaden the traditional definition of ‘map’.
  • recognize maps as socially constructed objects that are indicative of the values and biases of their makers and the cultures that created them.
  • be able to analyse and catalogue maps for a variety of research purposes.
  • discuss changes in map technology and style without recourse to a progressive narrative of scientific improvement. 


The Queer Book | Brooke Palmieri

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?

Between its perverse origins, and its use as an activist tool within the struggle for LGBTQIA+ liberation, the printed book has always been queer, embedded within a sprawl of media that has allowed the subcultural, the marginal, and the oppressed to tell their own stories, share strategies of resistance and disruption, and rally together.

The purpose of this course is to re-evaluate the development of mechanical printing processes in terms of contingency rather than inevitability, strangeness rather than familiarity, and above all, in the moments when format and speedy dissemination are harnessed to disrupt normative culture. Consequently, “the book” and its attendant fields of bibliography and the materiality of texts have much to benefit from queer theory, where concepts of queerness might be used to think about books in relation to the bodies that produce and consume them, and in relation to the norms print culture might create and/or resist. By considering innovations upon printing practices over the past 500 years, highlights in the history of book production from blasphemous texts to contemporary artists’ books and zines, and media that centres the experiences of gender non-conforming people, the goal of the course is that students might delight in the queerness of information exchange.

Students will have the opportunity to explore queer archives of printed matter as they have managed to survive within institutional contexts, and flourish within grassroots and personal collections. The class will also culminate in taking the means of production into our own hands and making a limited edition zine.


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. Taught entirely by experienced practitioners, the course is intended to provide a thorough grounding and background for librarians, academics, collectors, booksellers and others, who (whether professionally or privately) need to engage with this market and require a more detailed insight into the nuances and subtleties of the field.


Modernism and the Book | Lise Jaillant

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.

The aim of this course is to study the material format that made the diffusion of modernist literature possible. The course relies on an interdisciplinary framework, drawing from book/ publishing history, archival studies, sociology and digital humanities. Sessions at Senate House Library will allow us to view letters by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, rare editions published by Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press and neglected periodicals and publicity materials. 

The course will also include a tour on Modernist Publishing Houses to explore Bloomsbury, the birthplace of modernism. We will start with Faber – where T. S. Eliot worked as an editor for 40 years, from 1925 to his death in 1965. Through fascinating anecdotes, this tour will recreate the forgotten publishing world that made the new literature available to a wide audience.

This course will be of interest to students of history and literature, librarians, archivists, rare book specialists, museum professionals, booksellers and anyone who enjoys twentieth-century 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. Taking an historical approach, the main focus of the course will be on the eighteenth century onwards when books became cheaper and more accessible. The practices and strategies developed by booksellers to take advantage of changing commercial conditions will be emphasised along with the challenges imposed by regulation, taxation, and legislation. Students will also have the opportunity to explore the bookselling environment of the present day, through visits to bookshops in the local area. 

Taught by expert tutors and drawing on historic sources, the course combines cultural, social, geographical and economic analysis to explore the distinctive characteristics of bookselling and understand what makes the business of selling books a perhaps uniquely adaptable and resilient commercial activity.


Artists’ Books | Gill Partington

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. Through site visits to some of London’s most significant collections, at the Chelsea Library and Tate Library and Archives, we will examine first-hand a wide variety of key works, while in classroom discussion of key texts, we will explore some of the central debates and themes in this field. What connects apparently disparate works like Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations (1963) with Brian Dettmer’s intricately carved books, or with Elisabeth Tonnard’s (possibly non-existent) Invisible Book (2012)?

There are many intriguing questions raised by the artists’ book: what kind of object is it, and what disciplinary perspectives and methodologies are needed for discussing and describing it? Where does it belong: on library shelves or in gallery display cases? How might it trouble our existing definitions and histories of the book? The module’s focus is not only on the conceptual issues raised by the artists’ book, however, but also on more practical matters. Through visiting expert speakers, we will explore the contexts in which artists’ books are made, published, sold and exhibited, as well as the current practices of bibliographic classification and cataloguing. The module will be of use to those who encounter artists’ books in the context of librarianship and curation. It will also be of interest to those who create or collect artists’ books, as well as those who simply want to understand them more deeply.


Week two (26-30 June 2023)

The Book in the Ancient World | Marigold Norbye

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. In addition to handling and using original artefacts, students will have the opportunity to experiment with writing on clay tablets, on papyrus, and on wax tablets using modern reconstructions. The course will end by looking at the ways in which the modern book form (the codex) emerged at the end of the period, and how some of the ancient texts studied in the course survived through the post-classical manuscript periods to the age of printing.


The Book in the Renaissance | Paolo Sachet

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.

After a preliminary insight into the concept of ‘Renaissance’, the first six seminars will focus on printing and humanism, with particular attention paid to those European printers who specialised in the publication of classical literature in Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as in the dissemination of the necessary tools for learning those languages (e.g., the Manutius, Froben and Estienne families).

The second half of the course (seminars 7-12) tackles six crucial topics, concerning printing in non-European languages and locations, the role of printing in the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, the rise of institutional censorship, and the practice of collecting Renaissance books through to the present day, especially in England.

To encourage student involvement, classes will comprise: three visits to the libraries of the University of London (Senate House, Warburg Institute and SOAS); first-hand observation of several printed artefacts either borrowed from Senate House library or consulted in their digitised form; guided exploration of the main online repertoires (e.g., ISTC, EDIT16, VD16, ESTC, USTC, BsB and OnB digital libraries, Project Gutenberg, Europeana, DFG-Viewer, E-Rara, Gallica).

The closing seminar will be devoted to a recapitulation, addressing doubts and curiosities in preparation for a final visit to the British Library and one last display of exceptional books. 


English Bookbinding Styles | David Pearson

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.  English bindings form the backbone of the course, but continental European ones will be brought in to compare, contrast, and set the wider context.  Consideration will also be given to the book historical landscape in which bindings should be seen, understood and interpreted.  “What are the questions I should ask, when looking at a historic binding?” is a theme that will run through this course, and it is hoped that students will come to the end of the week better equipped to both pose and answer those questions.

The course is aimed at anyone who works regularly with historic books in which English bindings are likely to feature: librarians and curators, humanities researchers, collectors and dealers.  It is not a practical course to learn how to bind, and its philosophy is book historical, not art historical – it will cover bindings of all kinds, the cheap, temporary and simple as well as the extravagant and luxurious.  Illustrated teaching sessions will be supplemented by the opportunity to see and handle examples from the Senate House collections.

The course will be taught by David Pearson, whose English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800 (2005, reprinted 2014) is widely respected as a standard reference book in the field.  It is closely modelled on a similar course which has been successfully run at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville.


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.

Read more here.


Children’s Books | Sarah Pyke

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. We will consider inclusivity and diversity in children’s publishing, the surprising political force of children’s literature – including recurring controversies over banned books – and our affective and emotional investments in these deceptively simple objects. Drawing on recent approaches from childhood studies, book history and bibliography, and informed by critical work in children’s librarianship and pedagogy, this course will explore how children’s print culture can push us to think about the limits of the page, the object of the book, and the complicated act we call ‘reading’. 

Teaching will be both theoretical and practical, with site visits and handling sessions at institutional collections and rare booksellers. Course materials and preparatory readings will demonstrate how critical concepts can be grounded in and developed through haptic experiences with physical printed matter. Of interest to students of children’s literature, publishing and the history of the book, and to librarians, teachers, writers, illustrators and children’s books enthusiasts, this course will provide attendees with a good grounding in current debates and developments in the field of children’s literature, enabling them to pursue their personal and professional interests.


Week three (3-7 July 2023)

Bede and his Books | Michelle Brown

2023 marks the 1350th anniversary of the birth of the Venerable Bede (c.673-735), 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? Having only travelled within the region, how did he write a guide to the sacred sites of the Near East that was still used by travellers there in the early 20th century? How did he produce the first tide timetables, having recognised the gravitational pull of the moon? What earned him the title of ‘the father of English history’? What was his role in the creation of the Ceolfrith Bibles and the Lindisfarne Gospels and in shaping the cult of St Cuthbert? How did he give us our earliest English poetry and the first translation of part of the Bible into the English language? What was his world like? What was his research programme and what library resources and experiences did he draw upon? How did this stimulate a publishing programme that bridged those of late Antiquity and the Carolingian period? These and many other questions are explored in this course, along with the cultural and historical context of the Golden Age of Northumbria. 


European Bookbinding | Nicholas Pickwoad

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. A large part of the course will be devoted to the identification of both broad and detailed distinctions within the larger groups of plain commercial bindings and the possibilities of identifying the work of different countries, cities, even workshops without reference to finishing tools. The identification and significance of the different materials used in bookbinding will be examined, as well as the classification of bookbindings by structural type, and how these types developed through the three centuries covered by the course. The development of binding decoration will be touched on, but will not form a major part of the discussion. 


Provenance in Books | David Pearson

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.


Early Modern Typography | James Misson

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.

We will not only be describing typography, but interpreting it too: how could typography augment the meaning of a text? Early modern printers made use of three families of typeface (blackletter, roman, and italic). In this system, typographic contrast resulted in typographic meaning, and the reading of a text was influenced by its appearance. Scholars have long been interested in ascertaining how early readers would have reacted to this contrast, arguing that certain typefaces were connected to variables such as language, class, religion, genre, and ‘lowbrow’ culture. This course will provide an overview of such interpretations, while also equipping the student to reach their own historically informed conclusions. By considering these variables alongside the texts themselves, we will learn that typography has the power to make the social context of a text’s production legible on the page.


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.


Short courses

Black British Magazines 1948-2000 | Kadija George

13 April 2023 - 4 May 2023

  • Online via Zoom, 2-4pm weekly on Thursdays
  • £175 (£100 for students)

This London Rare Books School short course offers an introduction to the history of Black British magazines over a fifty-year period. Although magazines are often referred to as ephemera, their materiality, production, and content provide a social and cultural history. The course will consider how the dynamics of magazines show the changes that occurred in Black British life in the period after the Second World War.

An event that was to trigger and inspire people into magazine publishing just six weeks after the declaration of the end of the war in Europe, was the Pan-African Congress in Manchester of October 1945. There was a clear need to bring the voices of African and Asian People together to fight for their rights, which included the right to self-governance in their own home countries. Two years later, groups of migrants from the British empire began to arrive in Britain, invited to help rebuild the ‘mother country’. Magazines were needed to encourage communication and dialogue between newly arrived peoples of different colonies, many of whom had not met anyone from other African or Caribbean countries until they arrived in Britain. Publications produced for and by the community were tools through which they could be informed of each other’s cultures, share opinions, and campaign for issues such as human rights. Fifty years later, these themes continued to be explored in Black British magazines, as the introduction of online technology meant that a greater number of publications were produced for different target audiences. 

Through reading and analysing selective content – articles, editorials, columns, and letters – and learning about the social, technological, and cultural contexts of production, this course will consider how the dynamics of magazines helped to counter cultural hegemony in Britain during a period of some fifty years.

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Moveable Books | Gill Partington 

Thursday 4 May 2023

  • One day course (10am to 5pm)
  • Cambridge University Library
  • £175 (£100 for students) 

From Early-Modern anatomical flap-books and rotating ‘volvelles’ to Victorian children’s books with pull-tabs and twentieth-century pop-ups, the movable book has a long and fascinating history. Using the unique collections at Cambridge University Library, this one-day intensive course traces the evolution and diverseuses of these unusual objects, giving students an opportunity to see and interact with some rare and remarkable examples.

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