This course offers an introduction to the study of printed books of the hand-press period (c.1450-1800). It aims to equip students with foundational knowledge of the intricacies of book production in the period, and of the material and mechanical circumstances that shaped the early printed page. Over the duration of thirteen seminars, students will learn to interpret the histories and functions of a printed book’s various component parts, from printed sheets, gatherings, leaves, and pages, through to paratextual elements, such as title pages, typography, imprint statements, and the index. Through a combination of theoretical discussion, hands-on activities, and visits to off-site archives and printing establishments, students will gain first-hand experience in the material processes that underpinned the printed word. 

The course is aimed at students, academics, librarians, teachers, writers, and enthusiasts who are new to the fields of book history and bibliography, but who are interested in building the foundational skills required to decode the physical language of printed books from the hand-press period.  

Additional Information

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Evaluate the material circumstances and production techniques that defined printed books of the hand-press period.
  • Analyse the physical anatomy of printed books from the hand-press period and recognise how a book’s various paratextual parts helped to shape reader experiences.
  • Understand and interpret how a printed book’s materiality communicates details about its physical construction, and how these details shape a text’s meaning.  
  • Bland, Mark, A Guide to Early Printed Books and Manuscripts (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)
  • Duncan, Dennis and Adam Smyth, Book Parts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) 
  • Gaskell, Philip, A New Introduction to Bibliography (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2007)
  •  McKenzie, D.F., Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
  • Werner, Sarah, Studying Early Printed Books, 1450-1800 (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2019)

Course Tutor