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.


Additional Information

  • D. Pearson, Provenance research in book history: a handbook, (British Library/Oak Knoll, 1994, reprinted, with a new introduction, 1998).
  • D. Pearson, Books as history. Revised Edition. (British Library/Oak Knoll, 2013). 
  • D. Finkelstein and A. McCleery, Aintroduction to book history. (Routledge, 2005).
  • Joseph A. Dane, What is a book? The study of early printed books. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2012).
  • S. A. Baron, The reader revealed. (University of Washington Press, 2001).
  • W. Sherman, Used books. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
  • R. Stoddard, “Looking at marks in books.”  Gazette of the Grolier Club ns 51 (2000), 27-47.


This course will take place in the Seng Tee Lee Room, Senate House Library.

Course convenor