Course Convenor: Dr David Pearson
Maximum: 15 Students
Venue: Senate House

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.

Reccomended Introductory Reading

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: An introduction 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.

Student Comments


David's mix of lectures, activities and group discussions is exemplary. Never a dull moment and all put together to increase learning. It's not often that experts are able to articulate and convey their knowledge as clearly.  

 I thought the course was laid out very well and logically. I appreciated all of the exercises, including the homework and hands-on time practicing with books from the Senate House Library collection. This course was exactly what I needed and the classroom time really cemented what I learned from the preliminary reading. 


David Pearson retired from a long professional career in libraries and archives in 2017 and is now concentrating on work as a book historian. He has published extensively on aspects of provenance, private libraries and bookbinding, including the books Provenance Research in Book History (1994, new edition 2019) and English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800 (2005, reprinted 2014) – widely respected as standard reference works in the fields. He regularly teaches at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia and was Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford for 2017-18.