Archive for July, 2014


Rare Book School Day 3

   Posted by: rring    in book history

IMG_2913Three sights have greeted me every morning so far: a rather imperial statue of the explorer George Rogers Clark (across the street from my hotel), the rising sun striking the face of special collections, and a line of librarians entering the Alderman Library when they open the doors at 8:00am (to the tune of chapel bells tolling the hour).

We began the morning with an exercise. Each of us was given a 17thC book and told to examine it for form (i.e., what is there?) and function (i.e., what does it do?). Since I was not able to present my observations in class, because we often raise more questions than can be answered in the time allotted, I will do so here.  My book was actually two works bound together (a sammelband) both published in 1630. Each imprint (which were duodecimos–gatherings of 12 leaves), was signed on the first five leaves of each gathering. However, within each imprint were multiple title-pages, which suggests that these were reprints of previously issued works, because the pagination was continuous throughout.

IMG_2912The author of these tracts was Nicholas Byfield, a Calvinist who died rather horribly of a gall stone the size of a watermelon (15 x 13 inches) that weighed 3 lbs! The book is quite thick (about 4 inches), and just a little taller–with heavy leather over thick paper boards and the remnants of metal clasps–clearly a book intended to travel. On the back flyleaf was this inscription, or as much as I could make of it:

“1735 Thomas Angell’s Book / God gave him grace therein to look and not but understand / for learning is better than house and land, [unclear] when house and land is spent / [unclear]” Clearly this was a book meant to keep the Christian on his path. There are many marginal notes in various hands, variously legible.

IMG_2911After discussing the ways in which we can use the concept of format (which is the imposition scheme of a book; that is, the relationship of the text block of one printed page to the original sheet which was printed from the forme) to explain how books are put together, we then turned down the side road of discussing the pecia system of manuscript production during the rise of the universities; finally we dug more deeply into the uses and applications of the “workbook” that Michael has provided for our use. This includes many sample syllabi, exercises, diagrams, models, timelines, and tons of other resources to help us construct our own courses and instruction.

As with the two times I have been here before (1999 and 2001), I know that I am making crucial contacts and significantly advancing my knowledge- and resource-base as a curator and for my work as a teacher of book history.


Rare Book School Day 2

   Posted by: rring    in book history

Recall that I am attending RBS in general to enhance the quality of all of my courses, but specifically to develop a course on “The Impact of Print Culture on Connecticut History, 1700-1900” (working title) for our American Studies program, which will be part of its new track, “New England and the Nation.”

IMG_2907We began today with a discussion about the ways in which we can establish clear goals in terms of what our students will take away from our instruction (from one-off presentations, which most librarians do, to semester-long courses, which are generally run by faculty, and everything in between). The absolute essentials of what the students should come away with, in terms of bibliographic literacy, were five in number: format, edition, impression, issue, and state. It is also crucial, we have been convinced, to “follow the money” when it comes to unpacking the rationales and contexts of book production.

It is helpful to have a goal with parameters which can be contracted to one class period, or expanded to multiple ones. We also discussed the pedagogical merits of instructional videos which can be found on YouTube or for sale, on various processes such as papermaking, binding, typecasting, printing on various presses, etc.

One comment that Michael Suarez made about the potential of London fire insurance records viz. book history made me think about looking into similar records in Hartford, with an eye to seeing if printers or booksellers carried such insurance for their equipment and stock. This may be a fruitful angle of inquiry in terms of getting at certain telling types of data. I am hoping there are such records, and the question is, assuming I do find them–what are the ways in which I can incorporate them into my assignments? This idea of thinking all the way around the economic and social aspects of books, as well as their intellectual ones, is a compelling methodology, and I am sure the students will find it so as well. It translates to a more robust self-training on my part, but hey—what else am I in this business for if not to learn about what I love to learn about, and pass that passion and curiosity to others?

IMG_2906 The mid-day session comprised lengthy discussions on illustrative processes and the ways in which they can be approached and taught, depending on our audiences. We decided that the field needs the equivalent of Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography that covers only the production processes of the 20th century. This would be an incredibly useful tool for teaching, if a one-volume overview could be compiled, perhaps as an anthology, with chapter-length contributions from specialists on each major process used in all aspects of book production during the period.


IMG_2908We ended in special collections again, discussing one special “pair” of books to teach with—the so-called “Nuremburg Chronicle” (Liber Chronicarum, 1493) and its 1497 “pirated” edition.

I am proud to report that not only does the Watkinson have FOUR copies of the Nuremburg Chronicle (two in German, one partially colored but complete, one colored throughout that lacks 9 leaves; and two in Latin, one complete and partially colored, and the other uncolored and lacking 6 leaves). We also have a copy of the “pirated” edition.

We also viewed “A Noble Fragment” (a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible), and discussed the ways in which one might present that leaf to students (we have two such leaves at Trinity—one from the Old Testament, and the other from the New).

It’s a great day when you realize anew the richness of your own collection and its pedagogic potentialities!!


Rare Book School Day 1

   Posted by: rring    in book history

IMG_2894A beautiful start to the week—here’s a picture of what I THOUGHT was Monticello (but is not) atop its mountain, which is visible from the steps of the Alderman Library…still an inspiring sight as we walk into our first full day of class.

How does a book make its meaning? All books have intentions on imagined readers, and we can reconstruct many of those intentions from the physical copies left to us.

We began the discussion with samples of Harlequin romance novels, which was delightful to me because I have always been fascinated by the romance genre. It is the most effectively marketed genre in the history of American publishing, to my mind, in great part because it knows its own market with a greater intimacy than say, the publishers of mystery novels or of science fiction (although online marketing and publishing is changing that). The key benefit to my own teaching is that modern books are so much more accessible to undergraduates as a starting point in terms of discussing what sorts of meaning we can decode from physical copies. I am pretty sure the same sort of exercise could be done with young adult novels, with which my students will have more experience.

IMG_2896Starting with what students know, or can easily access, and leading them to apply the same sort of observational analysis to older books, like this giant, gorgeous antiphonal, was the core take-away for me today. That, and the idea of showing books in pairs, to allow the students to “read” one against the other, comparing and contrasting their elements and conjecturing why they are different or similar, rather than asking them to guess at the significance of the aspects of just one book. This was demonstrated to great effect when we were shown a truly exquisite Paris Bible and an even more impressive miniature manuscript Bible.

IMG_2897IMG_2898The composition of the class is a nice mix of 7 librarians, 6 academics, one book designer, and one rare book dealer. The conversations and questions have been excellent, and we seem to be learning a great deal from each other–working through  issues both practical and theoretical.

Lunch for my little group brought almost no book-talk–we discussed parenting! But it was a welcome relief from the intense focus of class, and we went back re-energized. The connections we are forging with each other cannot rest on bibliophilia alone, after all–we don’t live or work in a vacuum.

IMG_2900The evening talk by Nick Basbanes was well-attended, not only by RBS students, but from the community and parts beyond (apparently one devoted fan drove all the way from Pittsburgh to see him and to get a few books signed!). It was humbling to see pictures from his travels in China, where paper was invented, and to know that one family who has been making paper for 600 years has had to close because the children have no interest in continuing the work.  At the culmination of his talk, quite a few of us could not escape dry-eyed from a moving story that involved paper in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy (I will not divulge it here–read the book).

Tomorrow promises new epiphanies and ideas for my teaching, meeting new potential collaborators/allies/connections, and more excellent food!



Day 0.5 of Rare Book School

   Posted by: rring    in book history, Random!

I am taking a week-long intensive course called “Teaching the History of the Book,” for professional development.

basbanesAfter driving 450 miles from Hartford to Charlottesville (and then getting lost in the town because I have no smart phone or GPS), I stagger to the front desk of my hotel and who should I meet coming out of a cab but Nicholas Basbanes—author of the recent book On Paper: The Everything of its Two Thousand-Year-History (Knopf, 2013). I first encountered Nick’s now-famous work on book collecting, A Gentle Madness, in graduate school in the mid-90s, and met him in person in 2002 when he spoke at a book collecting contest I was managing at Brown University. He is one of the featured evening speakers this week.

I stuck out my hand and said, “Nick, you don’t remember me but I use your books in my classes, and I brought my copy of On Paper for you to sign at your talk tomorrow night.” We were both travel-weary, and the rooms were not ready, so we went out for a beer and talked—mostly he talked about a book he has just sold to Knopf about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

At the registration and reception, I saw some old friends and met some new people, and most importantly caught some excellent gossip (a staple of the rare book world). No time to socialize more, since my instructor sent around a link this afternoon to another 1,200 pages of resource material to become familiar with before we begin tomorrow morning at 8:20am!! Welcome to Boot Camp for Bibliophiles!


Farewell feast for AMST 851!

   Posted by: rring    in Classes, Interns, students

IMG_2857Tonight one of my students provided a feast for our last “world of rare books” class: octogenarian Emily Leonard, who made (among other things) the incredibly sinful chocolate chocolate cake in the foreground. It was a grand finale to a truly great group-dynamic this summer–thanks to all of my students (two not shown), and best of luck in your collecting!