Rare Book School

RBS Home | Course Schedule | Admissions | myRBS | Support RBS | Contact RBS | Previous Years

Rare Book School
Preliminary Reading List

H-10. The History of the Book, 200–2000

John Buchtel & Mark Dimunation


Preliminary Advices

The books on this list are almost all in print, and can be acquired through an online discounter such as Amazon (although Oak Knoll titles are seldom discounted, and usually come most quickly if ordered directly from Oak Knoll). Copies often surface on used book search engines such as BookFinder or AddAll (but note that Chappell (no. 3) and Carter (no. 11) should be obtained in the most recent editions).

Required reading

  1. John Carter. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th edn revised by Nicolas Barker. Oak Knoll, 2004. Any of the more recent editions will do. Dip into this useful glossary to familiarize yourself with book terms, mostly from the era following the invention of printing. Although it's lively enough to read cover-to-cover, we don't expect you to know or remember every definition; don't spend too much time at this point trying to visualize things, such as the various types of bookbindings, whose definitions suffer from the lack of illustrations.
  2. Christopher de Hamel. Scribes and Illuminators (Medieval Craftsmen Series). University of Toronto Press, 1992.
  3. Michael Twyman. The British Library Guide to Printing: History and Techniques. British Library, 1998; University of Toronto Press, 1999. Brief yet sophisticated (and well-illustrated) introductions, respectively, to manuscript production and to printing processes.
  4. These will provide a useful framework and a working vocabulary as you move to:

  5. Warren Chappell. A Short History of the Printed Word. Second edition, revised and updated by Robert Bringhurst. Hartley & Marks, 1999. Bringhurst has updated Chappell's classic history (first published in 1970) for the electronic era. Particularly strong on typographic developments and their effects on the shape and form of books.
  6. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, 1983; reprinted several times. A one-volume abridgement of Eisenstein's two-volume The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979). Discusses the cultural changes enabled and facilitated by the development of printing.
  7. Recommended Reading

  8. Christopher de Hamel. The Book: a History of the Bible. London: Phaidon, 2001. Through his exploration of the history of the single most important title in Western history, De Hamel touches on nearly every aspect of book history. Particularly good coverage of the Medieval period, and an excellent summary of the current state of research on Johann Gutenberg. Read at least chapters 2-5 and 8, and more to the extent of your time and interest.
  9. Carter, John and Percy H. Muir, eds. Printing and the Mind of Man: A Descriptive Catalogue Illustrating the Impact of Print on the Evolution of Western Civilization during Five Centuries. 2nd edn, revised and enlarged. London, 1967. An excellent survey of influential printed books. Read to the extent of your time and interest, being sure to identify several books of personal interest. It's also a worthwhile exercise contemplating important books missing from the catalog -- such as books that might be placed under the heading "printing and the mind of woman."
  10. If possible, find copies of at least two of the articles listed below, which provide brief but inclusive surveys, from different perspectives, of what is at stake in the field of the history of the book:

  11. G. Thomas Tanselle, "The History of Books as a Field of Study." Originally published as the Second Hanes Lecture (University of North Carolina 1981). Subsequently reprinted in G. Thomas Tanselle, Literature and Artifacts (Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1998), 41-55.
  12. Robert Darnton, "What is the History of the Book?" Originally published in Daedalus, 111:3 (Summer 1982), 65-83. Recently reprinted in David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, eds, The Book History Reader (Routledge, 2002), 9-26.
  13. John P. Feather, "The Book in History and the History of the Book." Printed in John Feather and David McKitterick, The History of Books and Libraries: Two Views (Washington: Library of Congress, 1986), 1-16; and in the Journal of Library History 21 (1986), 12-26.
  14. Recommended Browsing

    All the books listed below reward casual browsing; familiarize yourself with as many of them as your time and interests and availability of the books permit.

  15. Anthony Rota. Apart from the Text. Private Libraries Association / Oak Knoll Press, 1998. A series of short essays on a wide range of book-related topics, focusing primarily on c19-c20 developments, from the introduction of dust jackets to the publication of novels, from the relationship between the paper and book trades to the practice of series publication.
  16. Barbara Shailor. The Medieval Book Illustrated from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale 1988; reprinted several times, most recently by the University of Toronto Press for the Medieval Academy Teaching Reprint Series. An extensively illustrated exhibition catalog dealing with Medieval books in all their aspects.
  17. Norma Levarie. The Art & History of Books. First published by Heinemann, 1968; reissued by Da Capo, 1982; reprinted by Oak Knoll and the British Library, 1998, with an introduction by Nicolas Barker. A survey covering papyrus scrolls to c20 fine printing, concerned primarily with typography and book illustration (for bookbindings, see no. 14, below). Richly illustrated with page images from famous, important, and beautiful books.
  18. Marks, P. J. M. The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. British Library and University of Toronto Press, 1998. Overemphasizes fine bindings and all but ignores publishers' cloth (see the essay on bookbinding in Rota, no. 10 above) and modern paperbacks, but contains good illustrations and a useful basic explanation of the underlying structures of pre-c19 books.