In the fall of 2012 ZSR Library will offer a new class called History of the Book, 1500-2000 (LIB260). Taught by Special Collections Librarian Megan Mulder, the 1.5 credit class will introduce students to the exciting interdisciplinary field of Book History.

Book History (sometimes called History of Print Culture) combines history, literary studies, and bibliography. Its purpose, as set out by Robert Darnton in his seminal 1982 essay “What Is the History of Books?,” is “to understand how ideas were transmitted by print and how exposure to the printed word affected the thought and behavior of mankind during the last five hundred years.” While it is impossible to cover the whole scope of book history in one semester, this course will give students an introduction to the field and provide them with the theoretical and practical tools to pursue further study in the History of the Book and its many related disciplines.

The course will begin with the premise that we can approach printed texts as objects of study in three major ways: 1) as material objects with artifactual value, 2) as vehicles for text, and 3) as social constructs and agents of social change. Beginning with the first approach, students will learn to examine books as physical objects and to understand the processes by which they were created. In the process students will gain a basic vocabulary of descriptive bibliography, a necessary starting point for further study in the history of print culture. Our studies will also incorporate the other two approaches to the study of print culture, considering the role of books in the societies that produced them and the ways in which print conveys and shapes texts.

The class will meet in the ZSR Library Special Collections reading room. In each class meeting students will examine materials from the Rare Books Collection that illustrate concepts under discussion. They will learn how books were made during the hand-press period and will construct a small book of their own in the library’s Preservation Lab. As a final project each student will select one book from the Rare Books Collection and write its “biography”. This will provide practical experience with bibliographic description and with other techniques of book history research, including provenance research and reader analysis.

This class will meet weekly on Wednesdays 3:30 – 4:45 p.m. for the entire fall semester. It is open to anyone with an interest in books and their histories. For more information, contact Megan Mulder at or 758-5091.