Teaching ZSR’s History of the Book (LIB260) class is always more fun–and more work– than I anticipate.  The undergraduate elective class gives students the opportunity to interact with 800 years’ worth of texts from the Rare Books Collection, and it draws participants from a wide variety of disciplines. The spring 2015 class included majors from Computer Science, English, Art History, German, Anthropology, Economics, and other fields.

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History of the Book students setting type with Craig

As in previous semesters, we divided our time between historical research and hands-on activities. We looked at dozens of books from Special Collections over the course of the semester and learned what these material objects could tell us about the societies that produced them. Preservation Librarian Craig Fansler led the class in bookbinding and typesetting/printing projects, giving students a chance to experience first-hand some of the techniques used by book-makers from the Renaissance through the 19th century. Students also got to try their hands at descriptive bibliography and read articles by scholars in the field of Book History.

Finally, the Wake Forest undergrads had a chance to write histories of their own. Each chose one book from ZSR Special Collections and wrote a brief photo essay on its history and interesting features. Digital Initiatives Librarian Chelcie Rowell helped us set up a class website where students shared these essays as blog posts.

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Photography workshop with Chelcie

One of the recurring themes in our History of the Book class was the idea that the physical format of a text shapes both the text itself and the reader’s experience of it. Creating content about book history for a 21st century digital publication brought this home for the students, as they presented their research in words and pictures.

LIB260 will be offered again in the spring of 2016. For more information about the class, contact Megan Mulder at mulder@wfu.edu.