Assignments & exercises

Revised versions of many of these are available on


For the assignments below, you will want to use an early modern book of your choice (assuming that it is in the Folger collection, in a language you can read, and in good enough condition for handling). You will use the same book for all assignments, since your research into your book’s makers and users should be able to be incorporated into writing the book’s biography.

Late papers will not be accepted; should you anticipate a problem in meeting a deadline, you need to talk to me in advance of the deadline itself so that we can discuss an extension.

1) Your book’s stationers (10% of course grade):

Who was responsible for putting the book in print? What other types of texts did he or she print/publish/sell?

2) Your book’s authors (10% of course grade):

How does your book identify and construct its author(s)? Is there a name on the title page? Is it pseudonymous? Anonymous? Is the author identified in other ways, such as through prefatory materials, or the use of the first person in the text?

3) Your book’s early readers and users (10% of course grade):

Where are the signs of a reader in your book? What are those signs? Are they signs of a specific, individual reader, or are they signs of a projected audience? If both, what is the relationship between that specific reader and the imagined audience? What is the relationship between the author and the reader(s)? Is there evidence of the book having been actually read?

4a) Your book’s provenance (10% of course grade):

Is there information about the later collectors and institutions who owned this book? What do you know about those collections? What are the physical signs of their ownership?


4b) Your book’s afterlife (10% of course grade):

What is the history of your text after its initial publication? Are there later editions, translations, adaptations? Does your book exist in a modern print or digital edition?

5) Your book’s biography (minimum 4000 words; 50% of final grade):

Write the biography of your book. Start from the book’s creation (who wrote it, who put up the money for its publication, who printed it) and move on through the history of the book (where it was sold, which owners (if any) can be identified, what uses were made of the book, what changes were made to the book’s physical structure) on up to the present day (how did it come into the Folger’s collection, how is it cataloged). Depending on the popularity of your book, you could address familial relationships (reprints, subsequent early modern editions, subsequent editions), travel history (translations), etc.

Short exercises

There will also be a number of shorter exercises due during the course of the semester. These are designed as hands-on exercises to illustrate specific archival research skills and will be able to be completed in a few hours’ work. All are required, and will count in the 10% participation portion of the final grade.

Description worksheet
Catalog wishlist
Make your own quarto

an undergrad book history seminar