course description

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the history of books by focusing on books and early modern culture. By learning about how books were made and how books were used, students will gain a clearer appreciation of how early modern culture was shaped by and was a shaping force in the development of print culture. The archival skills students learn in conducting this research will serve them in future research projects, and their understanding of the sociology of books will refine their understanding of the early modern period and the roles that books played in later periods.

The study of books and book history can be divided into three approaches; we will draw on all three during the semester. We will begin with an exploration of books as physical objects: how they were made and what we can learn from their physical presence. By studying the physical labor that went into making books—how they were printed, how they were assembled, how they were bound—we will learn to recognize the material traces that can lead us to a new understanding of how a particular book was used, what its impact might have been, and how it shapes the text it contains. We will move on to examine the role that books played in early modern culture and the processes by which they were made available, focusing on the relationships between printers (or “stationers”), book sellers, authors, and readers. We will look at the economic forces driving the book trade, consider what authorship meant during the early modern period, and explore the uses that readers made of books. The final section of our course will consider books as vehicles for text. In some ways the opposite approach of focusing exclusively on the book as a material object, this approach will consider how books transmit (and shape) texts by studying some of the theories behind modern editing and studying instances of modern editions of early texts.

Course policies

  • 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.
  • You must come to each and every class prepared for that day’s discussion. Missing even one session will stand in the way of your developing the knowledge about early modern books necessary for succeeding in this course.
  • You must always respect Library policies and staff. Failure to adhere to Library regulations could mean losing your Reader’s Card.


There will be five written papers assigned during this course, making up 90% of your course grade; the remaining 10% of your course grade will be based on your class participation and the occasional brief research exercise assigned during class. You must come to each and every class prepared for that day’s discussion. Because we meet only once a week, missing even one session will hinder your preparedness for the assignments and will stand in the way of your developing the knowledge and skills necessary for succeeding in this course. Should you be seriously ill, contagious with something unpleasant, or observing a religious holiday, please let me know (in advance, in the case of holidays) so that we can touch base about what you missed.


an undergrad book history seminar