Descriptive Bibliography

Current faculty: Gerald W. Cloud


This introductory course is intended for students who wish to increase their understanding of the physical descriptions of printed books, especially those produced in the handpress period, as well as books printed during the industrial press period up to approx. 1900. The course accommodates special collections librarians and catalogers, book collectors, booksellers, graduate students, scholars, bibliographers and other members of the book community who wish to gain thorough comprehension of bibliographical descriptions and to develop their ability to write their own descriptions of printed books.

The course will introduce students to the principles and concepts of descriptive bibliography and develop their ability to accurately understand and describe the format, collation, pagination, and other aspects of the physical book. The concept of “ideal copy” will be discussed and analyzed, as will the distinction of editions, issues, states, and impressions. Also considered will be the accurate transcription of title-page, colophon, and other internal information; the identification of paper and watermarks, type, and illustrative contents; and the treatment of other features and circumstances of printing and distribution.

Each class will involve a combination of lectures and in-class exercises, both supervised and independent (largely the examination of printed books and the writing of bibliographical descriptions for progressively complex books), as well as the consideration of published descriptive bibliographies and representative examples of books described within those published works.

Requirements: In their personal statements applicants should clearly describe all education, experience (or not), and professional expectations bearing upon this course. Although the course has no formal language requirements, students will benefit from at least some knowledge of Latin and the modern European languages, especially French, Italian, and German. Students are strongly encouraged to have read the course readings in advance and to own their own copies of the basic texts as recommended.

Years taught by Carl Berkout: 2006  – 2008

Years taught by Bruce Whiteman2009  – 2014

Years taught by Gerald Cloud: 2013, 2015, 2017

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