Descriptive Bibliography

Current faculty: Bruce Whiteman

Description: This introductory course is intended for special collections librarians, members of the rare book trade, and bibliographers whose scholarly work requires a practical knowledge of the precise, detailed physical description of printed books.

It will address all matters involving the determination and description of a putative “ideal copy”; the correct distinction of editions, issues, states, and impressions; the accurate presentation 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, including bookbinding.

We shall focus above all on getting exactly right the understanding and close description of the format and collation of even the most complex books. We shall be concerned chiefly with books from the hand-press period (from the invention of printing to about 1820), but as time permits we shall also consider some of the earliest significant innovations of the machine age. Each class day will involve an intensive combination of lecture, supervised in-class exercises (largely the writing of full descriptions of progressively difficult original books in hand), and individual guidance.

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 Gerald Cloud: 2013

Years taught by Bruce Whiteman: 2009  – 2014

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