The invention of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century played a major role in the creation of Renaissance culture and in the development of the modern world. Without the printing press, the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution might not have spread throughout Europe, poem- and novel-writing might not have become viable professions, and the plays of Shakespeare might not have survived.
The ideas spread through these printed works were significant, but so too were the forms in which they appeared. Small books could be carried in one’s pocket, cheap books allowed readers to collect their own libraries, and lavishly printed and illustrated books proclaimed the importance of their content. Their physical form determined and reflected their use.
By handling these books today, we can begin to recover how they were used and what they meant. The traces of their use—annotations on the end-papers and margins of books, the ways in which they were bound, the collections of which they were a part—provide a window onto early modern culture that cannot be found in facsimiles or modern editions.
In this advanced seminar, students will learn about the history and sociology of early modern books through a hands-on exploration of the rare book archives at the Folger Shakespeare Library. One of the country’s preeminent research libraries, the Folger is normally open only to professors and advanced graduate students. Students in this seminar will be granted full access to the Folger’s collection, and will be able to use this unique opportunity to develop and advance their own research interests.
All GW students who will be in their senior year in the Fall of 2008 are eligible to apply for admission to this course; the application deadline is March 10, 2008.