G-30. Printed Books since 1800: Description & Analysis

Peter Shillingsburg

This course is designed for librarians, booksellers, collectors, scholars, and others who seek an introductory understanding of how to recognize, evaluate and describe the physical aspects and textual significance of printed materials. Focusing on the post-1800 period, the course provides instruction and practice in identifying and analyzing books and other printed artifacts. Topics include: determining how books were manufactured, how to read a bibliographical description of a book; how to read and interpret dealer and auction descriptions; how to distinguish between edition, issue, and state; and how to assess the aesthetic, market, and research potential of materials. The course is built around hands-on interaction with RBS’s rich teaching collection of books, periodicals, and related materials produced during the machine-press period.

The course design does not require prior experience or background in the subject. In their personal statement, applicants should describe the nature of their interest and how they expect to use what they learn.

Note on the differences between the “Printed Books: Description & Analysis” courses and “Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description”

Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description (G-10) covers much the same ground as the “Printed Book” courses. The differences are basically these: G-10 focuses more intensively on format and collation and on the rigorous description of hand- and machine-press period books through laboratory sessions and homework; it also emphasizes self-study of terminology and the physical book through “museum” sessions. The Printed Books courses are intended for collectors, booksellers, librarians, educators, and others who seek an introduction to the identification and description of printed books—presented in a more traditional, interactive seminar setting—but who do not wish to spend an extended amount of time on the study of format and collational formulas. Students in all courses, however, benefit from close, extended contact with Rare Book School’s renowned study collections of books, bindings, and related artifacts.

If you anticipate the need to produce bibliographical descriptions of your own, including accurate collational formulas, you may find G-10 more suited to your needs. If a broader overview would better suit your career plans or personal interests, then either of the Printed Books courses would be a good fit. Because of the overlap in course content, Rare Book School discourages students from applying to a Printed Books course and G-10 in the same year; however, students who complete either of the Printed Books courses are welcome to apply to G-10 in subsequent years, but not vice versa. Students who take G-10 will find themselves better prepared for the Advanced Descriptive Bibliography course.

Course History

Peter Shillingsburg teaches this course.
Tom Congalton and Katherine Reagan co-teach this course, as “Printed Books since 1800: Description & Analysis.”
2008 & 2009
Tom Congalton and Katherine Reagan co-teach this course, as “Bibliographer’s Toolkit: Printed Books since 1800.”

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


Peter Shillingsburg

Peter Shillingsburg

Peter Shillingsburg has taught at Mississippi State University where he was a William L. Giles Professor, at the University of North Texas, at De Montfort University where he was Director of the Center for Textual Scholarship, at the Defense Force Academy campus of The University of New South Wales, and at Loyola University Chicago where he held the Svaglic Chair in Textual Studies. He was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. He was the general and textual editor of the Works of W. M. Thackeray (Garland and Michigan) and is author of two books on Thackeray including Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and William M Thackeray and three books on textual studies including From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts. He has served as Coordinator, Committee Member, and Chairman of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions and as President of the Society for Textual Scholarship.

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