H-25. Fifteenth-Century Books in Print and Manuscript

Paul Needham Will Noel

The use of a wide variety of evidence—paper, parchment, type, script, rubrication and illumination, bindings, ownership marks, and annotations—can shed light both on questions of analytical bibliography and on wider questions of book distribution, provenance, and use. There will be a fairly detailed discussion and analysis of both good and bad features in existing reference works on manuscripts and early printing.

This course is intended to serve as a general introduction to bibliographical analysis. Its examples and methods are primarily derived from c15 manuscripts and printed books at the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library, as this is a period commonly overlooked or only summarily treated by the standard guides. Note that this course is not a general historical introduction to manuscripts or incunabula; the primary purpose of the course is to encourage a way of bibliographical thinking that should prove useful in the analysis of all books, early or modern.

Students should have already taken Rare Book School’s Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description (G-10) or its equivalent. Because many of the books studied will be in Latin, some familiarity with the language will be an advantage. In their personal statement, applicants should indicate the extent of their proficiency with descriptive bibliography and with Latin.

N.B., The tuition for this course is $1,395 owing to the expenses associated with the scheduled field trip.


Course History

The course venue is changed from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.
Paul Needham and Will Noel teach this course.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
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Related Courses


  • Paul Needham
  • Will Noel

Paul Needham

Paul Needham became Scheide Librarian at Princeton University in 1998, before which he worked at Sotheby’s and at the Pierpont Morgan Library. Among his books is Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding: 400-1600 (1979). He has given Rare Book School Master Classes on early printed books both at the Morgan and at the Huntington.

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Will Noel

Will Noel is the Director of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, before which he worked at The Walters Art Museum as Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books. Among his books are The Harley Psalter (1995), The Oxford Bible Pictures (2005), and The Archimedes Codex (2007). An advocate for open manuscript data, during his tenure the Walters began to release full digital surrogates of its illuminated medieval manuscripts under a creative commons license. Will was a 2012 TED speaker, and in 2013 was honored as a White House Open Science Champion for Change.

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