41. European Decorative Bookbinding

Mirjam Foot
(Evaluation of the RBS 1994 version of this course)

An historical survey of decorative bookbinding in England and on the European continent, concentrating on the period 1500-1800, but with examples drawn from the late c7 to the late c20. Topics include: the emergence and development of various decorative techniques and styles; readership and collecting; the history of book-binding in a wider historical context; the pitfalls and possibilities of binding research. Enrollment in this course is limited to those who have taken Nicholas Pickwoad's RBS course (see below, nos. 42 and 53).

I. How useful were the pre-course readings?

1: Extremely. 2: Essential to benefitting fully from the course. 4: As pre-course readings, through no fault of MF or RBS, useless: much else afoot. As a reading list to follow up, quite valuable. 5: Helpful. 6: The four highly recommended were very useful and will be even better for review. It's too bad E P Goldschmidt is so hard to access. 7: Very -- and useful following the course for reference! 8: Quite valuable. I need to reread some as I go over my notes at home. 9: I was already familiar with them. But you do need a strong background in binding and binding history to appreciate this course.

II. Was your faculty member well-prepared to teach THIS course?

1: Yes. 2: Superbly well. 3: So beautifully prepared and organized that I soon learned to wait when a question arose from the material, knowing that it would, in just the right place, be answered. 4: Thoroughly: well ordered lectures timed almost to the minute; slides -- many repeating in different combinations -- of which one out of many hundreds was upside down (the flaw in the carpet); and the kind of fierce and good-humored determination that makes the best RBS courses. 5: I'm so im- pressed by her preparation. 6: YES! 7: Yes. 8: Extremely so. 9: Absolutely.

III. Was the intellectual level of the course content appropriate?

1: Yes. 2: Yes. The instructor provided an intellectual organization for a whole, diverse field. 3: Certainly. 4: Yes. There was much detail -- one dived in and came up for air, as it were -- not so much to be memorized (impossible), but always revealing the mindset and obsessions that characterize this kind of scholarship. As she noted at the end, we still need to develop the vocabulary and methodology that will allow for generalization of scholarly findings and linking with ``other history.'' 5-9: Yes.

IV. If your course had field trips, were they effective?

1: Yes. The Folger's staff was extremely generous to allow us to handle the volumes. 2: I was skeptical about the value of the trip to the Folger, but am reconciled to its value. 3: The books shown in Special Collections were very helpful after seeing the points made in slides. 4: Very much so: two trips to Alderman Special Collections and the remarkable experience of sitting around a table at the Folger seeing some of their most extraordinary bindings. There were close looks at much that we had seen in slides and could not otherwise see in such combinations. All with MF's running commentary. I wish my head contained a video recorder. 5: Yes, it was very important to view the books at the Folger Library. 6: Very. 7: Yes. 8: The visits to the Folger and UVa's Special Collections were certainly highlights. 9: Yes.

V. Did the actual course content correspond to its RBS brochure description and Expanded Course Description? Did the course in general meet your expectations?

1-5: Yes. 6: Yes. Yes. 7: Yes -- beyond expectation. 8: Yes. Exceeded all expectations. 9: Yes.

VI. What did you like best about the course?

1: The field trip and the instructor. 2: The mixture of intellectual organization and fund of specific examples. 3: The chance to see the mind and methodology of this brilliant and charming teacher. Her closely-knit arguments were a great pleasure to follow. The chronological comparison of the three collectors on Friday was especially fine. 4: Looking and looking at bindings through expert eyes; beginning to get a handle on the vocabulary. 5: It was most informative. The history, etc. 6: Excellent, clear presentation of material -- well- planned -- did not get off track in spite of time answering questions. 7: Concept and organization of the material. Especially relevant for my own teaching. 8: MF, of course. Also good to have a cross-section of fellow students from many backgrounds. 9: The subject, the instructor, and the field trip.

VII. How could the course have been improved?

1: A bit more time so it wouldn't be such a sprint. 2: Ideally, Islamic and Hispanic bindings would have been covered. 3: Occasionally I would have been helped by an enlarged detail, as in the signature of Roger Payne. Especially the first two days I was straining to see little stamps temptingly described as dragons or flowers that I could scarcely see even as stamps. 4: More time -- the usual impossible request. 6: Some slides were hard to see, but it is probably unrealistic to think better ones would be readily available. 7: Some people would like a list of books cited in the slides. I think this is a bit much, as we can look many of them up later in the books on our reading list. 9: It was a bit intense -- a lot to get in the time allowed. Maybe a more focused course on the subject would be good.

VIII. Any final thoughts?

1: I love this place. 2: I suggest that the Expanded Course Descriptions include the names of the instructors. (One as much ``takes'' the instructor as the course.) Including also the dates of the courses in the Expanded Course Descriptions would completely preclude the annoyance, with the Expanded Course Descriptions in hand, of having to refer back to the earlier flyer that announced the year's courses. 3: You would be very fortunate to take it. 5: It was a privilege to be included in this course and to be a part of RBS this summer. 6: Some familiarity with the material is definitely desirable. 7: It was a pleasure to be in a course with participants at more or less the same level of expertise, each having fair knowledge and back- ground for the course. 8: Read well your reading list! Also review notes from Nicholas Pickwoad's class. 9: It was a wonderful experience for anyone interested in the history of bookbinding. TAKE THIS COURSE!

Number of respondents: 9


Leave         Tuition        Housing        Travel

Institution   Institution    Institution    Institution
gave me leave paid tuition   paid housing   paid travel

56%           44%            22%            22%

I took vaca-  I paid tui-    I paid for my  I paid my own
tion time     tion myself    own housing    travel

0%            34%            56%            67%

N/A: self-    N/A: Self-     N/A: stayed    N/A: lived 
employed, re- employed,      with friends   nearby
tired, or had retired, or    or lived at
summers off   exchange       home

44%           22%            22%            11%

Five students (54%) were conservators/binders/conservation librarians, and one student (11% each) had a non-professionally-related interest in the subject, was a rare book librarian, was retired, or did not specify.