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RBS General Course Offerings

The Gants/Noble course, Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography (G-10), sets forth in some detail the vocabulary used in the physical description of books, and it is typically taken by students fairly early in their RBS careers. Richard Noble's Advanced Descriptive Bibliography (G-50) is aimed at those who have already had considerable experience in handling books, and who wish further supervised training in physical description: before taking the Noble course, students should ideally have taken the second and third courses in the three-part history sequence (H-30 and H-40) or their equivalent, and had some exposure to the topics covered in Sue Allen's Publishers' Bookbindings, 1830-1910 (B-90), Terry Belanger's Book Illustration Processes to 1890 (I-20), and James Mosley's Type, Lettering, and Calligraphy, 1450-1830 (T-50).

G-10. Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography
David Gants and Richard Noble

An introduction to the physical examination and description of printed books, especially of the period 1550-1875. Designed both for those with little previous formal exposure to this subject and for those with some general knowledge of the field who wish to be presented with a systematic discussion of the elements of physical description. A major part of the course will consist of small, closely supervised laboratory sessions in which students will practice the determination of format and collation and the writing of standard descriptions of signings and pagination. In daily museum sessions, students will have the opportunity to see a wide variety of printed books and other materials drawn from the extensive Rare Book School laboratory collections.

This course is intended for persons who want to develop a better understanding of the physical description of books, particularly those books produced before about 1850. Each class day is divided into four parts: lecture, homework, lab, and museum. Daily lectures concentrate on methods of determining format and collation, and of describing type, paper, illustrations, binding, and the circumstances of publication. Students prepare for daily laboratory sessions in which they work, under close supervision, with progressively more difficult examples of various formats and collations. During the daily museum periods, students have extensive hands-on access to the celebrated Rare Book School realia collections: tools and equipment, samples and examples, self-teaching packages, and the like.

David Gants and Richard Noble co-teach this course for the first time in 2006.

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G-50. Advanced Descriptive Bibliography
Richard Noble

A continuation and extension of Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography (G-10), this course is based on the intensive examination of a representative range of books from the c16-c19. The goal of the course is to deepen students' familiarity with the physical composition of books; to gain further experience in the use of Fredson Bowers' Principles of Bibliographical Description; and to consider critically some of the uses of Bowers' method (and its limitations) in the production of catalogs, bibliographies, critical editions, and histories of books and reading.

The method of this course is essentially the same as that of G-10, Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography: the close examination of books printed from ca. 1600-ca. 1875, i.e. the second century of the hand-press period through roughly the first half century of the machine-press period. The course picks up where the introductory course leaves off: it is designed to extend and deepen students' practical grasp of the formulary developed in Bowers' Principles of Bibliographical Description as the distillation of a method for analyzing and describing -- for seeing -- the physical book. The course will also cover the analysis and description of such elements as typography, paper, contents, plates, binding, &c., that can only be dealt with briefly in an introductory course. Its basic purpose is thus a systematic presentation of the elements of a full-dress bibliographical description.
Lectures and discussion will also address such matters as the tailoring of description to various purposes, economizing bibliographical effort by way of the degressive principle, judging the integrity of the artifact, uses and abuses -- all grounded on the principle that the more books you see, the better you know each book. The course will make considerable use of the Rare Book School laboratory collections, with special emphasis on its collection of bibliographies and accompanying examples. It is expected that the course will be useful to (interalia) scholars engaged in the production of a descriptive bibliography or similar project, collectors and dealers who routinely read or write sophisticated catalogs, and librarians whose duties require the ability to interpret and/or create complex bibliographical descriptions.
In their personal statement, applicants should describe any relevant vocational or avocational work or projects. The instructor will endeavor to adapt course materials and discussion to particular topics and periods, as well as professional interests, indicated by students in their applications. This course is restricted to students who have had some formal course work in descriptive bibliography. All applicants -- especially those who have not taken the RBS Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography -- should explain in some detail their previous training and experience in the field.

Richard Noble has taught this RBS course several times since 1999.

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