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Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

B-40. Medieval & Early Renaissance Bookbinding Structures

Christopher Clarkson

An explanation of the diversities of European bookbinding structures, up to and including the early period of more generalized practice and division of labor. Topics: identification (where possible) of the main types of binding structures; their dating and provenance; the recognition and recording of materials and techniques.

This course is aimed at librarians, archivists, and art historians specializing in early books and manuscripts, and others who handle such material. The course will emphasize studies of the physical book and binding craft techniques of the period. It will proceed by means of lecture and discussion, and employ a considerable number of slides, diagrams, and samples. The structurally diverse products of the period will be explored by general descriptions and the use of certain carefully chosen case studies. The instructor will present for discussion his own methods concerning the interpretation and recording of such binding structures. In the face of the extensive losses now occurring to primary source material, problems of preservation and record photography will be mentioned. There will be a full-day field trip to a collection with major holdings in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and bindings.

In their personal statement, applicants should indicate their background, special interests and expectations from the course. The course presupposes a general knowledge of European history, but not of binding history. Please note that this course is not designed for practicing bookbinders (as such).

Course Resources

Course History


Christopher Clarkson has taught this course at RBS many times since 1984.