H-10. The History of the Book, 200–2000

John Buchtel Mark Dimunation

“An extraordinary learning experience in a special environment where you feel the love of the teachers for the books.” — 2017 student

A kaleidoscopic survey, from manuscript to print to hypertext, supported by original materials wherever possible, aimed at those who have had no previous formal exposure to the history of the book and who want a broad, introductory overview of the subject. This course will be organized around major format changes and technological transitions in book production, and their cultural impact. The course will introduce some theoretical issues in the current scholarship on the history of books, printing, authorship, and readership, but its focus will be on developing an understanding of and appreciation for the book as material object.

This course aims to provide an introductory vocabulary and a structure for students who wish to explore the history of books and printing. Topics include: the introduction of the manuscript codex, the growth of literate culture, the invention of movable type and the impact of printing on scholarship, science, and religion, the distribution and marketing of books, the rise of a reading public, the shift from hand- to machine-powered printing, and the move from printed to electronic formats. Classroom instruction will emphasize giving students the opportunity to see and handle a broad range of books, prints, bindings, and printing equipment from the extensive Rare Book School teaching collections.

In their personal statement, applicants should describe the nature of their developing interest in the subject. Please note that this course is aimed at those at the beginning of their formal study of the history of books and printing; applications from those who have already taken other RBS courses will generally be discouraged. (If you have taken other Rare Book School courses but still would like to take this one, please explain your reasons in your personal statement.)

Please note: the tuition for this course is $1,495 owing to the expenses associated with the scheduled full-day (roughly 6 a.m.–8 p.m.) field trip on Wednesday.

Course History

John Buchtel and Mark Dimunation co-teach this course.
Daniel Traister teaches this course.
Eric Holzenberg and Suzy Taraba co-teach a precursor course, "The Codex Book in the West, 500–2000."
Alice Schreyer and Peter VanWingen teach a precursor course, "Introduction to the History of the Book" (1985); "The History of the Book" (1986–1988); "History of the Printed Book" (1989–1994).
This course is cancelled for Summer 2020.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


  • John Buchtel
  • Mark Dimunation

John Buchtel

John Buchtel is Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections at the Boston Athenaeum. He was previously Head of Special Collections at Georgetown University (2008–2018), and Curator of Rare Books, The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University (2004–2007). He served as Curator of Collections at Rare Book School from 2001 to 2003.

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Mark Dimunation

Mark Dimunation has been Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress since 1998. He is a past chair of the Rare Books & Manuscripts Section of the American College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

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