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

Paul Needham Will Noel Eric White

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 9–14 July 2023
Format: in person, Princeton University in Princeton, NJ
Fee: $1,395

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 fifteenth-century manuscripts and printed books at Princeton University, 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 some familiarity with principles of bibliographical description, and with the Latin language, in which many of the books are written and printed. In their personal statement, applicants should indicate the extent of their proficiency with descriptive bibliography and with Latin.

Course History

Paul Needham, Will Noel, and Eric White teach this course.
This course is taught at Princeton University.
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.
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Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
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Related Courses


  • Paul Needham
  • Will Noel
  • Eric White

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 courses on early printed books both at the Morgan and at the Huntington.

Courses Formerly Offered

  • Physical Evidence in Early Printed Books (1988–1991); The Use of Physical Evidence in Early Printed Books (1993, 1996–1999)
  • The Study of Incunabula (1983–1984, with Felix de Marez Oyens)
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Will Noel

Will Noel is a curator and librarian who specializes in the study of the medieval and Renaissance European book, and in the application of digital technologies to humanist study. He is the John T. Maltsberger III ’55 Associate University Librarian for Special Collections in Princeton University Library, and Chair of the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. He has led numerous projects to digitize and data-mine the pre-modern manuscripts of the mid-Atlantic region, and has experience in directing complicated, large digital humanities projects such as the imaging, conservation, and transcription of the Archimedes Palimpsest. He likes to create environments in which lots of people, lots of books, and a bit of technology come together to create new things. He doesn’t write much anymore, but he does talk: he teaches for Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, he delivered the Sandars Lectures in Bibliography in 2019, and he often advocates for open data, as he does in this TED talk.

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Eric White

Eric Marshall White, Ph.D., Scheide Librarian and Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, came to Princeton University Library in fall 2015. He served as Princeton’s Curator of Rare Books for five years, building on 18 years of experience as Curator of Special Collections at Southern Methodist University’s Bridwell Library in Dallas. He was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, earned his doctorate in Art History from Boston University, and later received a Master of Library Science degree from the University of North Texas. He is a leader in the study of early European printed books and the material and historical evidence of their use and survival. His publications include Editio princeps: A History of the Gutenberg Bible (2017), which won SHARP’s DeLong Prize as the year’s outstanding book in the field of book history; major exhibition catalogues; and more than 50 scholarly articles. With Paul Needham, retired Scheide Librarian, he is preparing a groundbreaking catalogue based on Princeton’s landmark 2019 exhibition, “Gutenberg & After.”

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