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

Paul Needham Eric White

Course Length: 30 hours
Course Week: 21–26 July 2024
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 and Eric White teach this course.
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
  • Eric White

Paul Needham

Paul Needham became Scheide Librarian at Princeton University in 1998 and retired in 2020. Before coming to Princeton, 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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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 catalogs; and more than 50 scholarly articles. With Paul Needham, retired Scheide Librarian, White is preparing a groundbreaking catalog, based on Princeton’s landmark 2019 exhibition “Gutenberg & After.”

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