English 297.401--The History of Books and Printing:

Manuscript and Handpress

Fall 1996

Instructor: Daniel Traister
Office: Special Collections, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

Phone: 215 898 7088 / Fax: 215 573 9079
The instructor's e-mail address is traister@pobox.upenn.edu.
The instructor's home page has the following URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~traister/.
Click here to send an e-mail message to the class, which is at this address: traister297@english.upenn.edu.
Click here for various history of books and printing-related links.



This course looks at some of the questions that arise as a result of the transition in the West from handwritten books to books made by a new technology: printing from movable type. It covers a time period running roughly from the fifteenth through the end of the eighteenth centuries. How were books actually made during these centuries? What technological changes affected their production? How were they distributed? Who were their audiences? Did these audiences change during the period in question? What were their expectations with respect to books?--with respect, that is, to the texts they contained, of course, but also to their form, their appearance, and their illustrations (if any)? What kinds of books and other printed materials were produced? How were they used?

The transition from manuscripts to printed books that began in the West towards the middle of the fifteenth century may be found to have been, in some ways, not entirely dissimilar to the transition from printed books to . . . to what? . . . that we are currently experiencing. This transition, both historically interesting in its own right and an important factor changing the ways in which early modern literature was produced and consumed, may also present us with some unexpected perspectives on the transitions that print and literary cultures are currently undergoing.

This class will have the advantages of being able to work with many "live" examples of manuscripts and printed books from Van Pelt Library's Department of Special Collections. Students will be expected to learn the basic taxonomy of the book, that is, to be able to name and identify its parts. They should also develop some abilities to see what these physical objects--books--tell us about their creators' varied intentions and anticipated audiences just by virtue of what we see when we look at them attentively, quite apart from what we learn by reading them. Books, that is, are "primary sources" from several points of view, and students should finish the semester more aware than when they began it of how many different kinds of things books tell us than what their texts alone tell us.

Students should be at least generally familiar with European history at the end of the middle ages and during the early modern period, and be prepared for readings that are historical as well as literary. In addition to histories, however, several literary works will be read, both for evidence that may help us to answer questions such as those posed above or for the impetus they will provide towards additional questions. Works come from both English and other European literary traditions.

The course will require students' class participation. The instructor will assign three papers, two of them short (3-5 pages) and one long (about 10 pages) final paper. There will be no final exam, but there may be unannounced quizzes.

Please notice that this course requires substantial reading.

Course mechanics

This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 P.M. to 4:30 P.M.

  1. Tuesday classes--and ONLY TUESDAY CLASSES--will meet in Bennett Hall 224.

  2. Thursday classes--and ONLY THURSDAY CLASSES--will meet in the Edgar Fahs Smith Library, located on the 6th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.
We may occasionally reschedule or relocate in order to accommodate the showing of movies or tapes or for visits to off-campus printing or papermaking sites, if visits can be arranged and student schedules permit the majority of the class to attend such sessions.

The instructor's office is in the Department of Special Collections, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. You can reach him by telephone (215 898 7088) or in person at that location. He is normally in the office between 9 and 5 weekdays but, because his schedule and location vary, please telephone before you show up.

Repetition: you can also communicate by e-mail directly to the instructor or indirectly to the class list.

Your long (about 10 pages) final essay should consider not only works read for class but also some materials not read for class, and should include work with some sort of primary materials. CHOOSE A TOPIC AND WRITE THIS PAPER ONLY AFTER DISCUSSING IT WITH THE INSTRUCTOR. Follow MLA or Chicago format rules in preparing these essays.

Death (preferably yours) is the acceptable excuse for lateness.

In general, the instructor appreciates either good writing or a reasonable simulacrum of it. He looks with extreme disfavor upon poorly-written essays. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking. USE THE WRITING CENTER IF THIS IS AN AREA IN WHICH YOU KNOW--OR LEARN--THAT YOU NEED HELP. Click here for information about the writing center. See also the instructor's composition links.

This class will work largely through discussion. Since your attendance and participation will make a difference in its success, both will make a difference in your grade. In short, speak--and speak up. Basic ground rules: talk; interrupt; open your mouths. Be polite. Do not let politeness prevent you from making your points.

The instructor labors under several delusions. Of these, the most important to him is that the reading he has so blithely assigned will prove to be fun for you. If, to the contrary, it proves burdensome, don't let it rain all over you: open your mouth. Come see him. Tell him why. His inquiring mind wants to know.

Course books

Required texts are available at the Penn Book Center, 3726 Walnut Street. Any BULKPACK items will be distributed in class.

  1. John Carter, An ABC for Book Collectors, 7th ed., rev. Nicolas Barker (Oak Knoll)
    Note that Carter's ABC is only a recommended text. The instructor wants to recommend it to you VERY WARMLY, however. If you are (as he hopes you are!) going to learn the taxonomy and vocabulary of the book, this book is the place to start. Written in dictionary form, the ABC is, unlike most dictionaries, actually readable. It is even occasionally witty. Those with energy and sufficient interest would be well advised to commit it to memory.

  2. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge)

  3. Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, trans. Clarence H. Miller (Yale)

  4. Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oak Knoll)
    Oak Knoll publishes both Carter's ABC (strongly recommended) and Gaskell's New Introduction (required). Originally a bookselling firm with a specialty in the history of books and printing, Oak Knoll has entered publishing, as it were, from the rear. They do not yet supply their books on quite the same terms as other textbook publishers do. Thus the Penn Book Center may have inadequate numbers of copies of both Carter and Gaskell--unfortunately two basic historical and taxonomic texts for this class. Happily, Oak Knoll is located in nearby New Castle, DE (404 Delaware Street, 19720; phone 302 328 7232 or 7233; fax 302 328 7274; e-mail oakknoll@ssnet.com), should you be a student who needs a copy of either or both books at the exact moment it is temporarily unavailable in the bookstore. See also the instructor's book sources links.

  5. Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (Methuen)

  6. François Rabelais, The History of Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. J. M. Cohen (Penguin)

  7. William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, ed. Marvin Spevack (Cambridge)

  8. Three Elizabethan Pamphlets, ed. George R. Hibbard (Books for Libraries)
    The instructor regrets that this book is priced for libraries as well as published for them.

  9. Berthold Louis Ullman, Ancient Writing and Its Influence (Toronto)

Other resources

The instructor provides many links to various resources in the history of books and printing.


Week 1 (September 5)--Introduction.
Assignment: For next class, (1) read Carter's ABC and then read it again--and, if necessary, a third, fifth, and eighth time; if you can memorize it, do.

Then (2) begin Eisenstein and read as much as you can.

Week 2 (September 10 and 12)--Manuscripts
Assignment: (1) The instructor will distribute some bulkpack materials from Christopher de Hamel.

(2) Look at relevant articles, too, in your online Encyclopedia Britannica and in sources such as the International Encyclopedia of Communications.

(3) Keep going with Eisenstein.

(4) Read Carter's ABC again.

Week 3 (September 17 and 19)--Manuscripts
Assignment: (1) Read as much of Ullman as you can. (Why should anyone care about handwriting?)

(2) Finish Eisenstein, if you haven't done so already. Can you define the different impacts of printed books that she argues represent improvements over manuscripts? Are you convinced?

(3) Are you beginning to feel comfy with Carter? If not, you might want to read him yet again.

In class this week, we will look at a Wycliffite New Testament (in manuscript) and several additional early English Bible texts, seeking what we can say about the impact of print on the appearance and significance of this text (Matthew).

Week 4 (September 24 and 26)--Manuscripts and printed books
Assignment: (1) Read Ong.

(2) Read Erasmus.

Paper topic: Due at Thursday's class is a short (3-5 pp.) paper describing any codex manuscript or printed book dated before 1600. Provide the book's classmark so that the instructor can find it!

Week 5 (October 1 and 3)--Manuscripts and printed books, continued.

Assignment: Finish (1) Ong

and (2) Erasmus.

Week 6 (October 8 and 10)--Printed books
Assignment: Begin Gaskell. (You are responsible, in this class, only for those portions of Gaskell that deal with the handpress period and with elementary bibliographical description ["Bibliographical Applications"; also read the appendices].)

Thursday's class will offer a chance to catch for us to catch our breath, review, ask questions, see where the course seems to be going, and change direction (if necessary).
Week 8 (October 22 and 24)--Rosenbach Lectures: Ivan Illich
In addition to class meetings this week, students are expected to attend Ivan Illich's Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography. These will be held at 5:30 P.M. in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Gallery on the 6th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library on three successive nights, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Week 9 (October 29 and 31)--Rabelais
Assignment: (1) Books 1 and 2 (through p. 278).

(2) Due Tuesday: Take a book and write its bibliographical description for submission (with its classmark) to the instructor. If you find Gaskell insufficiently instructive for this assignment, you might want to look at chapter 5 of Fredson Bowers, Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949 and several subsequent reprintings).

Week 10 (November 5 and 7)--Rabelais, continued
Assignment: Finish books 1 and 2.
Week 11 (November 12 and 14)--Three Elizabethan Pamphlets
Assignment: read the first two of Hibbard's three pamphlets.
Week 12 (November 19 and 21)--Pamphlets, continued
Assignment: (1) Read the third of Hibbard's three pamphlets.

(2) For Thursday: a short (3-5 pp.) paper taking any one of Hibbard's pamphlets and looking at what the text you choose tells us about its intended audience--and how it tells us this. Can you find any traces of an "oral" as opposed to a "literate" compositional technique? What other noteworthy characteristics of its physical appearance (before Hibbard reprinted it, of course!) can you determine (and how did you do this, if you did)? You might want not only to recall Ong's book but also to look at his "Oral Residue in Tudor Prose Style," PMLA, 80 (1965), 145-154.

Thursday's class will combine normal class activities with a pre-Thanksgiving pilgrim feast of pizza and associateds; we should expect to meet--clumsily and messily--at a nearby pizzeria.

Week 13 (November 26)--THANKSGIVING / NO CLASS

Week 14 (December 3 and 5)--Last class

Assignment: Read Julius Caesar.
Week 14 (December 10)--Optional class
This is a truly optional class. It is intended to continue our conversations, to tie up loose ends, or to do anything else that people think appropriate. Attendance at this class is not required; it has no set topic. The instructor will be here. You need join him only if you want to.

Final papers are due in the instructor's office on Thursday, December 19, by 4:45 P.M.

Sample Paper Topics

These topics are intended to be indicative and suggestive only: they are NOT prescriptive! You will notice that some of them cannot (in a literal sense) be answered, not in a term paper, not in a dissertation, not in a lifetime. For example, questions about the authorship of Shakespeare are not likely to be answered in this kind of format. The instructor thinks such questions might be fun--and instructive--to play with anyway.

(1) Bibliographical/book history topics:

(2) Authorship and its construction:

(3) The social world of the book:

(4) Regulation of the press:

(5) the triumph of print:

Reserve Books

The instructor has placed a small number of books on reserve (Rosengarten Reserve Room, ground floor, Van Pelt Library). These books represent the field; by no means do they exhaust it.

  1. Fredson Bowers, Principles of Bibliographical Description (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949) [and later reprints]

  2. Richard Burt, Licensed by Authority: Ben Jonson and the Discourses of Censorship (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993); see also Richard Newton's essay on Ben Jonson in Print and Culture in the Rennaissance: Essays on the Advent of Printing in Europe, ed. Gerald P. Tyson and Sylvia S. Wagonheim (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1986)

  3. John Carter, An ABC for Book Collectors, 7th ed., rev. Nicolas Barker (Newark, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1995)

  4. Roger Chartier, The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)

  5. David Cressy, Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)

  6. Robert Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie 1775-180 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uniersity Press, 1979) [Darnton has written much else that is worth your attention]

  7. Cathy N. Davidson, Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

  8. Martin Elsky, Authorizing Words: Speech, Writing, and Print in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989)

  9. Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (1972; corr. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974) [and later reprints]

  10. Jack Goody, The Logic of Writing and the Organzation of Society, Studies in Literacy, Family, Culture and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986)

  11. Anthony Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders (Cambridge: University Press, 1989)

  12. Lisa Jardine, Erasmus, Man of Letters: The Construction of Charisma in Print (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993)

  13. Alvin B. Kernan, Printing Technology, Letters, and Samuel Johnson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)

  14. Harold Love, Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993)

  15. Martin Lowry, The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979)

  16. Judith A. McGaw, Most Wonderful Machine: Mechanization and Social Change in Berkshire Paper Making, 1801-1885 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)

  17. Arthur Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaisance Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995)

  18. Françoise Meltzer, Hot Property: The Stakes and Claims of Literary Originality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

  19. Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993)

  20. Evelyn B. Tribble, Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in Early Modern England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993)

  21. Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993)

  22. Edwin Wolf II, The Book Culture of a Colonial American City: Philadelphia Books, Bookmen, and Booksellers, Lyell Lectures in Bibliography, 1985-6 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988)

You can send Traister e-mail concerning this page at traister@pobox.upenn.edu.

Return to Daniel Traister's Home Page.