Reading the Material Book: London Rare Books School at Cambridge University Library​

Monday 1 - Tuesday 2 April 2019, Cambridge University Library

Register here

Cost: £180 Standard | £140 Student, including lunch and refreshments

Date and time: 10:00-17:00, Monday 1 - Tuesday 2 April 2019,

Location: Cambridge University Library, West Rd, Cambridge CB3 9DR

Contact: Katy Thompson, (020 7862 8683) 

Researchers of all kinds are increasingly aware of the importance of assessing all the evidence manifested in a book to understand its use and history – inscriptions, annotations, bindings – as these things show us how it was read and valued.  In order to do that, a basic set of skills is needed, to read inscriptions, to unpick a heraldic bookplate, to know what a binding can tell us.  This brief course, aimed at postgraduates, custodians, collectors or anyone else who regularly handles pre-19th century books, will use the outstanding collections of Cambridge University Library to help to develop that toolkit.

Day 1 - Monday, 1 April 2019

10.00 Introduction: purpose and structure

10.15 Palaeography: inscriptions found in books

11.15 Coffee

11.30 Palaeography exercises and examples

12.30 Lunch

13.30 Heraldry for book historians

14.45 Tea

15.00 Heraldry exercises and examples

16.30 Finish

Day 2 - Tuesday, 2 April 2019

10.00 Historic bookbindings: key principles, the questions to ask

11.15 Coffee

11.30 What bindings are made of: telling the sheep from the goat

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Dating and localising bindings I

15.30 Tea

15.45 Dating and localising bindings II

17.00 Finish


The course will be delivered in a seminar room in Cambridge University Library. Training materials will be included. Attendees will need to make their own travel and accommodation arrangements.

The course tutor will be David Pearson, who has retired from a long professional career in libraries and archives in February 2017 and is now concentrating on work as a book historian. He has published extensively on aspects of provenance, private libraries and bookbinding and his projects currently in hand include a directory of book ownership in 17th-century England. He teaches regularly on the Rare Book Schools in London and Charlottesville. He is a Past President of the Bibliographical Society and was appointed Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford for 2017-18.