The Book in the Ancient World

Maximum: 15 students
Venue: Senate House

The course is an intensive survey of the origins of, and the changes in, textual culture that took place between c. 2500 BC and 400 AD. It will set these changes into their related historical contexts and place considerable emphasis on the material nature of writing and book construction. This will involve extensive use of materials from the Museum of Writing Research Collection (Honorary Consultant: Alan Cole) currently housed in the Senate House Library. In addition to handling and using original artefacts, students will have the opportunity to experiment with writing on clay tablets, on papyrus, and on wax tablets using modern reconstructions under the guidance of Alan Cole who will provide practical sessions during some of the seminars (these are asterisked). The course will end by looking at the ways in which the modern book form (the codex) emerged at the end of the period, and how some of the ancient texts studied in the course survived through the post-classical manuscript periods to the age of printing. 

Key Texts

J. Cerný, Paper and Books in Ancient Egypt (London: H. K. Lewis, 1952).
Leo Deuel, Testaments of Time (London: Secker & Warburg, 1966).
David Diringer, The Book before Printing (New York: Dover Publications, 1982).
Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose (eds), The Blackwell Companion to the History of the Book (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), chapters 5, 6, 7, 9, and 13.
W. A. Johnson, Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004)
Stephen Quirke and Jeffrey Spencer (eds), Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press, 1992)
L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974)
C. H. Roberts and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex (London: OUP, 1983)
Rosalind Thomas, Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens (Cambridge: CUP, 1989)
C. B. F. Walker, Cuneiform (London: British Museum Press, 1987)