Resources for Book and Media History

Stone-cutter's advertisement. 100 CE
Bilingual advertisement for an inscription-cutter's workshop. 1st century CE. 

For the formal study of ​book history​ in an increasingly digital world we are fortunate to have a selection of educational programs including the ​Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and the newer Rare Books and Special Collections program at the ​Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University, the ​Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship Specialization at the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University Bloomington, the ​California Rare Book School at UCLA, the ​Watts Program for the History of the Book at Brown University, and the ​Committee for the Study of Books and Media at Princeton. At the Corcoran College of Art + Design there is a seminar on "The History of the Western Book" and its online project, the ​Corcoran Book History blog. At the University of Saskatchewan there is an innovative program and website on ​The History and Future of the Book. Other programs include The ​Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the ​Center for Manuscript and Print Studies at the University of London, ​The Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh, the ​Institut d'Histoire du Livre at the Musée de l’Imprimerie de Lyon, France, and the ​Australian and New Zealand Rare Book Summer School​ in Melbourne. The ​Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) has over 1000 members in over 20 countries, including professors of literature, historians, librarians, publishing professionals, sociologists, bibliophiles, classicists, booksellers, art historians, reading instructors, and independent scholars. Its website provides an invaluable collection of links related to book history.

The Reading Experience Database (RED), 1450-1945 contains valuable listings of Selected Works on the History and Practice of Reading, Selected Works on Theories of Reading, and Reading in Wartime. Supporting scholarship on the history of books, printing, and libraries, ​Book History Online, the worldwide database for scholarship on the history of the book, was established in 1997 at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague. Regrettably for independent scholars such as myself, at the end of 2012 this previously free online resource was privatized and became accessible only by ​a rather expensive subscription.​ A more specialized but free online resource is the ​Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. This contains the descriptions of more than 60,000 medieval manuscripts produced before 1600. A relatively new database concerning the oldest surviving codices in Latin is Earlier Latin Manuscripts edited by Mark Stansbury and David Kelly. This project, which is copyright 2015-2020, is a new catalogue of Latin codices and fragments written before 800 based upon E. A. Lowe's Codices Latini Antiquiores (11 vols., 1934-66 and later supplements) For fifteenth century printing there is the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue maintained by the British Library. Currently it lists just under 30,000 items. This and the ​English Short Title Catalogue, also maintained by the British Library, which lists over 460,000 items published in the British Isles and America between 1473 and 1800, represent bibliographical reference works far more widely accessible, more comprehensive, and more easily searched than they could be in printed form.

For the history and traditions of book collecting, and the ongoing process of forming and maintaining and preserving libraries of rare books and manuscripts, there are numerous clubs and societies, of which ​The Grolier Club of New York is the most distinguished in the United States. The ​Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies links the different American and Canadian book collecting clubs. A manuscript collector and dealer’s group is ​The Manuscript Society. Because of long and illustrious historical tradition of physical information there are hundreds, and perhaps thousands of institutional libraries around the world that hold rare books and manuscripts. There are also numerous museums and institutional libraries that hold recorded information prior to the codex, such as stone inscriptions, cuneiform tablets, and papyrus rolls.

In spite of the relative fragility of ​papyrus​, the Egyptian desert provided a comparatively hospitable environment for their preservation. As a result of extensive archaeological research mainly since the 1890s, there are about 45,000 papyri in six institutional libraries and museums in the United States, and numerous papyri preserved in other countries. It has been estimated that there are about ​500,000 unpublished papyri. Bagnall, ​Early Christian Books in Egypt​ (2009), 17 cites a figure "in the range of 1 million to 1.5 million" for the "total of known numbers of papyri in all collections." Of course, many papyri are fragmentary.​ The Tebtunis Papyri, a collection of more than 30,000 papyrus fragments preserved at ​The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley, represent the largest collection of papyrus texts in the Americas. Twenty-one institutions cooperate in development of the ​Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS), a collections-based repository hosting information about and images of papyrological materials, such as papryi, ​ostraca , and ​wood tablets​, located in collections around the world.

Roman Inscriptions of Britain "hosts multiple corpora of Roman inscriptions from Britain. Included are:

  • Volume I of The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, R.G. Collingwood’s and R.P. Wright’s edition of 2,401 monumental inscriptions from Britain found prior to 1955. It also incorporates all Addenda and Corrigenda published in the 1995 reprint of RIB (edited by R.S.O. Tomlin) and the annual survey of inscriptions published in Britannia since.
  • Volume III of The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, edited by R.S.O. Tomlin, R.P. Wright, and M.W.C. Hassall, containing 550 monumental inscriptions from Britain found between 1995 and 2006, also incorporating the Addenda and Corrigenda from Britannia.
  • Volumes II and III of The Vindolanda Writing Tablets: Tabulae Vindolandenses, edited by A.K. Bowman and J.D. Thomas.
  • Volumes IV of The Vindolanda Writing Tablets: Tabulae Vindolandenses, edited by A.K. Bowman, J.D. Thomas, and R.S.O. Tomlin.
  • The Bloomberg Tablets, derived from Roman London’s first voices: Writing tablets from the Bloomberg excavations, 2010-14, edited by R.S.O. Tomlin.

For the history of ​paper and book production in the Muslim world the ​al-Ghazali website, maintained by Muhammad Hozien, contains valuable references and PDF downloads, ​sources for Arabic paleography, and a listing of i​mportant catalogues of Arabic/Islamic Manuscripts.