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  • Paper from a Hebrew book used in the English binding of a French edition
  • Bookseller's price code and manuscript annotations in a 17th-century book
  • Bookseller's inscription guaranteeing the condition of a used book
  • Vellum from a 15th-century edition used to bind a 16th-century book
  • Bookplates and binder's stamp on the 20th-century binding of a 17th-century book
  • Forged Mayflower pilgrim drawings in a 16th-century Bible
  • Acquisition and accession marks with shelfmark flag in a 17th-century book

The Long Lives of Early Printed Books

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Thursday, July 16 – Saturday, July 18, 2020
Rescheduled: Thursday, July 15 – Saturday, July 17, 2021

This three-day intensive seminar was offered by the Harry Ransom Center in partnership with The Bibliographical Society of America and The Bibliographical Society (of the UK)

All of the early printed books that survive today carry with them the years between their original creation and their presence in 21st-century institutions and private collections. They are home to bookplates, stamps, labels, shelfmarks, and manuscript inscriptions. They are in housings, and they travel with laid-in materials: descriptions, receipts, newspaper clippings, and pressed plants. They have also occasioned the creation of entirely new documents: auction and bookseller catalogs, accession paperwork, shelf lists, MARC records, conservation files, and emails. And, of course, many books have seen substantial structural changes. They've been bound with other publications into composite volumes, disbound, rebound, rebacked, and overbacked. Their leaves play host to paper mends, ranging from the slapdash and crude to the virtually undetectable, and they have been washed and pressed. Some of their leaves have been lost, and some have been replaced, either with originals that once belonged with other copies or with facsimiles. Europe's medieval and early modern books have been deemed waste and recycled in the structures of other books, too.

The seminar serves to demonstrate that each book's accretions and subtractions have meaning—even for those most interested in books' earliest years—and it will arm participants with the tools needed for identifying and interpreting them. Drawing on the Ransom Center's rich collection of European books printed between the 1450s and around 1700, The Long Lives of Early Printed Books will offer training in bibliographical forensics and provenance research, emphasizing potential payoffs for humanities researchers.

  • Enrollment and Application Information

    Enrollment: 12
    Tuition: FREE

    With the goal of increasing access to this kind of training, we are offering this seminar free of charge. Admitted participants will, however, be responsible for arranging and paying for their own travel and lodging. See below for information about travel stipends.

    The application to participate in The Long Lives of Early Printed Books is open to anyone whose research requires working with premodern printed books: booksellers, conservators, graduate students, independent researchers, library professionals, and university faculty.

    This seminar assumes some experience working with manuscripts and early printed books. Applicants should be familiar with the basics of early modern letterpress printing, including format and collation.

    The application for participation in the 2020 2021 seminar is now closed. We will notify candidates in early March.

  • BSA Travel Stipends

    The Bibliographical Society of America (BSA) has generously made stipends available to offset travel costs for some participants. Those who wish to be considered for a stipend can indicate this on their application. Because funds are limited, however, we ask that only those who cannot obtain support from their employer/university or self-fund without hardship request one. Those awarded a stipend will also receive a free year of membership in the BSA.

  • Instructor

    Aaron T. Pratt is Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Center. He is also affiliated with UT's Department of English as a member of its Graduate Studies Committee and, before coming to UT, was Assistant Professor of English at Trinity University in San Antonio. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Yale University and earned both a B.A. and M.A. from The Ohio State University.

    Pratt's research focuses on bibliography, book history, and the literature and culture of early modern England. You can find his academic writing in Shakespeare Studies, The Library, the Journal of Visual Culture, and in collections published by Cambridge and Oxford. He is currently completing a monograph tentatively titled, Collecting Playbooks, Making Shakespeare. Among other things, he is also working toward BEME: Bibles of Early Modern England, a new bibliography of early English Bibles in print.

    View Pratt's full curriculum vitae.

  • Ransom Center Collections

    Since 1918, The University of Texas has been collecting early printed books. Today, the Ransom Center cares for tens of thousands of volumes printed in Europe before 1700, and these volumes collectively allow research into the early history of printing and the book trade as well as the later histories of collecting and conservation. Holdings are both broad and deep, but there are particular strengths in late medieval and early modern English literature, imprints from the presses of Aldus Manutius and his successors, the history of science and medicine, and material printed by and for English Catholics.

Aaron T. Pratt

Aaron T. Pratt
Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Curator
of Early Books and Manuscripts