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O’Neill Library Reading Room Exhibits

Remaking History with Authentic Tools: A Hands-on Course in Early Printed Books

November 24, 2015 - January 15, 2016

Remaking History with Authentic Tools exhibit poster

The students of Professor Virginia Reinburg’s “Early Printed Books” class have a display of their handiwork in the O’Neill Library.

One thing that set the course apart from many of the other offerings of the BC history department was that it required the use of the students’ hands. They studied the material aspects of books alongside their content, and, under the guidance of the Burns Library’s conservator Barbara Adams Hebard, designed and constructed several books themselves. The chance to use the sort of tools printers and bookbinders have used in their workshops for hundreds of years brought the students into the material past in a way no written words ever could have done.
The sheets of vellum and paste paper they cut, folded, and sewed to make covers for their books were especially evocative to work with: these materials are ubiquitous in the Burns Library’s holdings from the 16th through the 18th centuries.

Using a cloth that shares many properties with velvet, they sewed chemises for copies of the Boston College publication "What are we?" in imitation of the "girdle books" of prayers that wealthy, pious men and women of the late medieval period sometimes wore at their sides. These are on display, too.

The students also had the opportunity to do tooling on leather plaquettes with heated brass stamps. This is a technique that many bookbinders have employed to print titles and decorations on books with covers are made from leather.

Enjoy the exhibit! The real treat was the process of building these books, but the curators hope you can learn something from looking at the end results.

Victor Castañeda ’16
Peter Haskin ’16
Chase Robinett ’17

Sponsored by the Boston College University Libraries and the Boston College History Department

Special thanks to the Center of Ignatian Spirituality for providing copies of “What are we?” for the students.


About the O’Neill Library Reading Room

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