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The Collation

Two ways of looking at the same book

title page of the 1518 Latin edition

As I’ve written about before, in my Undergraduate Seminars students devote the bulk of their research time to crafting a biography of the book they’ve chosen as their primary focus. They find out who wrote the book and who printed and published it, they speculate on who the book’s intended audience was and on how the book might have been received, and they trace the afterlife of the book through the owners of their copy and the later editions and translations of their text. In the past students have chosen a wide range of books, sometimes drawn to them because of their author or subject, sometimes drawn to them by their physical characteristics. I’ve had students work on Paradise Lost, on a book of hours, on a traveler’s history of Ceylon. But last fall was the first time I had two students end up choosing the same work: the third edition of the English translation of Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1597.


What a wonderful assignment. Most of my teaching is in the 20th century, and it can be rather difficult to do this kind of thing for in-copyright texts … but I’m going to find a way to steal these ideas!

Alan Jacobs — January 23, 2012

Thanks, Alan–I can hardly think of higher praise than you stealing from this! I’d be curious to hear how something like this goes with modern texts. It seems to be that the problem isn’t copyright but the sheer number of works out there. It’s because there was so comparatively little printed material in the Renaissance that it’s possible for catalogs like ESTC and USTC to track them. But I bet the general idea of tracking a book from makers to intended audience to users could work with nearly anything!

More details about the course, including, soon, assignment descriptions, are at the course website:

Sarah Werner — January 23, 2012