The University of London’s postgraduate degree in the History of the Book was inaugurated in 1995 and each year attracts a range of students from many countries.The University’s location in the centre of London, with its unrivalled resources for all aspects of book history within easy reach, together with the expertise which exists in its many colleges and institutes, makes it an ideal place in which to carry out research of an interdisciplinary nature.
The history of the book is thus a subject that encompasses the history of literate culture as a whole. Its focus includes not only books, but also newspapers, magazines, chapbooks, and ephemera. Because the book did not begin with the invention of printing, the programme will also consider the manuscript book in all its forms from the pre-classical, classical, and medieval periods.
The book is a material object. One way to study it, therefore, is to study its physical attributes. We can ask what form the book took in different periods, and how that form developed over time. Because it is a manufactured object, we can also investigate the processes by which it was made.
By considering conditions of manufacture, we are led not only into discussion of the book as physical object, but also the social, economic, and cultural relations entailed in a book’s production. The book is at the centre of a web of authors, suppliers, producers, distributors, and consumers.
We could investigate a similar network for the production of virtually any other manufactured object, but the book is different from these objects because it also has intellectual content. The book is, therefore, itself an actor in society, although one whose effects are varied, depending on circumstances of production, commerce, tastes, and politico-religious regulations.
Over the past 40 years, the subject has become a study of the interaction of the book and society, looking both at the effects society has had on the book, and at the way in which the book has influenced society.
This programme can also lead to the award of an MRes degree.
The programme aims to:
- Give students a broad understanding of book history from c. 3000 BCE to 2000 CE.
- Introduce students to the range of disciplines that make up the subject, including historical bibliography, palaeography, codicology, history of printing, bibliometrics, history of publishing, history of reading, and library history.
- Provide frequent opportunities to handle archaeological and historical objects relating to the subject.
- Give students the ability and confidence to deal with primary sources for book history (both manuscript and printed).
In addition, the MRes will:
- Provide selected students with a foundation of three appropriately specialized taught courses (60 points in all), which will equip them to undertake a more extensive programme of master’s level research than that offered by the MA.
- Provide the opportunity for able students to write an extended dissertation (30,000 words) on a subject that requires treatment at a much greater length and depth than the usual MA topic.
- Offer students a degree programme that satisfies the needs of those who wish to undertake more extensive research or go on to do an MPhil or PhD.
Structure and assessment
The MA consists of a series of six taught courses (including two core courses) plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.
The MRes consists of a series of three taught courses and a 30,000 word dissertation.
Students may also choose courses from the London Rare Books School programme under the guidance of the Course Director and Course Tutor.
- The Medieval Book
- Printed Text in Britain and Elsewhere, 1450–2010
- Research Methodology
- Digital Publishing and Book Studies
- The Book in the Ancient World
- Hand-Press Printing: A Practical Course
- An Introduction to Bibliography
- The Historical Reader: The Practice and Representation of Reading, 1400–1900
- The Printed Book in the East: China, India and Japan
- Western Book Structures
The MA consists of a series of six taught modules (including two core courses) plus a dissertation of 15,000 words.
The MRes consists of a series of three taught modules and a 30,000 word dissertation.
Each taught module will be examined by one 5000-word essay on a topic to be agreed with the tutor.
The normal minimum entrance requirement would be a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree from a recognised university in the UK, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard (for example a grade-point-average of 3.0 or higher).
Applications from candidates who do not meet the formal academic requirements but who offer alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience, could be considered
Teaching and supervision
Teachers are recognised experts drawn from the Institute, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Lambeth Palace Library, and other institutions, at which some of the teaching takes place.
Mode of Study
One year full time or two years part time. Part-time students normally complete the two required courses and two option courses in the first year, with the third and fourth option courses and the dissertation being taken in the second year. However, it is assumed that some preliminary work on the dissertation will be undertaken during the first year. In order to accommodate part-time study for students on day-release we try to arrange for most courses to be taught on one day in the week (usually Wednesday).
London Rare Books School
The London Rare Books School (LRBS) offers a range of individual, credit-bearing, postgraduate courses in book history and related subjects. The courses are taught intensively in small groups of no more than 12 students.
The courses run over five days and consist of 20 hours of contact time in the form of seminars taught by distinguished international scholars. Although based in the Senate House Library in Bloomsbury, we shall use other institutions such as the British Library, Lambeth Palace Library, the Wellcome Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Taking the courses for credit
Any LRBS student who wishes to take a course for credit can do so by submitting a pass-quality 5,000 word essay within two months of taking the course (an additional fee will be payable). These credits (in the form of CATS or ECTS points) can then be taken away by the student and used at his or her home university or, alternatively, be accumulated within the London system. This will allow a student to build up credits towards a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in the History of the Book.
- The Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian Book
- The Book in the Ancient World
- The Book in Early Modern England
- Children’s Books
- Collections, Collectors, and Collecting
- Communicating with the Public in the Second World War
- European Bookbinding
- The History of Book Illustration
- A History of Maps and Mapping
- An Introduction to Bibliography
- The Material History of the English Novel
- The Medieval Book
- The Modern Rare Book Trade
- Provenance in Books
London book trade internship
Students have the option to substitute one of the modules with an internship at a London bookselling firm. The internships offer a key opportunity for students to experience life in a bookselling firm, to undertake projects for the company (everything from stocktaking to cataloguing to running a book stall at a fair), and to make connections in the book trade. In the past, students have been placed in Maggs Bros., Jarndyce Booksellers, Robert Frew Ltd., and Ash Rare Books.
The MA and the MRes in the History of the Book attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds. The programme gives students a broad understanding and experience of the chronological range of book history from c. 3000 BCE to 2000 CE and introduces students to a range of disciplines that make up the subject, including bibliography, palaeography, codicology, history of printing, bibliometrics, history of publishing, history of reading and library history.
Many of our alumni go on to establish successful careers in related fields, including academic librarianship, museum curatorship, publishing, art, and the print and antiquarian book trade. Some students aim to progress to study at PhD level for a career in academia. Our programmes provide outstanding training in research skills and equip students with the intellectual framework and language proficiency to undertake independent research with confidence and success. Former students have progressed to PhD study at the Institute and elsewhere.
What our students say
I work as a freelance indexer and proof-reader and found out about the MA in the History of the Book from a client. I decided to take the course because I have always been interested in the book as an artefact as well as the history of information transmission.
The course has encouraged me to make more use of electronic resources and I have become more self-reliant in my research techniques. The course covers the history of the book from the time of clay tablets and papyrus scrolls to the present day with electronic documents. It gives an overview of various technological and stylistic changes through the centuries.
As an indexer I am interested in the development of indexing as a profession within the book trade and my master’s project is on the history and development of indexing, covering manuscripts, printed books and the development of professional bodies for indexers.
After I graduate, I intend to return to full time indexing and to expand my business to a full-time venture. As a result of my further study, I could go into several areas of work including information management, indexing, public sector administration and anywhere that requires an enquiring mind and a can-do attitude.
- Janet Reed (UK)