What Is in a Book?

In week two, the Ramonat Scholars looked at various books from Loyola’s original college library that had been identified by the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project. To prepare them for these sources, the students were given a seminal essay by Robert Darnton, now University Librarian at the Harvard University Libraries, on “What is the History of Books?” and had a choice of several titles on a reserve shelf in Loyola’s University Archives and Special Collections.


Some of the books from the original St Ignatius College Library. Image from Claire Blankenship’s blog post.

The Scholars’ blog posts reveal the richness of history of the book studies: no two people look at a book in the same way. Each uncovers different elements of the stories these surviving texts have to share:

  • By looking through several books from the original St Ignatius College library, Bianca thought not only about how the content but also the design of these books might be attractive to, and used by, potential readers;
  • Shannon chose books primarily written in languages foreign to her. Doing so forced her to approach the book as a material text and to see the wealth of knowledge that books have to share beyond the words printed on the page. (She even uncovered a surprising connection to Loyola’s founder, Arnold Damen!);
  • A 1676 English translation of Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent captured the attention of Guy and Dan. Both do an excellent job describing the history of the book’s authorship and publication. In addition Guy uncovered a fascinating example of how one reader potentially sought to refute Sarpi by adding his own handwritten text while Dan revealed the means by which this controversial book entered the collection of a Jesuit college library;
  • Incunabula (books printed with movable type before 1501) are among the most valued surviving early books today. Claire looked at the material text of a 1491 Boethius in Special Collections to see what meanings she can extract from it.

It’s a well-worn cliché, but this week’s posts certainly prove that you cannot judge a book by its cover – although that cover might have some really interesting things to tell you about the book!

An inscription inside the front cover of the 1676 copy of Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent. Image from Guy Valponi's blog.

An inscription inside the front cover of the 1676 copy of Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent. Image from Guy Valponi’s blog.


One thought on “What Is in a Book?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s