A Practical Introduction to Rare Books, Manuscript Studies and Archival Research

281 :  Interdisciplinary Topics in Literary and Cultural Studies
Fall 2023
Class No: 30840
4226 Dwinelle Hall / Bancroft
Déborah Blocker
1:00 PM - 3:59 PM

This seminar provides a practical introduction to the skills students in the humanities will need to conduct research on original sources for their dissertation work and is taught in the Bancroft Library. The class introduces students to book history and exposes them to a wide variety of rare books, which we practice locating, describing (according to the standards of material bibliography), and analyzing for research purposes. The class also provides an initiation to manuscript studies, offering an overview of the history of scribal culture, as well as an introduction to the study of manuscript materials. Students will acquire foundational skills in codicology (the material analysis of manuscripts), paleography (the deciphering of scripts) and transcription practices. An introduction to archival research is also offered, through secondary readings and a discussion of how archives are collected, classified, and catalogued in repositories. Strategies for locating archives from afar, working within a collection and analyzing archival documents will be developed through practical exercises.

This introduction to rare books, manuscripts and archives will initially be based on materials chosen by the instructor, whether drawn from the Bancroft’s collection or accessible on-line (the specificities of working with virtual documents will also be discussed). But, over the course of the semester, students be encouraged to call in books and manuscripts related to their own research interests, in whatever language or field they intend to work in, and these will be discussed collectively in class, to address materials and periods intersecting with, or corresponding to, the interests of those enrolled. The seminar will be validated via three short practical exercises to be performed on materials directly related to the students’ research plans: 1) a succinct material and contextual analysis of a rare book, 2) the brief transcription of an excerpt of a manuscript document and 3) the drawing up of a precise plan to study archives or a collection of printed documents in a specific repository, and/or on-line.  

This seminar satisfies the REMS requirement for Critical Approaches and Methodology.

It is currently scheduled for Wed. 1-4pm, but the scheduling could be adapted to students’ needs, provided a room can be found in the Bancroft Library.

If you are interested in taking this class, please contact the instructor, Prof. Déborah Blocker, via email as soon as possible (dblocker@berkeley.edu).