Cadaver Book Descriptive Bibliography (15%, due by Monday of Exam Week)

        Specific instructions for how to describe a book's structure will be given at various points in the semester.  Think of this descriptive bibliography assignment as something everyone should be working on incrementally, in class meetings or when you visit Special Collections outside of class.  Depending on which books students choose, they may be dealing with a hand-press printed book with manuscript marginalia and other copy-specific information, or they may be dealing with a manuscript book, entirely hand-written.

        If students are working with hand-press printed books, the most pertinent "how-to" assignments will be classes in late September and early October.  Use the basic descriptive bibliography assignment for the cadaver book to prepare a rough draft of the more complet desbib and that will give me a chance to je;[ improve it.  Remember that handmade books are complex objects, and researchers usually discover their secrets layer by layer, day by day.  Be patient and careful, and take good notes (in pencil in notebooks--never in the cadaver book, itself!).  Work with the aid of the book's ESTC or WorldCat description of the edition's normal structure, but do not merely copy and paste it without collating the actual book against that ideal copy description.  WorldCat entries, in particular, are rife with copy-specific errors because once  one libary's "desbib" of its copy was in the WorldCat system, other libraries' catalogers tended to copy that one.  Pay careful attention to the copy-specific evidence of bookss history as an artifact of human culture.  Look up owners who have inscribed the book, and identify places where the book was made, sold, and has lived.  Remember what those "CSI" cop shows have taught you.  Books, like murder victims or weapons, bear countless gross and subtle marks of their making and use.  Pay attention, use the tools of our trade, and especially use well-washed hands, eyes and nose and ears, and mind.  Those are our unique and most sensitive tools.

        If students are working with manuscript books, many of the printed book desbib instructions will also be useful for describing the physical structure of the book (its leaf gatherings and sewing, binding, paper or parchment, etc.), and its copy-specific evidence.  In addition, students may need to describe parchment and manuscript hands, which we will be discussing in late October and early November.  Remember that most large early books were made by more than one scribe, so look for tell-tale variations in letter forms which might distinguish, for example, an older scribe's more conservative, rounded and condensed Gothic textura quadrata script from a younger, more "trendy" scribe's Gothic bastarda with its towering, beflagged ascenders and dagger-like descenders.

        Expect to run into puzzles we cannot easily explain.  This is designed to be a genuine challenge, and some of our questions may be, temporarily or permanently, unanswerable.  Report the truth.  Do not claim to know more than we can know, but do not ignore relevant evidence.  Remember that my job is to teach students what they do not yet know, at least when I can, and the best way to make that happen is to ask me for help.  But be prepared.  I also may have to say "I don't know," at least for the moment.  There is much about early books that remains deeply mysterious to the inquiring mind.  I hope students will think that is one of the joys of our study.