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History of the Book: Bibliography

This guide provides introductory resources to learn about the History of the Book.

What is Bibliography?

"Bibliography" is probably a term you've come across before, used to describe a list of sources. This isn't its only definition, however: bibliography is also the study of books as material objects. A bibliographer examines and describes the physical properties of books, from the material of its binding to the handwritten comments left in its margins by past readers. This discipline is generally considered to be a precursor to the modern study of book history, which incorporates the practices of bibliography with a more interdisciplinary approach. The sources on this page will provide an introduction to the field and help you learn how to analyze the structure and history of a book.

What's in this Guide?

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Videos

This video from Rare Book School (an institution housed at the University of Virginia that offers summer classes in many facets of book history) provides a helpful introduction to understanding the concept of book format. Though it looks specifically at books from the hand-press period (learn more about these in the Printing section), the terms discussed here are used to describe books throughout history. Folio, quarto, octavo, and duodecimo are the formats you're most likely to encounter.

Sources

Book Size Diagram

This diagram shows how paper is folded for folios, quartos, and octavos (watch the video to the left for a demonstration with real objects).

Image of how paper is folded to form folios, quartos, and octavos