MA History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Papyrus to Print: The History of the Book

Course unit fact file
Unit code SALC72110
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? No


This module aims to examine the history of the object we now know as the book, in the medieval west between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginning of modernity. Starting with the scroll, we move on to the early history of the codex and examine manuscript books. Without following a strictly chronological line, we move on to the printed book. At all points we examine the implications of the material of which the book is made for the form and content of the written matter. The module is taught in the surrounds of the John Rylands library (subject to UK Government guidance) with hands-on sessions using original materials.



The unit aims to:

- Permit students to acquire a broad knowledge of the history of the book;

- Query the methodologies traditionally associated with specific disciplines of study;

- Deepen students' knowledge of the key thematic issues in the history of the book in the crucial formative phase of the medieval and early modern periods;

- Problematise questions of periodisation, continuity, and transformation in the pre-modern world.

Knowledge and understanding

- Demonstrate a critical understanding of past and current scholarly debates relevant to the period;

- Engage critically with the themes discussed, and the sources and scholarship relevant to case studies used;

- Understand interpretative problems specific to particular issues, genres of evidence, and sources;

- Articulate comparative assessments of methodologies in book history;

Intellectual skills

- Conceptualise an intellectual framework for the study of specific aspects of book history in the medieval and early-modern periods;

- Evaluate existing scholarship critically, and build upon it.

Practical skills

- Develop writing techniques, appropriate to the assessment;

- Synthesise large volumes of factual and theoretical perspectives in a critical manner;

- Retrieve and use relevant primary and secondary sources in a critical fashion;

- Identify appropriate source material, and compile specialist bibliographies.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Develop oral presentation skills through participation in class discussions;

- Manage time through preparation of assignments;

- Use ICT resources for programme support;

- Write fluent prose 

Employability skills

Students will develop skills in oral communication through class participation, in written communication, through the submission of the course assignments, and in time-management skills through effective completion of the formative, and summative coursework required. As the course encourages students to interrogate disciplinary divides and conceptualise methodologies, it will serve to hone critical thinking skills. All these skills can be applied in the context of future employment.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Students will receive formative feedback on an essay outline submitted in advance of the principal assignment. Written feedback on submitted assessed work shall be delivered within the time-frame recommended by SALC.


Recommended reading

Below is an indicative guide to works on manuscripts and printed books. A fuller bibliography will be provided in a course handbook.


The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination, 1450-1550, ed. Jonathan J. G. Alexander (Munich, 1994)

           Mark Bland, A Guide to Early Printed Books and Manuscripts (Chichester, 2010)

David Carlson, English Humanist Books: Writers and Patrons, Manuscript and Print, 1475-1525 (Toronto, 1993)

Incunabula: Studies in Fifteenth-Century Books presented to Lotte Hellinga, ed. Martin Davies (London, 1999)


           Lotte Hellinga, Caxton in Focus: the beginning of printing in England (London, 1982)


Translation and the Transmission of Culture Between 1300 and 1600, ed. Jeanette Beer and Kenneth Lloyd-Jones (Kalamazoo MI, 1995)


The Culture of Print: Power and the Uses of Print in Early Modern Europe, ed. Alain Boureau and Roger Chartier, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Oxford and Cambridge, 1989)


J.J.G. Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work (New Haven CT and London, 1992)


Bernard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, trans. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and David Ganz (Cambridge and New York, 1992)

           Leonard E. Boyle, Medieval Latin Palaeography: A Bibliographical Introduction (Toronto, 1984)

           Michelle P. Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms (London, 1994)


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 133.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Fred Schurink Unit coordinator

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