By Alana Aamodt ’18
As the way we share knowledge shifts from expansive libraries to instant Internet searches, many of us find ourselves turning to Google before a shelf of books. But the wisdom books have to share isn’t just limited to what their pages contain, as Jessy Randall, special collections archivist, and Steve Lawson, humanities liaison librarian, shared in the History and Future of the Book course. The Half Block class set out to explore how reading, writing, and preserving texts — whether they are clay tablets, sheepskin scrolls, modern-day novels, or online text — intersects with identity, memory, and history.
Randall and Lawson co-taught, taking students deep into the Special Collections of Tutt Library, where books hundreds of years old reside. They also spent time at the CC printing press, learning to set type and hand-press their own books. Truly interactive, Randall says one of her favorite activities from the class was when students were challenged to try and determine the authors, titles, and dates of an “incunable,” a book printed before the year 1501, without seeing the title page and instead using the hints the text itself had to offer.
“Librarians usually only get to see students for short spurts of time, maybe for an hour in a library instruction session or one-on-one to talk about researching a capstone,” Randall shares. “Teaching the Half Block is a good reminder of how engaged and interesting CC students can be. It’s a bit of a cliché to say we learn as much from them as they do from us, but I think that’s true.”
Although the way people interact with information is evolving, this class reassures that books and book-making will continue to hold historical significance and inspire wonder. Students interested in the topics covered in this class have the chance to pursue CC’s thematic minor titled “The Book,” which weaves together art, history, English, film, and religion classes into a minor that explores the past, present, and future of the written word in its material form.
Hi Alana! One small clarification, something your readers probably wouldn’t know: incunabula (books printed before 1501) often _do not have_ title pages. So it wasn’t a contrived exercise for us to ask the students to identify those books without using a title page. The title page didn’t become de rigueur until the 16th century. In the 15th century, information about a book’s author or printer might appear in a colophon in the back of the book, or might not appear at all.
Thanks Jessy, great insight!
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