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History of the Book

The History of the Book Lecture series, established in 1993 through the efforts of Richard and Mary Rouse, provides an annual venue for internationally recognized authorities on medieval and Renaissance books to present their expertise at UCLA. The lecture's focus alternates each year between medieval manuscripts and Renaissance books. Among the topics explored in past lectures were: book and manuscript illustration, the development of printing, early book printers and sellers, the book trade, and medieval and Renaissance book and manuscript collections.

The History of the Book Lecture is funded entirely through the generosity of donors. Contributions in support of this program are greatly appreciated.

    Previous speakers include:
  • Sylvie Merian (Reader Services Librarian, Morgan Library and Museum)
    “Protection Against the Evil Eye? Votive Offerings on Armenian Manuscript Bindings”
    An unusual type of metal decoration is found on a number of Armenian manuscript bindings. These bindings were embellished with odd objects haphazardly attached onto the covers, and sometimes even onto the spine and flap. The items may include coins, crosses, crucifixes, seal stones from personal signet rings, metal belts, jewelry, and small metal repoussé objects shaped like hands, eyes, crescent moons, or human faces. Some of these objects were clearly donated by the faithful as memorials to themselves and their families to express their Christian piety. Others surely functioned as ex-votos. However, this does not fully explain their entire purpose. In view of the ubiquitous belief in evil forces, the evil eye, and malevolent spirits in the Near East, Dr. Merian discussed the use of these objects as apotropaic devices to avert evil, thereby protecting not only the donor but also the religious manuscript itself.This was the twenty-third History of the Book Lecture; presented on April 29, 2014.
  • Robert Somerville (Ada Byron Bampton Tremaine Professor of Religion at Columbia University)
    “Papal Councils, Papal Records, and the First Crusade: the Council of Benevento in 1113”
    The records of papal councils of the late eleventh and the early twelfth centuries survive haphazardly. Yet these assemblies are pivotal for the history of the Church in the High Middle Ages, and Pope Paschal II’s council held at Benevento in February, 1113, offers a compelling example of an important synod whose traces have nearly perished due to vagaries of its documentation. This was the twenty-second History of the Book Lecture; presented on April 17, 2013.
  • Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (English, University of Notre Dame)
    “The Clerical Proletariat and Manuscript Production in Late Medieval England”
    In recent years manuscript production in Middle English has increasingly focussed on scribes working out of the Guildhall Library in London c. 1400. Other evidence suggests, however, that those who worked in government and legal offices of Westminster and of the City also participated heavily in the nascent culture of the rise of English, both as scribes and as authors. These offices were especially filled with members of the “clerical proletariat,” a group of under-employed clerks (in both senses of the word), often with activist views about religion and politics. This was the twenty-first History of the Book Lecture; presented on May 1, 2012.
  • John Van Engen (History, University of Notre Dame)
    “Scribes at Home: Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life and their In-house Books”
    From the 1390s and throughout the fifteenth century the Brothers of the Common Life, an innovative communal-style religious movement in the Low Countries, earned their keep as professional book-producers. Professor Van Engen surveyed recent work on this subject and the importance of the movement for our understanding of late medieval book production. He will focused on the books these Brothers and Sisters produced for themselves, what they needed to sustain their own communal houses, and their self-made style of religion. This was the twentieth History of the Book Lecture; presented on March 7, 2011.
  • Elizabeth Morrison (Curator, Department of Manuscripts, J. Paul Getty Museum)
    “Searching for the Origins of Secular Imagery in Thirteenth-Century France”
    The mid-thirteenth century in northern France saw an explosion in the production of books in the vernacular. Most art historians have seen the illumination of romances and histories of the period as a rather thoughtless adaptation of sacred painting models. Dr. Morrison explored how artists adapted and ultimately broke away from their religiously inspired beginnings in order to create new formats and compositions more suited to their needs and the needs of a new breed of manuscript, the illuminated secular book. This was the nineteenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on January 29, 2010.
  • William Noel (Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum, and Director of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project)
    "Archimedes in Bits: The Digital Presentation of a Write-Off"
    After ten years of conservation, imaging, and research, the project to retrieve the erased texts from a thirteenth-century Byzantine palimpsest -the unique source for three treatises by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes-is nearing completion. The results have been extraordinary, changing scholarly perception of Archimedes' contribution to the western tradition of mathematical thought, and revealing entirely new texts from the ancient world. This was the eighteenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on October 17, 2008.
  • James Carley (Professor of English, York University, Toronto )
    “ ‘A notable and famous librarie in the Archbishop of Canterburies house’: John Whitgift, Richard Bancroft, and the Foundation of Lambeth Palace Library”
    Much has been written about the collection bequeathed to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge by Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1575), and the library set up in Oxford by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602, but the equally impressive library established at Lambeth Palace by Richard Bancroft, archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1610) has not received the same attention. By the terms of his will, Bancroft bequeathed his collection—more than 470 manuscripts and almost 5,600 printed books—‘unto my successors and to the Arch-Bishops of Canterbury successively for ever’ and he made very strict conditions for its preservation. Under his successor George Abbot a catalogue was ‘accurately and exquisitely’ produced, King James himself being directly involved. In spite of various vicissitudes, including a direct hit to the Palace in the second World War, the collection remains virtually intact, many of the books in their original bindings. In this talk, Professor Carley will discuss the highly revealing preface to the 1612 catalogue, describe the original layout of the library, examine Bancroft’s sources—many of his books came from his predecessor John Whitgift—and look at representative examples. As the eighteenth-century antiquary John Bagford observed, it was, and is, a ‘well furnisht library’, full of unexpected treasures. This was the seventeeth History of the Book Lecture; presented on May 13, 2008.
  • Mary Rouse (former editor, Viator)
    “Christine de Pizan and the Chapelet des Vertus
    The sixteenth lecture in the series is presented by Mary Rouse who has co-authored five books and over sixty articles on medieval florilegia and medieval libraries, and on the production and use of manuscripts in the later Middle Ages. She is an authority on the book culture of medieval Paris and, more recently, of renaissance Paris. Her current research has focused on the history of a medieval French florilegium known as the Chapelet des Vertus “Garland of Virtue” and the use made of it by Christine de Pizan. As France’s first female essayist, Christine has become an industry in recent decades, especially with the growth of feminist studies. Her use of the Chapelet reveals a surprising and previously unrecognized aspect of Christine’s use of her sources, and demonstrates once again that the lady was, indeed, literate in Latin as well as French. The Chapelet is known in fourteen manuscripts. UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library has acquired one of only two manuscripts of this work now in North America.This was the sixteenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on November 29, 2007.
  • Father Justin Sinaites (Librarian, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt)
    Fr. Justin discussed the history of the library at St. Catherine's Monastery at Mt. Sinai and the current projects underway there to preserve its precious volumes, while also making them more accessible to scholars. This was the fifteenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on February 23, 2007.
  • Christopher Page (Faculty of English, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge)
    “Copying Books in a Gradual Fashion, 1025-1125: The Wanderings of Two Monks and the Making of the Western Musical Tradition”
    Viewed in terms of other musical traditions in the world, it seems strange that Western musicians have, for so many centuries, played their music with their eyes fixed upon a sophisticated chart that tells them (much of) what they have to do when they perform. This chart is the musical staff, the five-line graph that, in its various forms, has done much to shape the history of Western music. But the stave is not a recent invention. Its roots lie with the science and musical practice of Italy in the first half of the eleventh century. It also owes much to the trauma that was distinctive to the Western and Latin Church, as revealed in the lives of two monks: one, the “inventor” of the system, and the other, its determined advocate in the face of considerable opposition. This was the fourteenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on February 10, 2006.
  • Nigel F. Palmer (Professor of Medieval German, Oxford University)
    “Blockbooks and the Fifteenth-Century Media Revolution”
    A blockbook is a printed codex produced from relief-engraved wooden blocks (as distinct from movable type). Professor Palmer examined the place of the blockbook in the media revolution that took place during the fifteenth century. Using examples from the collection at Oxford University, he showed how blockbooks relate not only to the manuscript codex (the “book”), but also to other media, such as posters. He described the various experiments that were undertaken with this unusual printed material in order to assemble the pages into something with the outer appearance of a conventional book. The principal texts used were the Apocalypse and the Biblia pauperum. This was the thirteenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on January 13, 2005.
  • Roger S. Wieck (Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, The Pierpont Morgan Library)
    “Trial by Fleur : The Master of Walters 219 and the Tres Riches Heures
    In the early fifteenth century a precociously talented illuminator from Lombardy traveled to Paris, seeking employment. Frightening the establishment, he was railroaded out of town. The test he “failed” survives: did it influence the Très Riches Heures? This was the twelfth History of the Book Lecture; presented on January 23, 2004.
  • Sylvia Huot (Pembroke College, Cambridge University)
    “Reading and Meditation in Late Medieval Devotional Manuscripts”
    Sylvia Huot discussed devotional manuscripts used for the education and edification of both children and adults in fourteenth-century France. She explored the ways that the process of reading became a basis for meditation, prayer, and self-scrutiny. This was the eleventh History of the Book Lecture; presented onApril 4, 2003.
  • Christopher de Hamel (Donnelley Fellow Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge)
    “The Imaginary Library of Archbishop Theodore”
    According to Bede, Theodore of Tarsus, archbishop of Canterbury in 668-690, brought a collection of books to England on his arrival. None survived, although there are traces of what kind of manuscripts they may have been. But nine hundred years after Theodore, a later archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker (1504-75), set himself the task of finding the lost library. He assembled a group of exotic manuscripts which he was convinced were the actual books of Theodore. He published an account of them in 1572. Parker was wrong—spectacularly wrong, in fact, for most of the books were of no antiquity whatsoever—but his search for Theodore’s library, and the way in which he allowed himself to be so deluded, reveal a great deal about Renaissance book collecting and the difficulties of dating manuscripts during the English Reformation. This was the tenth History of the Book Lecture; presented on January 25, 2002.

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