1.1 Introduction


1. Introduction to Bibliography (Unit available from Monday 3 August 2020)

1.1 Introduction (Watch for free)

1.2 Bibliography in the Digital Age

1.3 Classic Bibliographies and Bibliographic Resources

1.4 Innovative Uses of Bibliography in the 21st Century

1.5 Bibliography and Book History

1.6 The Book in Bibliography

2. Styles of Bibliographic Description (Unit available from Monday 10 August 2020)

2.1 Esdaile’s Levels of Description

2.2 Gaskell’s New Bibliography

2.3 Bowers’s Principles

2.4 The English Short Title Catalogue

2.5 Bibliography and the Library Catalogue

2.6 Bibliography and the Book Trade

3. Representing the Title Page (Unit available from Monday 17 August 2020)

3.1 The History of the Title Page

3.2 Imaging and the Title Page

3.3 Quasi-facsimile Basics

3.4 Quasi-facsimile Practice 1

3.5 Borders, Compartments and Ornaments

3.6 Quasi-facsimile Practice 2

4. Representing Binding and Pagination (Unit available from Monday 24 August 2020)

4.1 Chainlines and Wirelines

4.2 Folding Exercises

4.3 Signatures and Catchwords

4.4 Collation – Worked Examples

4.5 Collation Practice

4.6 Binding Descriptions

5. Beginning Bibliography and Beyond (Unit available from Monday 31 August 2020)

5.1 Complex Dates

5.2 Complicated Places and Imprints

5.3 Fancy Rules

5.4 Recognising Print Techniques

5.5 After the Handpress Era

5.6 Beginning Cataloguing Rare Books

5.7 Beginning Book History



Hello. I’m Anne Welsh, the Director of Beginning Cataloguing. In this presentation, I’m going to talk to you about our course Beginning Bibliography, which covers the core techniques of bibliographic description used by literary scholars, historians and librarians when we are researching the book as object.


Rare Books Cataloguing, on which we run a separate course, can be seen to be one applied form of bibliographic description, but Beginning Bibliography takes a wider approach, exploring the ways in which bibliographers have documented printed books, and specifically books in the handpress era of the 15th to early 19th centuries.


So, let’s begin by asking the core question, “What Is Bibliography?”


Philip Gaskell, whose New Introduction to Bibliography is the Bible (or at least the Old Testament) for traditionally-trained bibliographers, has asserted that “All documents, manuscript and printed, are the bibliographer’s province; and it may be added that the aims and procedures of bibliography apply not only to written and printed books, but also to any document, disc, tape or film where reproduction is involved and variant versions may result.”


The concepts of “the edition” – all the text printed from the same text – and “the impression” – all the text printed from the same textblock – are fundamental to understanding many important aspects of the book within the History of Ideas – popular books usually ran through larger printruns and had far more editions than books that sold less well. Booksellers and librarians often wish to pinpoint the exact impression they hold in their hands – the former in order to describe and price it appropriately and the latter in order to make it available to the researchers who want it.

In turn scholars want to ensure that they are going to see the correct version of an early printed book. Some may be travelling vast distances and have obtained specific research funding in order to cover travel and accommodation in a distant country in order to see a specific publication – imagine the waste of their time and resources if it turned out to be exactly the same impression as another copy in the library round the corner from their home.


One of the important skills Beginning Bibliography covers is how to tell exactly which version of a book you are describing, and, in turn, how to read bibliographic descriptions accurately and understand which version has been described by a cataloguer.


Bibliography is not solely about being able to create and understand the material on book trade and library catalogues better, though.


Ronald McKerrow – another great name in bibliography – pointed out that “bibliographical evidence will often help us to settle such questions as that of the order and relative value of different editions of a book; whether certain sections of a book were originally intended to form part of it or were added afterwards; whether a later edition was printed from an earlier one; and from which; whether it was printed from a copy that has been corrected in manuscript, or whether such corrections as it contains were made in the proof, and a number of other problems of a similar kind, which may have a highly important literary bearing. It will indeed sometimes enable us to solve questions which to one entirely without bibliographical knowledge would appear quite incapable of solving.”


Gaskell kept it simple: “Bibliography’s overriding responsibility must be to determine a text in its most accurate form.”

In fact, if I were allowed only one sentence to answer our initial question, I would quote McKenzie’s from 1999:


“Bibliography is the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception.”


Over the years, scholars have attempted to classify different areas of bibliographic research. Common distinctions include:

•      Enumerative bibliography (Listing books by topic, date, type or author)

•      Historical bibliography (Primarily the physical processes of book production)

•      Analytical bibliography (Identifying differences and the “ideal copy”)

•      Descriptive bibliography (Describing all the evidence about the book)

•      Textual bibliography (The text in relation to its transmission processes)


In recent years, the rise of the popularity of History of the Book courses within general Literature and History degrees has led to a widening of the discipline, so that there are few bibliographers today who would agree with W.W. Greg’s assertion that “What the bibliographer is concerned with is pieces of paper or parchment covered with certain written or printed signs. With these signs he is concerned merely as arbitrary marks: their meaning is no business of his.”


We might mourn the diminution of the number of scholars working on enumerative bibliographies (so useful when we are cataloguing), but the rise of modern Book History has certainly shone a light on the many different ways books have made an impact.


This slide shows Darnton’s useful communication circuit. Darnton wrote “Printed books generally pass through the same life cycle. It could be described as a communications circuit that runs from the author to the publisher ... the printer, the shipper, the bookseller and the reader. The reader completes the circuit because he influences the author both before and after the act of composition.”


This article and the later ‘What Is The History of Books? Revisited’ are readings within the first unit of Beginning Bibliography. We’ll consider his model and the impact it has had on how we think about the Book as Object. We’ll also discuss other elements of Book History where relevant – especially Provenance, and the evolution of technologies that affected the development of the book. However, our focus is on developing skills to identify the components of the book itself – how it came to be from some paper that was printed, then folded and bound to form a codex.


We’ll learn how to create bibliographic descriptions, including collation formulae and will discuss how Bibliography has impacted upon library and book trade cataloguing practices. We’ll look briefly at different print techniques for illustrations and complex ways in which dates, places and signatures were expressed. Finally, we’ll touch on how bibliographic techniques devised for the handpress era (15th-early 19th centuries) might be useful outside those periods.

This course is for you if you want to learn the basics of Bibliography, whether you are a librarian, literary student, historian, early modernist, digital humanities scholar or someone who simply wants to know more about how books were made and how we describe those processes.



It isn't necessary to read all the books and articles quoted in the presentation, but here are their references in case you are interested in finding them.

Darnton, Robert, 'What is the History of Books?', Daedalus 111(3), 1982: 65-83, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20024803.

Darnton, Robert, 'What is the History of Books?', Modern Intellectual History 4(3), 2007: 495-508, DOI: 10.1017/S1479244307001370.

Gaskell, Philip, A New Introduction to Bibliography, New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll; Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies, 1995 (and in various reprints since).

Greg, W.W., 'Bibliography – an Apologia', The Library, s4-XIII(2), 1932: 113-43, DOI: 10.1093/library/s4-XIII.2.113.

Hibberd, Lloyd, 'Physical and Reference Bibliography', The Library s5-XX(2), 1965: 124-34, DOI: 10.1093/library/s5-XX.2.124.

McKerrow, R.B., An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928.