Tuesday, January 29, 2013

History of the (Big) Book

In my role as a Book Arts Instructor, opportunities arise to work with students on book projects for their academic work. This past fall semester students in Professor Alexandra Halasz’s History of the Book class participated in a hands-on letterpress and binding exercise in class, and then had the option of producing a hands-on book project in lieu of a final term paper. Of the 17 students enrolled, 10 students chose this option, with three pairs of students choosing collaborative work.

The bookwork produced included a range of structures and content, including a flip book that plays with a homograph, a set of variations of a binding structure, a three-dimensional piano with a Möbius strip musical box exploring a canon cancrizans, an illustrated, digitally produced drum-leaf binding with a new tale about a Dr. Seuss character, letterpress-printed scrolls interpreting the mezuzah, a pocket-sized letterpress-printed book with a poem, and an enormous codex with hand-written text.

Students employed a variety of facilities and workshops on campus: the 3-D printer at the engineering school, the woodshop and jewelry studios in the Hopkins Center, as well as the Jones Media Center, the Book Arts Workshops, and the Preservation Services conservation lab here in the Library. Each of these projects had their complexities, and students called on the expertise of instructors and technicians as needed. These photographs illustrate some of the steps Cally took to make her big codex book. She, along with other students, worked in our lab in Preservation Services, where her proximity to all of us allowed for instruction and advice as needed.

Callista Womick '13 sews the light green endsheet onto her textblock of newsprint folios 

Gluing up the spine

Rounding the spine

Preparing to cover the plywood boards with white bonded leather, assisted by Book Arts Instructor Elizabeth Rideout 

Done! Home to dry the book under weight

Finished book displayed open

It is always a pleasure to see the end product of student work, but particularly rewarding to see the process in action and to help students make their ideas tangible. Here’s hoping these students, and others from this class, return to the workshops as their time and interests allow.
Written by Stephanie Wolff.


  1. Big book indeed! It is beautiful. I am impressed. What will this book contain?

  2. How come you didn't show me this in person.