Online course in Literature

The History of the Book in the Early Modern Period: 1450 to 1800

Explore the history of the book during the early modern period and learn how the invention of printing revolutionized our world.

The History of the Book in the Early Modern Period: 1450 to 1800

  • Duration 4 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $54 Find out more

Discover how books were made, sold and read between 1450 and 1800

The early modern period was an exciting time for invention and innovation. On this course, you’ll explore book production using examples from Trinity College Dublin and the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.

You’ll discover how books were made, bound and illustrated, and will study rare treasures including the engravings of Anthony Van Dyck, and early editions of Aesop’s Fables.

You’ll also consider how books were read and how the invention of printing impacted on religion, medicine, science and politics.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsWe're living in the great digital revolution which presents us with many opportunities and challenges for sharing information with one another. But this isn't the first revolution of this kind that our world has faced. The invention of printing in the 15th century revolutionised our understanding of the world. This course explores the rise of the printed book in the West and examines how previous generations lived in this interesting and innovative time. Together, we are going to look at how books were made, sold, and read from the 15th century until the late 18th century. And in the last week of the course, we'll investigate how books changed the world.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsWe're going to use the riches housed in the beautiful long room of Trinity College Dublin and the Edward Worth Library in Dublin. The long room, built in the early 18th century and expanded in the 19th, holds 200,000 volumes. Its collections date from the foundation of Trinity College in 1592 and it offers readers a treasure trove of manuscript and print material.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsThe Edward Worth Library is considerably smaller. It contains around 4,300 volumes which belonged to an early 18th century Dublin physician called Edward Worth, 1676-1733. Housed in Dr. Steevens' Hospital, Dublin, it's just an invaluable resource for historians of the book for two reasons. First, Worth was a connoisseur collector interested in rare printings and fine bindings. Second, he ensured that his collection was maintained in a unique state of preservation, allowing us to see books in their original, or at least early 18th century, condition. In week one, we're going to explore the origins of printing and investigate the process of making books.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsWe look at books of great historical interest, like the Gutenberg Bible, wonderful woodcuts such as those in the famous Theuerdank, 1517, and beautiful bindings, such as this book belonging to Henry II of France 1519-1559. We'll look at how books were illustrated and examine case studies from our libraries, like the etchings and engravings by Anthony van Dyck. We'll also look at early modern editions of stories you may already be familiar with, such as Aesop's Fables. In week two, we'll move on to explore how books were bought and sold, starting with bestsellers such as the Bible and the huge market in children's books. In week three, we'll be thinking about how books are read.

Skip to 2 minutes and 40 secondsWe'll think about who read them, and why, and how we can trace the interactions of readers with their books through the centuries. We're also going to look at family libraries and think about how books passed from generation to generation. In week four, we'll look at some of the revolutionary changes print culture inspired and expressed as early modern Europeans articulated and encountered new ways of thinking about religion, science, and the state on the printed page. Join us in this free online course from Trinity College Dublin and the Edward Worth Library in Dublin.

What topics will you cover?

  • Week 1: How books were made in Western Europe (1450-1800) (designing types, illustrating, sewing, binding, and finishing books).
  • Week 2: How books were sold in Western Europe (1450-1800) (bestsellers, collectors, advertising and book auctions).
  • Week 3: How books were read in Western Europe (1450-1800) (books and readers, families libraries, and annotating books).
  • Week 4: How books changed the world (1450-1800) (reforming religion, transforming medicine and science, and remaking the state).

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Identify the different parts of an early modern book.
  • Describe how the early modern book trade operated.
  • Reflect on how the invention of the printing press changed religious, scientific, medical and political views of the world.
  • Classify provenance marks and annotations in early modern books.
  • Explain how early modern books were created.

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone interested in bookselling, book history and book design.

This may include collectors, dealers, artists, or anyone with a passion for reading and learning.

Who will you learn with?

Elizabethanne Boran

Elizabethanne Boran

My name is Elizabethanne Boran and I'm the Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin. I'm a historian of early modern ideas with a particular interest in the History of the Book.

Jane Suzanne Carroll

Jane Suzanne Carroll

I am an Ussher Assistant Professor in Children's Literature at Trinity College Dublin and the co-director of the MPhil in Children's Literature.

Mark Sweetnam

Mark Sweetnam

Mark Sweetnam is Assistant Professor of English with Digital Humanities at Trinity College Dublin.

Joseph Clarke

Joseph Clarke

As a lecturer in European History at Trinity College Dublin, my research focusses on Europe in the long eighteenth century.

Who developed the course?

Founded in 1592, Trinity College Dublin is Ireland’s highest ranked university. It promotes a diverse, interdisciplinary environment to nurture ground-breaking research, innovation, and creativity.

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