Skip to 0 minutes and 12 secondsWelcome to our course on the History of the Book in Western Europe from 1450 to 1800. My name is Elizabethanne Boran, and I'm the Librarian of the Edward Worth Library in Dublin. And I'm Mark Sweetnam, from the School of English at Trinity College Dublin. Hello. I'm Joseph Clarke, from the Department of History in Trinity College. And I'm Jane Suzanne Carroll, from the School of English in Trinity College Dublin. 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 48 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 12 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 to 1733. Housed in Dr. Steevens Hospital Dublin, it is 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 57 secondsWe look at books of great historical interest, like the Gutenberg Bible, wonderful woodcuts, such as those in the famous Theuerdank of 1517, and beautiful bindings, such as this book belonging to Henry II of France, 1519 to '59. 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 38 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.

Skip to 3 minutes and 5 secondsBy the end of this course, you will have learned how to identify the different parts of an early modern book, how the early modern book trade operated, what provenance marks and annotations can teach us about how books were read in the early modern period, and how the invention of the printing press changed religious, scientific, medical, and political views of the world. We really hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to the course

We’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 fifteenth century revolutionized our understanding of the world. This course examines the rise of the printed book in the West and explores how previous generations lived in this exciting and innovative time.

Over the next four weeks of this course we look at how books were made, sold and read from the fifteenth century until the late eighteenth century. And, in the last week of the course, we will investigate how books changed the world during that time.

Week 1: How books were made

This week we will be exploring the origins of printing, and investigate the process of making books in the early modern period. Books of great historical interest, like the Gutenberg Bible and the Agostini Plutarch will be discussed. You will have a chance to delve into online images of woodcuts, bindings and book decorations, and learn how books were illustrated with examples from Aesop’s Fables.

Week 2: How books were sold

In week 2 we’ll move on to explore how books were bought and sold, starting with best-sellers such as the Nuremberg Chronicle and the Bible. You will be able to investigate intricate images of printer’s devices, title pages, and book advertisements, and learn how books were sold at auction, collected by connoisseurs and traded at fairs.

Week 3: How books were read

In week 3, we’ll be thinking about how books were read, and examine personal stories hidden deep within the annotations of books. Explore intricate images from the Fagel Botanical Collection, a working library of an affluent Dutch family, and learn how books influenced singing, literacy and handwriting.

Week 4: How books changed the world

In week 4, we’ll look at some of the revolutionary changes print culture inspired including medicine, religion and science. Explore images from the Edward Worth Library, and books including Newton’s Principia and Voltaire’s Traité sur la tolérance.

At the end of each week you will be asked to complete some multiple choice questions to help you reflect on the course materials.


Find out more about your lead educators Elizabethanne, Mark, Jane, and Joseph and follow their comments by selecting their profiles below and clicking on the follow square.

Dr 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.
Dr Elizabethanne Boran
Dr Mark Sweetnam
I am an Assistant Professor in English with Digital Humanities in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin.
Dr Mark Sweetnam
Dr Jane Carroll
I’m Jane Suzanne Carroll and I teach in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin. My special areas of interest are children’s literature and the relationship between children’s books and material culture.
Dr Jane Carroll
Dr Joseph Clarke
Hello, I’m Joseph Clarke and I teach in the Department of History at Trinity College Dublin. I’m interested in the cultural history of 18th century Europe and the relationship between new ideas and political change.
Dr Joseph Clarke

Silvia Gallagher will also be on hand to help you with any technical queries and comments.

We have also included a glossary at the end of the page in the Downloads section which explains some of the key terms used in the course.

Find out more about the history and collections of the Long Room of Trinity College Dublin, and the Edward Worth Library.

This course uses a large number of images and image databases for learners to explore. We have included text descriptions for these images to make the course as accessible as possible.


We have a large number of additional links to interesting online resources and related readings on this course. These links are useful if you are interested in finding out more about the topics on the course but there is no need to look through everything to complete the course (this would take a lot of time!).

We hope that you find the links interesting, but remember, you can pick and choose links depending on what you are interested in.


Starting the course

To start off this course, in the comments section below, we would like you to:

  • Introduce yourself to other learners in the course
  • Tell us where you are from
  • Let us know what your favorite book from the early modern period (1450 - 1800) is?
  • If you are not sure of a book from this period, choose any book that you have a keen interest in.

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This video is from the free online course:

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

Trinity College Dublin

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