21H.343J | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Making Books: The Renaissance and Today


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.


We will devote our time this term to three activities. First, we will study the history of the book in Europe from Gutenberg (ca. 1450) to the French Revolution (ca. 1800). Second, we will examine in detail books and prints in the collections of the MIT Libraries and the MIT Museum made from 1450 to 1800 in Europe. Third, we will build a functioning, durable printing press based on Early Modern European designs. The printing press will eventually reside in the Beaver Press Print Shop. These three activities are designed to provide a holistic view of print and its impact from roughly 1450 to 1800. Along the way, we will also pause periodically to consider the parallels between the world of print in the Early Modern period and the rapidly changing media landscape today. Was there a “printing revolution” in the Renaissance? Are we living through another media revolution today?

Grading Policy

Attendance and active participation in all class meetings 20%
Four forum postings reflecting comparatively on books in the Early Modern period and today 20%

Two five-page papers

Topics may include the political, cultural, and economic effects of printing in the Early Modern world; detailed bibliographical and content analysis of holdings in MIT’s Rare Books Collection; reports on progress made towards building a printing press.

Class project to design and build a handset printing press, with appropriate guidance from the Director of the MIT Hobby Shop 30%

Required Readings

Del Col, Andrea, ed. Domenico Scandella Known as Menocchio: His Trials Before the Inquisition (1583–1599). Translated by John and Anne C. Tedeschi. Mrts, 1996. ISBN: 9780866981484.

Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Translated by John and Anne C. Tedeschi. John Hopkins University Press, 2013. ISBN: 9781421409887. [Preview with Google Books]

For more on the history of print, you may wish to consult the History of Information web site, or the following books:

Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450–1800. Translated by David Gerard. Seagull Books, 1976. ISBN: 9788170462668. [Preview with Google Books]

Pettegree, Andrew. The Book in the Renaissance. Yale University Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780300178210.

All other readings can be found in the table in the Readings and Videos section.

Printing Press Construction

Our goal is to complete construction of our printing press by the end of Week 11, leaving us three weeks to learn how to be handset printers.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples
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