What makes a book a book? Does it have to have lines of text that you read from left to right or right to left? Does it have to be bound with pages and a cover? How does the form of the text influence the way you read it? These are questions that we hope to raise with our “Forms of the Book” exhibit in the new Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, which features texts in a variety of forms that date from 2500 B.C.E. to the early 2000s A.D.
Non-traditional forms of the book encourage discussion of the nature of the book itself, the relationship of text and image, and the ways in which design contributes to reading and understanding. In our display in the Newman Tower, we have included early examples of texts written on cuneiform, papyrus, and scrolls, before pages were folded and bound into the codex form contemporary readers recognize as books. You can read more about our papyrus collection in our previous blog post about the collection and our post about Classics graduate student and papyrologist Phillip Caprara. A larger selection of our papyri pieces are also currently on display in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Early bound books in this display emphasize visual communications and the history of typography, design, and printmaking. The Book of Hours (1400), for example, displays beautiful hand-drawn and colored illustrations.
Also on display are modern-day artists’ books, which often feature unusual structures or thought-provoking design elements that play with the form of the book to engage readers in new and exciting ways. For more images of some of the unique artist books in our collections, please see our previous blog post on contemporary female book artists. https://library.wustl.edu/contemporary-female-book-artists/
This is only a sampling of the pieces that are on display in Olin Library’s Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, so please stop by and enjoy these unique works in person!