Expert on Historical Book Bindings to Speak, Present Seminar at Rare Book School

October 18, 2012

A book conservator and expert in historical book bindings will present a public lecture and seminar next week, hosted by Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. 

Julia Miller, an independent scholar and author, will speak Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

On Thursday, Miller will teach a seminar, “Mysteries Abound: Observing and Interpreting the Physical Elements of Historical Bindings,” from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Byrd/Morris Seminar Rooms at the Harrison Institute.

The events are free and open to the public, though space for the seminar is limited. Interested seminar participants should contact Natasha Richter at

Both events are made possible by a grant from U.Va.’s Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities.

In the Wednesday lecture, Miller will discuss the importance of studying original bindings and how that study has progressed over time. 

“The text contained in a book is of first importance; the binding is constructed to connect and protect it,” she wrote in a description of the talk. “United they present an idea in time and allow us to see, read, and handle our written history clothed in its original garment. Separated the cover and text are each deprived of much of their vitality. The lecture will conclude with suggestions for multi-discipline involvement in projects to identify and describe historical bindings.”

The seminar on Thursday will introduce participants to a variety of physical elements found on historical bindings.

“Hand-bound books come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of physical complexity,” Miller wrote. “This seminar will introduce participants to a variety of physical elements found on historical bindings in our collections. Some of these elements are truly hidden, and some are visible but are difficult to describe. We will briefly look at examples of ‘extra’ elements ranging from overcovers, artwork, old mends, and repurposed materials, and discuss the value of these often surprising additions. We will close by exploring how a thorough understanding of the physical book can be gained and transmitted to support research involving historical bindings.”

Both presentations will include examples of historical bindings, some of which will be available for handling.

Miller is the author of “Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings,” and is currently editing a collection of essay on the history of binding.  

Rare Book School, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with U.Va., provides continuing-education opportunities for students from all disciplines and levels to study the history of written, printed and born-digital materials with leading scholars and professionals.

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