Ligatus Summer School 2017

Course completed.

25-29 September 2017 and 2-6 October 2017


The Ligatus Summer School is to be hosted this year in Norwich, UK, by the Cathedral Library, located on the upper floor of the north range of the cloister. The historic collections contain the Dean and Chapter’s Library of mostly printed books from the fifteenth century onwards, augmented by the long-term deposit of the parish libraries of Swaffham, given to Swaffham Parish church by the family of the historian Henry Spelman in the early eighteenth century and that of Great Yarmouth, with a significant collection of 16th and 17th-century books.

The classes will be held within the historic library itself, and in the first week there will be in addition a one-day visit to Cambridge University Library to examine a selection of Byzantine and Islamic bindings and in the second week visits to the National Trust libraries at Blickling Hall and Felbrigg Hall. Blickling Hall houses the collection of the bibliophile and scholar Sir Richard Ellys (died 1742), the finest library in the National Trust portfolio and a library of international importance, with finely bound copies of books from the fifteenth century until Ellys’s death, with some later additions. Felbrigg Hall, the sixteenth-century home of the Wyndham family has an outstanding collection of books accumulated by the family over three centuries.


The contribution that bindings can make to our understanding of the history and culture of the book is often neglected, but they can offer insights into the study of readership, the book trade, and the provenance of books that are often not available elsewhere. In order to realise this potential, it is important to learn not only the history of the craft but also how to record what is seen in a consistent and organised way. Librarians, cataloguers, conservators, book historians, book collectors and all scholars who work with early books can benefit from understanding the structure and materials of the bindings they encounter and knowing how to record and describe them.

Clear descriptions of bindings are invaluable for the management of library collections, pursuing academic research and making informed decisions about conservation. They are also important for digitisation projects, as they can radically enrich the potential of image and text metadata. It is our belief that bindings should be seen as an integral part of the book, without which our understanding of the history and use of books is often greatly circumscribed.

The main purpose of the Summer School is to uncover the possibilities latent in the detailed study of bookbinding. Both courses offered in this Summer School look at bindings from different geographical areas and with a different approach.

The first course looks at the development of bookbinding in the eastern Mediterranean and gives instruction in a) the development and manufacture of specific aspects of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine bindings and b) the development of methodologies and tools for recording bindings, working with examples from the collections in Cambridge. The second course looks at the history of bookbinding as it was carried out in Europe in the period of the hand press (1450-1830). During the afternoons there will be an opportunity to look at examples from different collections.

Course outlines:

Week 1 (25-29 September): Identifying and Recording Bookbinding Structures of the Eastern Mediterranean

Tutors: Dr Athanasios Velios and Dr Georgios Boudalis

This course is divided into two interconnected sessions.

In the first section, Dr Georgios Boudalis, will focus on the major structural and decorative features of the different bookbinding traditions that have developed in the eastern Mediterranean – including the Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian and Islamic – with special focus on the Byzantine and post-Byzantine bookbindings. The aim is to follow the evolution of these closely related bookbindings and establish their similarities and differences during lectures, slide-shows and demonstrations of real bookbindings from local collections. This part of the course will consist of six 90-minute presentations from Monday to Wednesday.

The other part of the course will be taught by Dr Athanasios Velios and will deal with the methodologies and techniques that can be used to record bookbindings. After an introduction on the capacity and scope of each methodology and technique, this session will focus on: a) the semantic web and the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM); b) standardised vocabularies for book descriptions (Language of Bindings and SKOS); c) the development of database schemas for book descriptions; d) the advantages of various implementation tools; and e) photographic records and workflows for large collection surveys. A part of these sessions will be devoted to to the actual recording of specific bindings. This session will consist of a combination of presentations and hands-on workshops.

Week 2 (2-6 October): European Bookbinding, 1450-1830

Tutor: Professor Nicholas Pickwoad

This course will follow European bookbinding from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings themselves to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade.

A large part of the course will be devoted to identifying both broad and detailed distinctions within the larger groups of plain commercial bindings, and to the possibilities of identifying the work of different countries, cities, even workshops, without reference to finishing tools. We will examine identification and significance of the different materials used in bookbinding, along with the classification of bookbindings by structural type, and how these types developed over the period. There will also be some discussion of how binding decoration evolved.

The course consists of ten 90-minute sessions with PowerPoint presentations (over 800 images will be shown). Actual examples of bindings will be shown in the afternoon sessions in a variety of historic collections.

Course Fees

The School costs £350 per week. Participants can apply to do either one or both weeks.

Please note that course fees cover tuition only. Participants are responsible for arranging their own travel, accommodation, meals etc. during the School.

About the Norwich Cathedral Library collection

The Cathedral’s book collection was dispersed after the Reformation and a library was reformed from the latter part of the seventeenth century, the collection being developed largely through donation. It now numbers around 8,000 printed volumes including nine titles printed before 1501 and around 1,000 from each of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are imprints from England and from around the continent. Little rebinding work has been done since the books were added to the Cathedral’s collections and so a variety of binding styles and materials are in evidence. In addition to its own book collections, the Cathedral also holds on deposit liturgical books from parishes of the Diocese of Norwich. The largest single collection is around 300 volumes from Swaffham, which began as the private library of the Spelman family and was then rehoused in the upper room of the south porch of the church. This collection includes a number of early books, some in original bindings. The next largest collection is that of the parish of Great Yarmouth, around 160 volumes, many of which date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Whilst one wealthy parish (St Peter Mancroft) rebound most of its books, others did little more that rudimentary repairs in order to keep bindings functional. Manuscript pastedowns are in evidence throughout the collection.

About Ligatus Research Centre (University of the Arts London)

Ligatus is a research centre of the University of the Arts London (UAL) with particular interest in the history of bookbinding, book conservation, archiving and the application of digital technology to the exploration and exploitation of these fields. Ligatus’s main research projects currently include the conservation of the books in the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai and the development of the Language of Bindings (LoB) thesaurus of bookbinding terms.