Minor or In-Class Assignments

Come to class, participate in discussion and in workshops. This will significantly enhance your learning but will not be policed. We place the responsibility for learning in your hands.
Evaluation: credit/no credit.

Weekly Writing Assignment
Every week, you will have a short writing assignment designed to help you prepare for discussion. You are allowed to skip up to three of these assignments.
Evaluation: credit/no credit.

Printing Exercise
As a class, we’ll be setting type and printing a broadside that displays a sequence of phrases assembled from the books you’re working with.

For this assignment, you are responsible for choosing one sentence or phrase from the book that you’ve chosen to work with this semester. You’ll need to go to the Book Arts Studio at the Hay and work with Erica Mena-Landry to set the type on your own (we’ll discuss the scheduling in class), and then we’ll be visiting and printing the broadside together during class time. Evaluation: Credit/No credit.

Assignment 1: Rare Book Description

Option 1: Book Guide
Imagine the JCB is trying to make its digital collections more accessible to blind users by creating “user guides” for working with rare books. Blind or vision-impaired users can listen to an audio guide that will narrate the various features they encounter as they work through the book. Your task is to write the script for the audio guide based on a book selected from the Primary Source List.

Option 2: Dealer’s Description
Imagine you are working for a book dealer who wants to sell a book similar to one that the JCB already has in its collection. Your task is to write a narrative description of the book you have chosen from the Primary Source List in a way that will convince readers to pay the (high?) price the dealer is asking for the book.

Regardless of the option you choose, you must include the following. Note that you won’t be able to find all of this information for every book. Do your best! Start by collecting information from the JCB’s online catalogue entry for the book. Then, refer to the resources below.

  • A title page that includes:
    • Book Title
    • Bibliographic Description:
      • Short title
      • Standardized form of author’s name
      • Standardized imprint: city, publisher, and year in Arabic numerals.
      • Format
      • Collation format
      • Pagination
      • Sheet count (number of sheets [not pages] in the book)
  • A narrative of 700-900 words that describes, to the best of your ability:
    • Binding, paper, typefaces, images
    • Title, printer, date and place of publication, front & back matter,
    • Is this book rare?
      • To figure this out, find out how many copies surive, or how many libraries own copies.
      • For European books, look in “European Views of the Americas” in EBSCO
      • For American books, look in Sabine
      • You can also use WorldCat (but watch out for facsimiles or digital copies)
    • Book Price
      • For American books, search American Book Prices Current (you must be at Brown to use this site).
      • For European books, search European Views of the Americas: 1493-1750 (log in through the Brown library website).
      • make sure you have the correct edition (year of publication); if your book doesn’t appear in the catalogue, that’s okay.
    • Marginalia & ownership marks.
    • A suggestion of 2-3 books from the JCB collection that the patron might consult next. These books should have something material in common with the book you described, either because of where they were printed, who printed them, or how they were made. The books you choose should not be from the list we provided.
    • In addition to describing these details, you might also address: texture, smell, affect (the emotion that the book evokes), damage, anything that is weird or unusual.

To be discussed during class.


  • Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1949.
  • Gaskell, Phillip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle, Delaware & Winchester: Oak Knoll Press & St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 2009.
  • Sample dealer’s descriptions (if you choose option 2):

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Assignment 2: Books in Context

In this assignment, you will continue to work with the book that you described in the previous assignment.

Imagine the class is curating a digital exhibit, and you have been asked to produce a 700-900 word blog post that will help visitors to the exhibit learn more about the context in which this object was created. Your audience is prospective Brown undergraduates and their families, so nobody is an expert in book history or American history. You should discuss the following:

  • What is the historical context of the place where it was made: what was happening in history in that time and place?
  • Where does this document fit in the history of the book? What was happening in general in print/manuscript/map culture, and how does this volume fit into it? Include information about who made your object and what other kinds of documents were being made at the time/place.
  • How would this book have been used? Who would have been reading or using this object? Why? What for?
  • At the end, name two or three books from a collection in Providence (at least one outside the JCB) that an interested person might want to look at next, and explain, in 1-2 sentences, why these books share a historical context with yours. The books you choose should not be from the list we provided.
  • Much like the first assignment, you are not required to make an argument in this piece. Instead, you are synthesizing information from secondary sources to explain the context of the book. Your post should have short paragraphs, subheadings, a bibliography, and some recommendations for further reading. Note that you do not need to read everything you include in this list.

You will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Completion: did you complete the task on time and as described in the assignment? In this case, you must offer both sociopolitical and book-specific context and provide suggestions for further research.
  • Quality: Does the work demonstrate excellence in the skills being evaluated in this assignment? In this case, we are looking for the ability to research and identify relevant historical information, to synthesize the information clearly, and to write about it concisely and in a style appropriate to the context and audience.
  • Process: did you go through the peer review process and incorporate it into your work? Though we will not be evaluating the quality of your original draft, we will be looking for evidence of improvement after revision. We will be also be assessing your completion of the peer review for another student.

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Assignment 3: Curated Exhibition

As a class, you will be designing a curated exhibition to be displayed at the JCB at the end of the semester. The topic of the exhibition will be aligned with a campus-wide seminar on “Race and Indigeneity in the Americas,” a Mellon Foundation-funded seminar sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Brown.

For this assignment, you will work as part of a team of three people to develop small exhibits based on the broader theme. Each student is responsible for selecting a single book from the JCB collection to research and display in the exhibition. This should be different from the book you worked with previously.

Team Responsibilities

  • Identifying a theme that unites the documents in your collection.
  • Deciding on a narrative for the books in your subset of the collection: what story do you want to tell about the history of the book?
  • Selecting the order of the books and the features of each book that you want to display. Remember that visitors might move sequentially through the exhibit, or randomly enter in the middle.
  • Writing a curator’s note for your collection: 1-2 pages total that provides background information for your part of the exhibit and explains how it fits into the broader theme.
  • Presenting your work in the form of an “exhibition show and tell” on the final day of class and incorporating feedback into revised exhibit labels. You will have twenty minutes to present as a group.

Individual Responsibilities

  • Choosing a book that is appropriate to the theme and the exhibition space.
  • Selecting a page or image from a page to be photographed and presented next to the volume that demonstrates something significant from the book.
  • Exhibition labels: 1-2 paragraphs for your chosen book that describes its context and the reason it has been put on display.
  • Book report: 300-500 word discussion of the book you chose that summarizes its material properties, its historical context, and its relevance to the exhibition.
  • Reflection: 300-500 words in which you reflect on 2-3 main challenges of designing the exhibition and 2-3 main takeaways from designing the exhibition

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