Sep 21st 2015 - Self-Paced

Book Sleuthing: The Nineteenth Century (edX)

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Go behind the scenes at Harvard’s libraries to discover how readers in the first information age interacted with their books.

Do you love printed paper and wonder how much longer it will survive in the age of ebooks? Are you curious about how the mass-produced modern book emerged in the first place? Come behind the scenes in Harvard’s libraries to explore the look, feel and even smell of nineteenth-century British and American books in this module of The Book: Histories Across Time and Space.

In 19th-century Britain and America, schooling expanded, paper cheapened, and new technologies allowed print to reach wider audiences than ever before. After the rare and beautiful manuscripts and books showcased by earlier modules, the mass-produced, disposable objects that survive from the nineteenth century bear witness to the rise of the reading public.

This module investigates what scholars know about nineteenth-century reading, as well as how they know it.

This module’s six sections guide you through underlined, inscribed, defaced and repaired books in Harvard’s collections:

1. Name That Book

Find out what you can tell about a book when you’re blindfolded.

2. Handheld Books and Mobile Readers

What book did one soldier carry to Civil War battlefields in his pocket? (Hint: it’s not what you think.)

3. The Pen and the Needle

Did 19th-century girls have to choose between sewing and reading? The holes pricked in one book suggest they did both at once.

4. Leaving your Mark

Luckily for future historians, these children didn’t listen when people told them not to write in their books.

5. Detective Work

Try out some tools that build on what you’ve learned about books at Harvard to discover the stories hidden in your local library.

6. Over to You

Your chance to share what you have found in the books around you.

Join us, and discover how people in the first information age read, underlined, and repaired the pages that they treasured.