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History of the Book II: Tables, Trees and Tabs: The Premodern Roots of Data Management


Admission requirements

Open to MA students of Book and Digital Media Studies. Other interested parties should contact the course coordinator.


We live in an era of information overload, where it is often challenging to distinguish between fact and fiction, and where there can seem to be too many (often contesting) answers to any question, all available at our fingertips. Finding appropriate data, filtering out irrelevancies, and recalling the vital are skills that we often take for granted. However, these techniques depend on a range of information management strategies which were developed throughout the history of the handwritten (manuscript) and early-printed book. Even illustrated tabulations, excerpt collections and alphabetic indices – seemingly innocuous devices for information storage and retrieval – had boundless potential to transmit and generate new knowledge. Using sources from Leiden’s world-leading library collections, students will locate and investigate material evidence for premodern strategies of information management. Throughout this course, the book will serve as our lens on the past, permitting us to interrogate the medieval and early-modern understanding of what needed to be remembered, by whom and for what purpose

Course objectives

Students will be able:

  1. To identify and critically appraise the efficacy of medieval and early-modern strategies of information retrieval and management;
  2. To learn and apply book historical methodologies in exploring, contextualising, and assessing primary and secondary sources;
  3. To work independently on a case study showing a nuanced understanding of material developments in book and intellectual culture.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar (2 hours per week)

Assessment method


Two written assignments


  • Attendance and active participation in class discussions: (10%)

  • Written assignment I: (20%)

  • Written assignment II: (70%)

Please note that you need to have a 'sufficient' grade (6.0 or higher) average in the written components of the grade in order to pass the course. Attendance is compulsory and absence on three occasions or more may entail your removal from the course. Note that essays which are presented late without prior arrangement with the instructor will incur a 5% penalty per day for late submission.


In the case of a fail students may resubmit the second written assignment.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a paper review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the paper results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the paper results, an paper review will have to be organised.

Reading list

A reading list will be provided at the start of the course.


Enrollment trough uSis is mandatory. If you have any questions, please contact the departmental office, email:

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. I. O'Daly

Coordinator of Studies Media Studies