Intern Insights: Don’t Judge A Book by its Cover

For the next several weeks, we will have guest posts written by our Special Collections interns about the projects they have worked on and the lessons they have learned.

Hi!  My name is Brenda Thompson, and I am one of two University of Tennessee graduate student interns working this semester with the Vanderbilt Special Collections library staff to process a collection of older books from the University of Nashville library.  (Vanderbilt University traces its roots to the University of Nashville, which ceased operations in 1909.)

I am a novice when it comes to rare books, but in just a few short weeks, I have discovered that working with older books is a bit like opening Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates:  You never know what you’re gonna get!

For me, one of the more fascinating finds last week was this book.

As you can see, the spine has fallen away, revealing pages of text hidden behind it.  After a bit of research, I discovered that, in the early years of bookbinding, it was common for bookbinders to use old manuscripts or printed text as binding material, typically to strengthen the book’s interior structure.

In fact, in recent years, valuable materials have been discovered hidden behind the bindings of older books. For example, in late 2015, a retired German professor found manuscript fragments in a book spine that are believed to pre-date The Book of Kells — an 8th or 9th century book containing the four Gospels in Latin and described as Ireland’s “greatest cultural treasure.”

And just last year, researchers began using new X-ray technology to look behind the bindings of these early books. They have just begun using this new technology and already have discovered “fragments from a 12th century manuscript from the early English historian Bede” and “text from the Dutch Book of Hours.”

I can’t wait to find out what new “chocolate” I might discover next week!





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