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Department of History

History of the Book

The city of Durham has one of the most important and substantial holdings of medieval manuscripts, incunabula, and rare books in Britain.  Durham Cathedral Library possesses the best preserved and documented medieval Benedictine library in the British Isles, with manuscripts ranging in date from the sixth century onwards; the University Library, the core of whose manuscript collection was formed in the seventeenth century, has particular strengths in later medieval vernacular works; while Ushaw College has a distinguished holding of later medieval service and liturgical books.  All three institutions are rich in incunabula, representing a wide range of printers and centres, and including a significant number of items that were owned in Durham itself at an early date; the University has a particularly fine collection of the output of Wynkyn de Worde, the assistant then successor to William Caxton.  There are also particular strengths in seventeenth-century printed books, including rare continental (especially French) editions.  As the University Library has a fine holding of modern reference works for manuscript studies and bibliography, Durham is an excellent centre for studying the history of the book in all its aspects, including palaeography, illumination, medieval and modern libraries, the transition from manuscript to print, early modern printing, and French Renaissance bibliography.