Elaine E. Whitaker

title.none: Foot, A History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society (Whitaker)

identifier.other: baj9928.0107.014 01.07.14

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Elaine E. Whitaker, University of Alabama at Birmingham,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Foot, Mirjam. A History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society: 1997 Panizzi Lectures. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. vi, 120. $40.00. ISBN: 0-712-34597-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.07.14

Foot, Mirjam. A History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society: 1997 Panizzi Lectures. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. vi, 120. $40.00. ISBN: 0-712-34597-3.

Reviewed by:

Elaine E. Whitaker
University of Alabama at Birmingham

In her 1997 Panizzi Lectures at the British Library where she is Director of Collections and Preservation, Mirjam Foot demonstrated affiliations among bookbindings and their larger significance for European cultural history. The printed form of these lectures, The History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society, accomplishes a great deal in a necessarily brief format. In print, the three lectures -- "Finding a Pattern," "Uncovering a Purpose," and "Craftsmen and Clients" -- are surrounded and interspersed with illustrations. Eight color plates precede Foot's introduction, while a total of 75 black and white photographs are grouped to follow whichever lecture they illustrate. Using examples that range from the seventh or eighth century to 1791, Foot argues the thesis captured with precision in her title: extant bookbindings reflect social practices. To study bookbinding prior to its nineteenth-century mechanization is to study personal history, to constitute text rather than apparatus. In short, Foot does not confine her discipline to footnotes, nor should we.

Foot's first lecture demonstrates that motifs and techniques for decorating a binding are generally consistent from early Coptic to nineteenth-century examples, with ideas moving along trade routes that bring Eastern practices into English (and northern European) binderies. In her second lecture, Foot adds nuance by mentioning that influences occasionally moved from west to east and were complicated by travel. The constraints of a short series of illustrated lectures do not, obviously, provide a venue for Foot's wealth of knowledge, some of which is indicated in footnotes referring readers to her extensive scholarship. Like her hearers, Foot's readers must accept without detailed proof her central contention: "External economic, politico-religious, or cultural movements were not the only factors to influence bookbinding design. The purpose that a book would serve, the occasion for which it was produced, its anticipated audience, the use for which it was intended and to a lesser degree its content, could all influence the way in which it was bound and decorated" (53). In her final lecture, Foot focuses on the people who would have made decisions about decorative bindings. Connecting binding with gift giving, she explains the logic of the presentation copy. She then characterizes the bindings favored by royal and other noble collectors.

Despite the constraints of space, Foot has managed to include fascinating vignettes. My personal favorites are references to travelling libraries (54-55, e.g., Figure 34), an unfortunate-looking eighteenth-century binding produced by "a firm that also manufactured wall papers" (59, reproduced as Figure 39), and the wearable "booke of golde" modeled by Lady Speke in Figure 47. A final personal favorite is the binding of the Panizzi Lectures themselves. Like its predecessors, The History of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society is no ordinary paperback but thick, glossy leaves bound by a textured, heavy cardstock. The cover functions like at attached bookjacket with its spine glued a quarter inch onto both front and back, making reading the five quires that comprise the 1997 Panizzi Lectures a tactile pleasure. Physically, the Panizzi volumes invite the reader to contemplate them. To read this particular volume is rather like having a friend in comfortable surroundings tell you, in a completely unpatronizing way, what she has loved about and learned from her job. I also expect to share Foot's examples with my students -- from sophomore survey to graduate bibliography.