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Nature of the Book

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Nature of the Book

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, June 10, 2024 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1T0003
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Materials for this program

Interior page from Tsuru no soshi (The Tale of the Crane), a 17th-century Japanese book

Throughout history, books were handwritten, printed, bound, and decorated using a wide variety of materials from the natural world, from standard ingredients like flax, leather, copper, and lead to the unexpected, like wasps and seaweed. The “Nature of the Book” exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History, assembled by Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, shows what the use of these materials in a book can tell us about it, touching on questions of purpose, process, global trade, and economy.

The exhibition examines books of the hand-press era (from the use of moveable type in Europe in about 1450 to the rise of mechanization in the 19th century) through the myriad natural materials—animal, vegetable, and mineral—that went into their making. Book conservators Katie Wagner and Vanessa Haight Smith, who curated “Nature of the Book,” share their process and research. Using specimens ranging from ochre, azurite, and cotton bolls to silkworm cocoons and wasp nests, this window into the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives collections shows how books were created. The materials weave a story of local resources and resourcefulness as well as global influence—from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere—which are essential to the Western book as we know it.

General Information

Inside Science