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History of the Book


Prior to the invention of the printing press, books were produced by hand on various medium types including tablets, scrolls, papyrus and parchment. By the end of the Roman Empire, codices began to replace scrolls and paper slowly began to replace parchment.

During the Middle Ages, it was largely monasteries that conserved religious texts and certain works of Antiquity. These works were typically created in scriptoriums, where monks would copy, decorate and bind books within their monastery libraries. By the end of the 12th century, the growth of the university saw a growth in manuscripts and incunabula outside of monasteries. The development of commerce also saw a growth in texts related to law, history, etc.


Image source: [Unknown]. 1400. "[Italian 15th century gradual] ". M. Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books, UBC Library, Rare Books and Special Collections.

Videos on Medieval manuscripts

Featured Materials

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Subject Headings

Bible--Early works to 1800
Illumination of books and manuscripts, Medieval
Illumination of books and manuscripts--History
Illumination of books and manuscripts--Specimens
Manuscripts, Latin (Medieval and modern)
Manuscripts, Medieval

Call numbers in the UBC Library Catalogue

BS11-115: The Bible - Early versions
ND2889-3416: Painting - Illuminating of manuscripts and books
Z105-115.5: Manuscripts
Z240-241.5: Incunabula. Block books

Digitized Collections

Some of the manuscripts in UBC's Library have been digitized and are available through UBC Open Collections:

Ancient Artefacts

The Ancient Artefacts Collection contains a number of remarkable items from the University of British Columbia Library's Rare Books and Special Collections, including two Greek papyri, likely from Roman Egypt and dating from the second century CE, as well as a small collection of cuneiform tablets discovered at Ur in Chaldea, and dating from 2456-2390 BCE.




Epigraphic Squeezes

The McGregor Squeeze Collection consists of over 1000 epigraphic squeezes of Greek inscriptions currently held by the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies (CNERS). An epigraphic squeeze is a filter paper impression of an insciption, which provides a precise copy of the incised letters on the original; this makes them a valuable tool for research when students and scholars cannot access the original materials stored in museums.


Western Manuscripts and Early Printed Books

A selection of western manuscripts and early printed books dating from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, from the holdings of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of British Columbia Library.


Beyond our Collections