The wall next to some printing equipment features posters with a variety of bold and dramatic font faces.
Program Overview

Book Studies

Rethinking the possibilities of the book.

Oberlin’s letterpress studio, a focal point for the book studies curriculum, invites students to learn the craft of bookmaking.
Photo credit: Pang Fei Chiang

From Cuneiform to Data Mining

Book studies has emerged in the 21st century as an exciting and interdisciplinary field encompassing the social and cultural history of books and multimedia texts as well as artisanal and artistic approaches to book-making. The “book” in book studies is multiform, extending beyond Gutenberg’s invention and the printed codex to embrace all formats, from cuneiform tablets to papyrus leaves to medieval manuscripts to self-published ’zines to electronic media.

Archives, Conservation, Design

Bridging history and contemporary culture, artistic work and intellectual life, book studies encourages connections across the curriculum. It allows students to tailor a wide variety of courses to their particular interests, drawing on both western and non-western traditions, and incorporating both cultural history and artisanal practice. The course of study fosters skills of critical thinking while placing equal emphasis on preparing students for careers in new media, art and design, academia, education, conservation, publishing in various media, editing, archives, entrepreneurial craftwork, museums, and librarianship.

Students have over 200 cases of type at their fingertips as part of Oberlin’s letterpress studio

Oberlin’s Letterpress Studio

Oberlin's Letterpress Studio invites students to compose text by hand using metal  type, and to operate both cylinder and iron plate presses. Students can create their own original work while consciously making decisions about paper, impressions, layout, typography, color, illustrations, ornaments, format and special effects.

A student works at a letterpress machine.
The Oberlin College Mail Art Collection includes more than 20,000 pieces by over 1,800 artists from 70+ countries

Artists’ Books

Oberlin’s premiere collection of Artists’ Books provides students the opportunity to explore one of the most versatile and unconventional modes of expression for artists working at the boundary of print and sculpture.

Books with pages fanned open.

Featured Courses

Arts 039

Reimagining the Book

Employing the form of the book as both an aesthetic and historic object, this course explores a range of embodied and material practices. Students will design and construct a series of books using narrative and non-narrative techniques in relation to concept, image, and form.

Taught by
ARTH 204

Introduction to Book Studies

Encompassing printed and handwritten paper objects as well as ancient clay tablets and contemporary electronic media, this course introduces students to key approaches and concepts in the discipline of Book Studies. Students will have hands-on experience in the Letterpress Studio, Art Museum, College Library and Conservatory collections with text-and-image-objects from Europe, East Asia, Islamicate cultures and the Americas.

Taught by
Erik Inglis ’89
EAST 272

Pleasure and Confinement

Colorful ukiyo-e, pictures of courtesans, kabuki actors reenacting samurai epics, and landscapes of Mt. Fuji, are among the most recognizable images of Japanese art. This course explores how woodblock prints developed in the 17-18th centuries alongside the growth of Edo (modern Tokyo) and during a period of isolationism. We will track innovations in woodblock technology and how features of prints were creative responses of artists to constraints imposed by the ruling shogunate.

Taught by
Bonnie Cheng
ENGL 308

Materiality and Visuality

This course will consider the relationship between the verbal, visual, and material in early modern culture and literature. Renaissance printed books, portraits, jewelry, perspective paintings, automatons, anatomy theaters, machines, maps, stage sets, costumes and more will be read alongside the works of authors like Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Donne, Ralegh, Milton, Jonson, Webster, Carew, Middleton, and Wroth.

Taught by
Wendy Beth Hyman

Obie Book Stories

Pens and Needles

Students in Associate Professor Danielle Skeehan’s Early American Media and Identity course aren’t just bringing laptops and books to class. Required materials include Band-Aids, scissors, needle threaders, and kitchen sponges.

Students write with quill pens in class.

The Art of the Artist Book

After spending a month researching artist books and creating a book of her own, Marie Romanelli ’21 is officially hooked on the craft, both as an artist and as a short-form poet. ‘‘Artist books are anything a conventional book shouldn‘t be, and there aren‘t any rules,’’ she says.

Marie poses next to her art book.

Learning through the Letterpress

Presided over by Special Collections and Preservation Librarian Ed Vermue, one of Oberlin's best resources for hands-on learning hosted an intensive winter term course on printing books from scratch, without a computer.

A student inspects a sheet of paper that is draped over 2 wooden rods above her.

What does Book Studies at Oberlin look like?

Beside a tub of liquid, a student adds a wet sheet to a frame.

As part of an intensive workshop, led by artist and award-winning author Aimee Lee '99, students practiced the art and craft of paper-making.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Aimee Lee
Students work with cutting tools seated around tables.

The workshop, held over Winter Term, combined Western and Asian techniques to make paper, decorate it, and sew it into signatures.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Aimee Lee
Students clean the cylinder of a press.

As part of a Winter Term group project, students designed and printed their own creative projects using hand presses, movable type, and linocuts.

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
A student holds up a sign she has printed. It says Oberlin College.

In addition to the on-campus studio, first-year students can learn letterpress at the Morgan Conservatory during Connect Cleveland.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Ann Sherif

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

Letters of a letterpress arranged on a shelf.
Photo credit: Pang Fei Chiang