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Book, exhibition explore how English language came into print


Valerie Hotchkiss
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Valeries Hotchkiss was co-author of a book that was the foundation for an exhibition that explores how the English language came into print. She and her co-author co-curated the exhibition.

Sharita Forrest, News Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — This summer, a new book co-written by a University of Illinois librarian and faculty member is the foundation for an exhibition that explores the early history of the English language and the role that printing played in its development.

The exhibition is being held at the Grolier Club of New York, America’s oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts.

The book and the exhibit, “English in Print: From Caxton to Shakespeare to Milton” (U. of I. Press, 2008), explore the history of early English books and how the English language came into print, with a close study of the texts, the formats, the audiences and the functions of English books. Valerie Hotchkiss, head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and a professor of medieval studies and of library and information science at Illinois, and Fred C. Robinson, the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English at Yale University, are the co-authors.

The book and the exhibition examine the role that printed works played in the development and dissemination of the English language, history and culture, exploring issues such as the standardization of grammar and spelling, and the development of dictionaries and popular literature; regulation, translation and censorship; and the printing techniques of the time period.

More than 100 books drawn from the extensive collections of the U. of I. and Yale libraries are featured in the exhibition, which is curated by Hotchkiss and Robinson. The U. of I.’s holdings include thousands of early English works from the 15th to 17th centuries as well as works on history, philosophy, religion, science and culture.

William Caxton (c. 1415~1422 – c. March 1492), introduced the printing press into England and was the first English retailer of books. Caxton, who printed 100 books during his lifetime, translating many of them from Dutch, French and Latin, is credited with standardizing the English language.

The exhibition includes English incunabula – works in English printed before 1501  – produced by Caxton and his peers, as well as the first four folios of Shakespeare, and the only surviving perfect copy of the 1604 quarto of Hamlet; first editions by poet John Milton and other authors; and early printed music, maps, schoolbooks and Bibles. The selections also include several examples of early English bookbinding.

The English in Print exhibition, which is free and open to the public, will be on view at the Grolier Club through July 26.