For many Rare Book School is an important networking opportunity, not to mention a chance to bunk in the Thomas Jefferson-designed lodgings that ring the university’s famous central Lawn, with their appropriately antiquarian lack of indoor toilets. But it also fills an important intellectual niche, teaching skills and knowledge that have been orphaned by increasingly technology-minded library schools and theory-oriented literature departments.
Bringing an understanding of the materiality of the book back into literary studies is something that Michael Suarez, an Oxford-trained specialist in 18th-century British literature and a Jesuit priest who took over as the school’s director in 2009, speaks of with an almost missionary zeal.
“A book is a coalescence of human intentions,” he said in a phrase often repeated around the school. “We think we know how to read it because we can read the language. But there’s a lot more to reading than just the language in the book.”