A knot of academics is huddled over a large bound volume in the soft light of the Bodleian Library at Oxford university, attempting to unlock the secrets buried within its 500-year-old pages.
The beautifully tooled leather binding protecting this late-15th-century Hebrew Bible — a rare survival once held in the library at Holkham Hall in Norfolk — has helped keep its printed pages in a fine state of preservation. But it is not the words of the text that hold the attention of these experts. Instead, they are interpreting and recording the fleeting evidence it retains of previous owners, whether revealed in hand-painted heraldry, scholarly annotations, scribbled thoughts or simple underlining.
It is a process they and their colleagues have gone through many times in the service of a five-year project of sweeping academic ambition: an attempt to trace the flowering of knowledge, ideas and trade in the first 50 years of Europe’s printed revolution.
Read it all (may require subscription).