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Rare Book Pedagogy

spines of rare books

Incorporate the rare books experience into your classroom

shelves in rare book room

Rare Books provide enormous potential for impacting student awareness of print culture, literary contexts, and textual variance. They are important for the content they contain, but also for the physical aspects they exhibit, offering historically informed understandings of our cultural heritage, across disciplines. West Virginia University's Rare Book Room offers a respectable list of holdings that underscore these characteristics -- ranging from Diderot's Encyclopédie, to Shakespeare's first four folios, to extensive Asimov editions, and wide-ranging Folklife material. Using the customizable exercises and materials on this website, faculty can teach undergraduates how to analyze and discern meaning from rare texts, and students can learn the conventions of rare book rooms and the ways to handle rare materials properly.

Faculty may use any or all of these exercises, depending on their specific course goals. These exercises are designed to be modular, so they are independent of one another, and each assignment can be adapted to the course's needs. We ask only that you take the time to provide feedback, via the attached form.

All texts presented in the exercises on this website are available in the WVU Rare Book Room (6th Floor, Wise Library) and have been approved by the library staff for class use. Faculty members may additionally request scans of up to five individual items for classroom use, i.e. five pages of a book, five single scans of book illustrations, etc.

*At the current time we ask that all visitors to the Rare Book Room follow these guidelines:

  • No more than 6 students at a time, and maintained distance of six feet between visitors for the duration of their visit.
  • No food or drink allowed in special collections.
  • Masks are required.
  • Phones may be used to take photos during the class period. Texting is not allowed.
  • Visitors should handle all texts with care; do not bend book spines back, bend pages, and so on.
  • Visitors may only use pencils while working in the Rare Book Room; pens are not allowed.

Collection Strengths

Explore the Rare Book Room's Collection

Huck Finn

American Literature

  • Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1800), Collection contains seven notable editions of Jefferson's Notes, including the first American edition and the edition that Jefferson personally revised
  • First editions of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays (1841) and Representative Men (1849)

British Literature

  • A 1561 edition of Chaucer’s works
  • William Shakespeare’s First, Second, Third, and Fourth Folios
  • A first edition of Alexander Pope’s Iliad (1715-20)
  • A first edition of Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews(1742)
John Henry

Folklore & Appalachia

  • Folk-Songs of the South edited by John Harrington Cox (1925)
  • Devil’s Ditties ; Being Stories of the Kentucky Mountain People : With the Songs They Sing by Jean Thomas (1931)
  • John Henry: A Folk-Lore Study by Louis W. Chappell (1933)

Science & Math

  • Niccolò Tartaglia’s La prima [-sesta] parte del general trattato di numeri, et misure (1556-60)
  • Joseph Moxon’s A Tutor to Astronomy and Geography (1674)
  • Claude-François Millet Dechales, The elements of Euclid explain'd (1685)
  • Euclid’s  Elements of Geometry (1728)
Boydell's Romeo and Juliet

Art History

  • The first edition series of Denis Diderot’s L'Encyclopedie (1762)
  • Boydell’s Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare (1804)
  • First edition: Liber Chronicarum, by Hartmann Schedel. Also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
 Joseph Ritson (1783) Cover


  • Herbarum vivæ eicones ad nature imitationem by Hans Weiditz, illustrated by Otto Brunfels (1530)
  • Kreutterbůch. Von aller Kreutter, Gethier, Gesteyne unnd Metal, Natur Nutz, unnd Gebrauch. Distillier Zeug und Bericht, allerhandt kostbarliche Wasser zubrennen, halten und gebrauchen by Eucharius Rösslin (1535)
Hiller Advert

Graphic Design

  • Before Rosebud Was a Sled: From the Permutation Press, Commercial Wood Engraving in America seen through the GramLee Collection by Cliff Harvey (1998)
  • Sacred Spaces by Eve Faulkes (2007)
  • Specimen Sheets from the GramLee Collection of Historic Wood Type by Dennis Y. Ichiyama (2009)
Stewart Plein and students in Rare Book Room