Teaching with Special Collections

As the Early Printed Books reading room opens at 10am daily, and department staff are here earlier than that, the hour between 9 and 10 can be used for class teaching, and we welcome this opportunity to share our collections with a wide range of undergraduates and postgraduates. A member of EPB staff will give an introduction to the reading room and our reference collection if required, then the group tutor is free to teach using original materials which students might not otherwise see.

If you are a lecturer and would like to use these resources, please contact the department on ext.1172 or at epbooks@tcd.ie to arrange a suitable date.

P1030123croppedDr Jane Carroll, Ussher Assistant Professor in Children’s Literature in the School of English, tells of a class she held in the reading room last term:

In October, Dr Lydia Ferguson, Principal Librarian in Early Printed Books and Special Collections, arranged a special viewing of items from the Pollard Collection for the eighteen students on the M.Phil. in Children’s Literature so that students could look at and handle books from the collection.


Lydia Ferguson showing books to the students

While a good many of these books are readily available elsewhere, either as reprints or as digitized texts (such as Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Sarah Fielding’s The Governess) there are many others that are hard to come by.

And besides, there’s nothing quite like being able to hold the original copy.

Handling books gives us a chance to appreciate them, not just as narratives, but as material objects too. Looking at and handling early printed books, rather than reading the text on a screen, imparts a new awareness of the way books were made, and it can be quite a sensory experience.

As well as seeing the colours of the illustrations and the bindings, you have the chance to handle the books, to appreciate the weight of the volume, to run your finger over the page and feel the indentations of the printer’s press, the texture of the paper and the bindings, to put your face close to the page and smell the wonderful dusty, sweet smell of old books.

Lydia had called up a whole range of books to showcase the breadth of the collection. While Mary Pollard had a special interest in Irish children’s books, there are books from Britain, Europe and America too.

As well as examining works by Irish authors, including Maria Edgeworth and Frances Brown, we looked at didactic texts,

Didactic textsfairy tales

fairy stories

and illustrated books

illustrated booksMany of these books are books we teach on the M.Phil. in Children’s Literature course. Many others are books that have been forgotten because they have fallen out of favour and out of print. And so the opportunity to work with the collections helps students to become aware of texts that they might otherwise have never heard about. In some cases, these forgotten or overlooked books can be the basis of an original piece of research

Since that seminar, I’ve spotted many of the M.Phil. students in the reading room. The chance to engage with a collection like this is too good to be missed and the experience of reading the book as it was intended to be read lends new depth and fullness to seminar discussions.

Some of the students have posted pieces about the books they have read in the Pollard Collection on the National Collection of Children’s Books [NCCB] website. Look out for the new entries on the database and, if you get a chance, come to the reading room and order up some of the books for yourself.