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U of T Libraries, UTM and the Centre for Medieval Studies receive Mellon Foundation award to study early bookbinding

Written by Carla DeMarco

In December the University of Toronto was awarded $1.25 million (Canadian dollars) by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the initial phase of a collaboration led by Professor Alex Gillespie and co-principal investigators Professor Suzanne Akbari (Centre for Medieval Studies) and Sian Meikle (University of Toronto Libraries Information Technology Services). Together they are undertaking an international research initiative to investigate the origins and development of book bindings in the project “The Book and the Silk Roads.”

“In this project we will be using non-destructive scientific methods to uncover questions that we have related to these ancient but surviving books, most particularly looking at the binding structures used to turn books from parts into wholes,” says Gillespie, who also holds appointments at the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of English on the U of T’s St. George campus.

Academics from several disciplines across U of T and UTM will join the study, and U of T Libraries will build tools and workflows to preserve and share these new research data, along with tools for their visualization and use.

In addition, the Book and the Silk Roads project brings together an international network of humanities scholars and scientists from around the world who are looking at various linguistic, religious, and national histories. The project will include five separate research clusters that will examine the following: early Roman and South Asian contexts; Dunhuang bindings from the end of the first millennium CE; the influence of Islamic bindings on European decorative binding techniques; fifteenth-century Ethiopian binding; and early Hebrew printed books in Ottoman Istanbul. With these close investigations, the project’s research findings will help to tell a new story about the making and movement of books along the Silk Roads, the ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and West.

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