The books are alive with biological data: an introduction to the field of biocodicology and its implications for historical health sciences collections




Biocodicology, History, Rare Books


Recent global events have underscored the need for broad access to digitized library special collections. At the same time, a burgeoning field of scientific and historical inquiry is finding a goldmine of data in the physical old books and manuscripts stored for centuries on library shelves. This article gives an overview of some of the interesting studies employing library materials in the new field of biocodicology, which expands the field of codicology (learning about book history through studying a copy’s physical attributes, sometimes referred to as “archaeology of the book”) to interrogate physical books with proteomic, genomic, and microbiomic tools. Historical health sciences collections provide rich, new research avenues for budding biocodicologists, and biocodicology and other interdisciplinary fields focused on material culture present an unforeseen justification for institutions’ continued preservation and access to individual physical copies.


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