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Bound for Greatness

Binding books and
conservation in a creative thesis

Lots of Honors students love to read but senior English student Louisa Eastley has taken her love of books one step farther. With her job in the book repair lab on campus and an accidental enrollment in a book binding class, Louisa is now delving into a creative thesis focused on teaching other students about book binding and the literary treasures that can be found in the basement of the Harold B. Lee Library in Special Collections.

Books fill all the empty seconds of Louisa’s life. Her dad, Dr. Aaron Eastley, is a professor of English here at BYU and taught an Honors class with Dr. Denise Stephens from the Astronomy department for the last few years focusing on the authors who were inspired by the galaxies. With a family legacy of loving literature, Louisa started her reading passion at a young age. Old works such as translations of Anglo-Saxon poetry and plays like King Lear have always thrilled her. Fantasy novels from the likes of Tolkien and Sanderson bring some levity to her reading list. On a more serious note, Louisa is fascinated by the impact of historical events on literature and takes time to understand how the time period influenced the themes and symbols in her favorite books.

As a freshman, Louisa took a book binding class on a whim, and it guided her to her niche passion for preserving old texts. Returning from her mission, she joined the book repair lab for common circulating books and when the lab merged with the conservation department, Louisa was helping with repairs on books in Special Collections. She also completed an internship with conservator Christina Thomas in which she researched 15th century medieval bookbinding. Every time a book is shelved in a better condition than when it was pulled, Louisa’s surge of pride is a verification that she is in the right field.

Another source of pride is her involvement in the Honors Program. With her background in pairing history and literature, Louisa knew that ignoring connections between disciplines was a flaw in the system. The Honors Program not only acknowledged these connections, it placed her in classes with students from diverse fields with whom she could form new interdisciplinary connections. While only taking classes in her major, Louisa feared the comfortable stagnation that can occur when surrounded by like-minded people. Honors dispelled this fear.

While Honors was the perfect fit for Louisa, her thesis admittedly became a point of stress. The thought of writing an essay for a thesis, the common approach for English students, seemed miserable to Louisa. She wanted her thesis experience to be a process that she reflected on with happy reminiscing, not apathy. Knowing that she enjoyed her work in conservation and her access to items in Special Collections, Louisa embarked on a creative thesis, developing an exhibit in the library based on medieval bookbinding and the interesting items held in the basement of the library. Initially, the plan was to create an exhibit in Special Collections that would be displayed for three months. Louisa’s thesis advisor, Dr. Jamie Horrocks of the English department, encouraged her to create an exhibit that was even more accessible and exciting. This led to the development of an exhibit that will be displayed gallery-style on the fifth floor of the library. This collection includes an Islamic text from the year 1237, Christian works from 15th century monasteries, and scientific works printed to welcome in the budding renaissance. Using her book binding skills, Louisa created models of these books, as well as demonstrating methods common to the time period but not included in the original artifacts. These replicas allow patrons to physically interact with ancient texts that otherwise they would not be able to touch. The thesis will be supplemented with workshops taught by Louisa to her coworkers about medieval bookbinding with parchment, lectures to Humanities classes about medieval bookbinding, and presenting at a book collecting conference.

Louisa’s advice for the thesis process centers around making it your own. Don’t box yourself into what has been done in the past. The thesis process should allow your intellectual curiosities to blossom instead of trying to fit them into a rigid confinement.

When Louisa isn’t catching up on her extensive reading list or designing gallery exhibits, she enjoys scrambling up rock walls and creating historically accurate costumes from the 18th and 19th centuries. The process of investigating the reasons why people dressed the way they did makes her feel like a detective. In all of her pursuits, whether it be book binding or sewing, it is clear that with her determination to enjoy her education, Louisa is bound for greatness.