Norwich’s Renaissance Books

The inaugural event from Unlocking the Archive – ‘Norwich’s Renaissance Books’ – was held on Saturday 21 November 2015. At this exciting day-long, drop-in, discovery event, members of the public were invited to handle books from the Norfolk Heritage Centre’s collection for themselves, and to learn more about them through talking to UEA academics and graduate students and members of the Heritage Centre team.

Taking as its motto, ‘Please Touch’, this event aimed to bring a new approach to engaging the public with Renaissance books, by encouraging visitors to see these incredible historic books as living, interactive objects, which can still spark excitement and develop knowledge today.

‘able to touch history’ – visitor feedback, November 2015

Alongside this, the following day we held an accompanying Children’s Renaissance Books Day, with events in the Forum Atrium and in the Norwich and Norfolk Millennium Library’s Children’s Library. As part of this, children as young as 3 or 4 years old were able to engage in imaginative and educational play with activities inspired by the Renaissance book collection, showing how these historic books can encourage learning and joy for all ages.

Norfolk’s children chose books they would put into their Norwich City Library today.


We were overwhelmed by the public response to our main Saturday event, welcoming over 250 people across the course of the day to discover Norwich’s Renaissance books for themselves. The success of this event has been the bedrock of our subsequent activities and initiatives, sometimes in very direct ways, such as the creation of our list of Norwich’s Favourite Renaissance Books, voted for by visitors to this original event. More importantly, this event revealed the excitement among the people of Norwich and further afield about these Renaissance books and encouraged us to believe that there was a real hunger to discover more about them. We like to think that the success of our subsequent events has proved us right!

‘[The] joy of seeing and handling such books’ – visitor feedback, November 2015

Norwich’s Renaissance Books and the accompanying children’s activity day were part of the 2015 Being Human Festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. We are grateful to the organisers of Being Human, the School of Advanced Studies, the British Academy, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their funding and support for this event.