Bestiary of the Book
Being a Compendium of Creatures Used to Make Books
Medieval books of beasts or “bestiaries” are filled with images, information, and insight—usually some moral or spiritual meaning that the beast is meant to symbolize. Bestiary books have changed over the years and been reimagined in many ways, from Harry Potter’s Monster Book of Monsters to a forthcoming novel by K-Ming Chang, and we offer another reimagined bestiary here.
For this project, students investigated not only when their “beast” was first discussed in an English-language printed book, but also how it was used to make books from 1450 onwards. Although our semester began with hands-on exploration in various archives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, COVID-19 meant that students completed the semester relying on their careful research notes and on digital resources. We’re proud of what they accomplished and the creative ways they found to tell their stories.
Enjoy the stories linked below. Like medieval bestiaries, they’re filled with images, information, and insight—in this case, some surprising way that an animal you think you know has been used to record history. We encourage you to “like” or “heart” a story as a way of showing appreciation to the student writers. If you want to engage more deeply, click on “Log In” in the upper right corner to become a site member and leave comments. And if you still want to know more about bestiaries, check out this brilliant introduction by our friends over at the Getty Museum.