This is the "Home: Books, Writing, Printing, and Cultures of Reading" page of the "The Book in History, Society, and Culture" guide.
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The Book in History, Society, and Culture   Tags: bibliography, course guide, culture, humanities, social aspects  

"Adventures of the Book: From the Clay Tablet and the Papyrus Scroll to the Cyberbook." UC Davis Honors Program seminar.
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2015 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Home: Books, Writing, Printing, and Cultures of Reading Print Page

New: English-language text now available to UCD users as eboook

   Authenticated UC Davis library users can now access an electronic version of the second edition of a central English-language text providing an excellent introduction to the evolutioni of the book over long periods. Item: David Finkelstein and Alastair McCleery, Introduction to Book History. Second edition. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.


What is the history of the book?

  Specialist in 18th century France  and historian of the book Robert Darnton posed this question initially in the early 1980's, and revisited the issue some two decades later (see Select Bibliography page for references). Book history--or more broadly, the history of writing, printing  and the developing fortunes of written and printed texts--is a classic emerging interdiscipline that sits at the confluence of a large number of academic fields, including philology, bibliography, literary studies, history (social, cultural, economic, and intellectual), librarianship, archivistics,  and communications. 

  But the disciplinary and interdisciplinary reach of the study of the book is much larger than even this range might suggest.  Darnton also called attention to  some important and exciting approaches to the study of written, printed and digital texts that rely on methods, techniques, and ideas more commonly found in fields like sociology, anthropology, social theory, museum studies, and--perhaps even more importantly--critical media studies, particularly where all these apply to the study of literacy. In this connection it's important to recognize the contributions of scholars like Jack Goody (a social anthropologist), Walter Ong (originally a humanist scholar of early modern and Renaissance studes who developed into a very insightful media historian and theorist), Marshall McLuhan, whose informal and frequently aphoristic style belied a keenly analytical mind focused on broadly philosophical issues, and perhaps also McLuhan's mentor Harold Innes. These scholars drew on a wide range of material in both the humanities and the social sciences to study the interrelationships among orality, literacy, reading, print culture, and what social anthropologist cum social theorist Benedict Anderson refers to as "print capitalism," in his landmark study of the rise of modern nationalism (again, see the Select Bibliography page in this guide for specific references).

  This already rather large scope and broad range of disciplines and methods has, however, been extended even further by application of techniques developed in the natural sciences and archaeology.  For example, quantitative methods make possible the data mining of a large corpus of digitized materials (for an example, see the entry for "Mapping the Republic of Letters" on this course guide's "Scholarly Tools for the Study of Books and Reading" page).  And other techniques developed in the natural sciences have also been used, where multispectral imaging, near- infrared, false-color infrared, X-ray diffraction,  and petrography among others have been applied not only to the varying writing and printing surfaces texts have occupied, but also to the dyes, inks, and other writing and printing materials used to inscribe the message.


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