4349 entries. 93 themes. Last updated April 19, 2014.

1. From Gutenberg's Movable Type to the Digital Book, and Other Studies in the History of Media

1.G. How Form and Function of Books Impacts the Reading and Writing Process

The experience of reading this essay has to evoke some awareness of how, for better or worse, publication formats impact the reading process. Whether the book is published as a codex on paper, or on a website for free distribution like this, or in some kind of ebook format for an ebook reader, such as a cell phone, computer or a specialized device such as a Kindle or an iPad, impacts not only the way you read it but also how much you enjoy the process, and how effectively the text communicates the author's intentions. Obviously, you cannot read this site the way you would read a traditional codex, though if it was formatted for an ebook reader the reading process would more closely emulate reading a codex. Nor can you read a newspaper website the same way you read a print on paper newspaper edition, or what we might call the electronic image version of the printed edition. Obviously, the print on paper and website versions operate differently. Most notably the website version is a dynamic series of individual web pages connected throughout by hyperlinks on a series of index pages connected to the homepage, while the printed versions and the electronic image versions are static. Most generally, the web version is highly interactive while the printed version is not, and the electronic image version may also be interactive, but usually much less so than the web version. Increasingly web versions of newspapers include live blogging of events in real time by reporters, and online comments from readers regarding these blog posts. The live reporting of news as it occurs, without any delays, is one of the many ways in which newspapers have adapted features which in the past might have been limited to radio or television. Among the other ways that newspaper websites, and other websites, interact with readers is through the placement of individual-specific or location-specific advertising, such as ads for movies that are playing nearby if you happen to looking at movie reviews. The website can do this if you have created an account that identifies your location, or if you are using a cell phone that includes a GPS locator to access the site. Some websites may also be able to place ads on their pages related to the topics of online searches that you might have made from the website. The web version is updated frequently by updating the home page, and other index pages, while most of the individual articles on their individual web pages remain static and searchable in the web archive of the paper. The web version of a news article is often associated with links to related articles previously published in the newspaper, or elsewhere. It may also contain embedded videos or slide shows.

From The New York Times website, on January 13, 2011 I read, watched, and listened to the 33 minute speech that President Barack Obama delivered in Tucson, Arizona honoring those who were killed or injured by a madman. Apart from the grand eloquence of the writing and delivery of the President's speech, what was most remarkable to me was that I could watch, listen, and read the speech simultaneously. As the video played and I listened to the President's voice, the text of his speech appeared on the newspaper's web page to the right of the embedded video screen. The text was displayed in such a way that I could use a cursor to move the video forward or backward and the text would move in synchronicity with the video and sound. On the web page with the speech there was, as usual, a way to post comments to the newspaper or social media sites regarding the speech, or to share the article with others over the web. Though I understand that this technology is not new, I had never before read, watched, and listened to a speech in this way, and in my opinion this presentation by The New York Times, which used all the features of the Internet, was marvelously effective. In contrast, the electronic image version of the printed edition of a newspaper is an electronic copy of that fixed printed edition, much in the manner of a certain ebooks, in which, using the program provided, the reader can virtually turn the pages, though presumably links could be built into the electronic image version. Whether an individual reads one version more efficiently or effectively than the other may be a matter of personal style or preference. I sometimes I prefer reading newspapers online, and sometimes I prefer reading them on paper. When reading online I prefer to read the most interactive web versions rather than the comparatively static electronic image versions. Sometimes I follow links in the online versions; sometimes not. Often I take advantage of the searchability of the electronic versions to find references to previous or related articles, sometimes for use in From Cave Paintings to the Internet. A key aspect for me of the difference between reading electronic and print versions is that I tend to notice and read different articles in the electronic and print versions of the same newspapers and magazines, indicative of the value remaining in printed editions of periodicals and books.

Developments in interactive reading on the web are occurring very rapidly. At the end of January 2011 The New York Times quietly introduced its Recommendations service. When I first viewed their recommendations for me on February 2, 2011 the service informed me that I had read 120 articles in the previous month, tabulated in ten categories. Based on these statistics it recommended twenty articles in that day's edition. The service is updated every twelve hours. Flipboard, "your personalized social magazine" for the iPad, which was launched in July 2010, automatically gathers articles recommended by your friends from social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter and presents them to you in a convenient way. The service also recommends articles for you based on your reading history. For those who do not want the distraction of online advertising, Readability, launched in 2009, automatically strips these distractions from web articles and presents them to you in a customized view. It also enables you to save articles for reading at some later time. All these services measure page views (pageviews), and thus measure the popularity of articles in real time. If they keep their readers apprised of such trends, some readers may be more inclined to follow the latest trends, fueling the Internet social reading experience.

In reviewing the differences between reading interactive web pages and the traditional printed codex we must also consider the multiplicity of ways that printed codices are read. For example, when I read a novel, typically I will read it from one end to another. Sometimes I turn back to prior pages that I have read to refresh my memory of what happened, but the process is basically a one-directional. On the other hand when I use a cookbook, or some other reference book, typically I search the table of contents or the index for what I need, and read that section or related sections. This does not mean that anyone can't read a cookbook from cover to cover. I am sure that some people enjoy reading a complete cookbook, but that is usually not my preference. As you might imagine, the process of creating From Cave Paintings to the Internet requires a great deal of reading both online and on paper, and as this project has unfolded, it has been my pleasure to collect and read hundreds of books on the history of media, nearly all of which are non-fiction. Some of these printed books I use as reference books from which I read portions relevant to a specific topic, usually placing a bookmark at the relevant locations for future reference. Other physical books I read from cover to cover. However, the way that I read them may depend on several factors, usually based on the ways that these books are organized. For examples I will cite two different books on the history of media that I recently read from cover to cover. My goals in each of them were basically the same--to find information and references that I could use to improve and expand the database and these essays. The first of these works is the superb book by Ann M. Blair entitled Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age published by Yale University Press in 2010. This is a book of 397 pages, of which approximately the final one-third (pp. 269-397) consists of footnotes, bibliographies of primary and secondary sources, and an index. There is an introduction and five chapters. Each of the five chapters has about 200 footnotes, so that all together there are about 1000 footnotes in this work. Because whenever possible I try to cite primary sources, as well as relevant secondary sources in the database, I typically read all the footnotes in a book like this, and my copy of Blair's book contains, I would guess, about 100 bookmarks of the archival and removable colored plastic "stickies" type that I typically buy from Staples in packs of 125. Probably because the publisher wanted to save money on production, and issue this book at a reasonable price, Blair's style of footnoting in this book is unusually complicated. As is increasingly common, Blait's footnotes are placed in the back of the book, thankfully in this case with headlines referring back to the pages of the text to which they apply. However, most of Blair's footnotes refer only to the main author's name and page number of one or more primary and secondary references, for which one must then hunt in the bibliographies which follow the footnotes. Thus, to get the complete meaning of each of her footnotes one has to first read the footnote, then check the specific reference or references, sometimes in one or both bibliographies, and then perhaps go back and re-read the footnote taking into account her source or sources. In the tedious process of doing all this frequently I found that I lost my place in the narrative. How many times did I wish that Blair's footnotes included a longer and identifiable reference to her sources! Admittedly that would have added perhaps another gathering or two to the book, and might have increased its production cost slightly. My guess is that sales would be the same at a slightly higher cover price, and the book would be so much easier to use. Having read Blair's book in April and May 2011 I find that in June 2011 I am gradually going back through her book, following all my bookmarks, and incorporating relevant portions of her references and observations into the database, remaining careful to cite her work when I do so.

As I work back through Blair's book, I wonder how reading all of her footnotes, and working through the cumbersome way that the publisher set up the footnotes and references, differs from following hyperlinks in an essay like this. Following links has been criticized as distracting from advocates of "close reading," especially since many links are only indirectly relevant, and one link tends to lead to another, causing one to loose the original train of thought. Yet, what I would characterize as close reading of Blair's physical book and her footnotes may very well be just as distracting, perhaps in a different way, than following any number of hyperlinks that are directly relevant to a given electronic text.

A more specialized work which I read in June 2011 was Elizabeth A. Meyer's, Legitmacy and Law in the Roman World. Tabulae in Roman Belief and Practice (2004). The book discusses the Roman use of wooden tablets, which they frequently tied together--probably the precursor of the codex form of the book. Meyer's work consists of 356 pages, divided into nine chapters, with a total of around a thousand footnotes. From the reading standpoint, the main difference between Meyer's and Blair's book is that the footnotes in Meyer's work are printed on the page openings in which they occur in her text, much as footnotes were originally intended to be printed at the foot of pages, thus their name. Having Meyer's footnotes on the pages to which they apply made it much easier for me to read her text, and I was able to read through the portions of her book relevant to the history of the tabulae or tablet format in a couple of hours, placing about 30 markers on pages to which I plan to return. Because Meyer's footnotes tend to be longer and more technical than Blair's, and her subject matter is even more esoteric, it is debatable whether either book is easier to read, but for those who want to check all the footnotes, I think it is fair to say that being able to glance at the footnote at the bottom of a page to tell whether the footnote is worth reading or not, makes the reading process far less disruptive.

As far as is known, long before footnotes and technical, highly referenced, scholarly writing, publishing and reading, the earliest reading was often a social experience. In the ancient world through Late Antiquity the reading experience was very different from our experience today. During those centuries all reading is thought to have been done aloud, whether alone or with other people; it could be listened to by others if they were present. Typically the experience involved an individual reading to a group. The convention of writing in scriptio continua without word division, and also without interpunctuation, whether on papyrus rolls or codices, made reading a slower, sometimes arduous process, and vocalization a necessary part of reading, probably even for comparatively brief technical or legal documents. Advance preparation by skilled readers, or even memorization or partial memorization of frequently read texts, were common means of compensating for the difficulties. Because literacy was also very uncommon, most people in the ancient world would have experienced reading by listening. Conversely, because composing while writing in scriptio continua without word division was so difficult, writers in antiquity and the early Middle Ages often dictated their writings to scribes, or perhaps they wrote on wax tablets and gave those to scribes for transcription on papyrus or parchment. It is thought that when different people read different texts aloud to themselves in the same room, as might have happened in ancient libraries, the act of speaking or murmuring the words aloud blocked out the sound of other readers.

An aspect of the reading and writing experience in the ancient world that I have not seen discussed is the adaptation this served for far-sighted people. Because of the nature of papyrus as a writing surface, use of majuscule was necessary, but the act of writing in majuscule on papyrus would also have allowed a scribe whose vision might not have been perfect to write in the relatively large letters while the same scribe might not have been able to see or write in minuscule. Similarly, having professional reading done aloud would have allowed older readers, who had become far-sighted, to continue hearing reading aloud after they could no longer see the words on the page. The process of writing by dictation would also have extended the working life of far-sighted writers. These factors would, of course, have remained until the invention of spectacles sometime in the mid-thirteenth century, and until spectacles were widely available.

"Stated summarily, the ancient world did not possess the desire, characteristic of the modern age, to make reading easier and swifter because the advantages that modern readers perceive as accruing from ease of reading were seldom viewed as advantages by the ancients. . . .We know that the reading habits of the ancient world, which were profoundly oral and rhetorical. . . were focused on a limited and intensely scrutinized canon of literature. Because those who read relished the mellifluous metrical and accentual patterns of prounced text and were not interested in the swift intrusive consultation of books, the absence of interword space in Greek and Latin was not perceived to be an impediment to effective reading, as it would be to the modern reader, who strives to read swiftly. Moreover, oralization, which the ancients savored aesthetically, provided mnemonic compensation (through enhanced short-term aural recall) for the difficulty in gaining access to the meaning of unseparated text. Long-term memory of texts frequently read aloud also compensated for the inherent graphic and grammatical ambiguities of the languages of late antiquity. Finally, the notion that the greater portion of the population should be autonomous and self-motivated readers was entirely foreign to the elitist literate mentality of the ancient world. For the literate, the reaction to the difficultes of lexical access arising from scriptura continua did not spark the desire to make script easier to decipher, but resulted instead in the delegation of much of the labor of reading and writing to skilled slaves, who acted as professional readers and scribes. It is in the context of a society with an abundant supply of cheap, intellectually skilled labor that ancient attitudes toward reading must be comprehended . . . .." (Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origins of Silent Reading [1997] 11). Regarding the importance of space between words for speeding up manuscript copying see Saenger p 48.

Use of professional readers for reading and professional scribes for writing brings up the topics of the interface between the reader and the book. In the ancient world, when an individual listened to a text read by a professional reader, he or she was using an interface between the book and him or herself. Similarly when an individual scrawled out a text on wax tablets and turned it over to a scribe for transcription, or dictated a text to scribe for transcription on papyrus or parchment, the scribe served as an interface between the author and the storage or publication medium. This interface continued through the use of secretaries, and after the invention of typewriters, by typists, for many centuries, and in situations where individuals still dictate correspondence for transcription, may continue today. Of course, in the ancient world, as today, some people probably read their own books and wrote down their own texts, without need for a such an interface. Most of us, however, who primarily use a computer for writing, now use a computer and word-processing software or some kind of an HTML editor, for composition. Our computer and software has become the new interface for both reading and writing, as the digital file that we generate is gibberish to us without computer interface with its necessary software or web browser. The essential process of writing, reading, and publishing has not changed that much in the abstract, but as the computerized interface has grown increasingly sophisticated and complex, what we are able to achieve by using our computer and the Internet as a printing press, has transformed all three of these processes.

During the Middle Ages, beginning in the seventh century, the introduction of space between words by Irish and Anglo-Saxon scribes made silent reading possible. At their remote and sparsely populated end of Europe, in monasteries which were deliberately located in places of extreme isolation such as Lindisfarne, in environments presumably with a vow of silence, Latin was learned from grammar books, rather than from oral culture or vocalized reading. Probably because of the need to understand the written word silently, Irish and Anglo-Saxon scribes developed word spacing based on grammatical units, i.e. words, as a way of conveying meaning, rather than deriving meaning through vocalization of words without spacing. By the ninth century the practice of word spacing gradually became more widespread in Europe. Space between words, and the development of appropriate writing tables, undoubtedly contributed to the ability of scribes to copy manuscripts visually rather than from dictation, a facility which is thought to have speeded up manuscript production. Saenger suggests that the writing table may conceivably have been a medieval invention as scribes in the ancient world are typically depicted as writing on their knee; however, it is hard to believe that scribes did not have access to such basic pieces of furniture as tables and chairs prior to the Middle Ages. "Evidence of the change to visual copying can be detected at an early date. In his colophon, the seventh-century scribe Mulling boasted of having copied the entire text of the Gospels in twelve days." 1.G.1Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origins of Silent Reading (1997) 49. The Wikipedia article on the Book of Mulling stated in January 2011 that the Book of Mulling is currently dated from the late 8th century, that three scribes were involved, and that "It remains possible that the manuscript was copied from an autograph manuscript of St. Moling." The earliest unambiguous image of a scribe using a writing table appears in the Lindesfarne Gospels, an magnificent and especially interesting early illuminated gospel book that incorporates word spacing, produced on the tidal island of Lindisfarne off the north-east coast of England, circa 715-720.1.G.2 The image is a portrait of the evangelist Mark. f.93v. For a color reproduction see Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels. Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (2003) plate 14. Among the earliest evidence of visual copying by a scribe is the graphic relationship between the British Library's Cotton Tiberius A xiv, an eighth-century copy of the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, probably made within a generation of Bede's death. This manuscript has been demonstrated to have been copied visually from the St. Petersburg Bede, as certain passages are a line-by-line replication of the St. Petersburg Bede.

Outside of monasteries, during the Late Middle Ages, public reading aloud, as distinct from private silent reading, was considered a valued social resource among the literate classes, serving a wide variety of purposes from entertainment to education, political commentary, propaganda, and spiritual guidance. This bias toward public reading is supported by late medieval images of people reading history, which invariably depict a public reading, in various late medieval illuminated manuscripts. Private reading, presumably in silence, was, of course, also done, but seems not to have been necessarily perceived as an experience so often worthy of depiction. Some of these images are teachers reading to their students; others depict voluntary reading experiences which we would characterize as social. 1.G.3 Coleman, "Reading the Evidence in Text and Image: How History Was Read in Late Medieval France," Imagining the Past in France. History in Manuscript Painting 1250-1500, Morrison & Coleman (eds) (2010) 54; see also 55-66 which reproduce numerous images showing groups of people listening to reading.

Book clubs, in which readers get together in person to discuss books have existed for a very long time. Book-oriented newsgroups in which people exchange views concerning books by emails posted to subscriber lists, have probably existed for at least twenty years. What is new is how social reading is being organized for profit on the web. In June 2010 Amazon added a social networking feature, called "popular highlights" to ebooks for the Kindle; this feature may be turned off. At thecopia.com you can browse and buy ebooks and find an online reading group: "All your books. All your friends. All in one." The social reading websites, are, of course, subsets of social media, which, along with web search, has become the most widely used aspect of the Internet. What is probably most notable about social media is the speed at which this phenomenon has developed. Facebook, founded by Mark Zuckerberg as a Harvard undergraduate on February 4, 2004, reached over 500 million users from around the world as of July 2010, and by December 29, 2010, only six years after its foundation, was the most searched for and most visited website in America. From the astonishingly rapid growth of social media sites we may observe the desires of very large groups of people around the world to communicate instantly and easily, and to share and compare their tastes or opinions on virtually everything. Because this was never possible on this scale until just a few years ago, its impact is relatively new and unexplored, and of the greatest interest to merchandisers, advertisers and politicians, as well as social scientists. Certain factors have, of course, combined to make this connectivity possible. At most basic it is the literacy of hundreds of milllions of people, as basic literacy is required for computer connectivity. Beyond that, it is ease of communication, resulting from very well-written programs, which makes it so easy for everyone to be their own publisher. Ease of use is a key factor in the success of one website over another. Since the development of blogging programs anyone has been able to publish in a fairly professional way online. As of 2007 there were 12 million blogs in the United States alone.

Like websites, ebooks may contain hyperlinks. Whether links are an aid to reading comprehension or a distraction may depend upon the individual. Of course, not all readers read footnotes in printed books, and the same may apply to links in digital books or writings. In this essay I am using both links and footnotes. Some of the links are to relevant From Cave Paintings to the Internet entries which expand upon ideas I am discussing. The footnotes supply supporting information or references or both. Do you find the links or footnotes informative or distracting, or do you ignore them? As mentioned earlier, I have written these essays entirely on the Internet, and though I might not be the best person to judge the results, I know that writing them in this way has affected the writing process. Most significantly, the ability to link to other sites, or to the database, has raised the ongoing issue of whether I should expand details within these texts, refer you to a link for more detail, or move detail into footnotes. What began simply as a description of the database has evolved, mainly since autumn 2010, into the essays you are reading now. Rather than attempting to perfect these writings before posting them to the web, I have found the act of publishing them online as I write to be a great motivator for me to keep improving them. There have been innumerable drafts and revisions. I am doing the composition in Adobe Dreamweaver. As these texts have grown, issues of formatting, footnoting and others have forced me to learn rudiments of HTML coding to achieve the results I want. This was not my intention, and web designer Jessica Gore is responsible for the design and operation of this website, but I am finding it increasingly useful to have some understanding of the interface between the writing, coding and the display. Therefore I have gotten used to writing with both a code and display window open in the program. Thinking about coding occasionally as I write also makes me more aware of how my text will look to you. This was never my concern in the past; prior to publishing on the Internet I focused only on writing the text; the completed text, with images and captions, was turned over to a book designer, who determined the appearance of the physical book and all its page openings. As I write this on my computer I am amused to be reminded of the practice of the eighteenth century printer-pornographer, Nicolas Edme Restif La Bretonne, who composed many of his prolific erotic novels directly in type before printing, without any manuscript on paper, leaving no archive tracing the development of his texts. Because of the difficulty of setting type by hand, the simultaneous process of composition and typesetting by Restif was no mean accomplishment. Similarly I am not archiving drafts; because I am also composing for direct publication on the Internet perhaps unintentionally I fell into Restif's tradition, though obviously in a far less risque fashion. 1.G.4 For a very enjoyable and perhaps even somewhat historically "authentic" cinematic account of Restif La Bretonne see the 1982 film La nuit de Varennes, in which Restif is portrayed by Jean-Louis Barrault, and the aging Giacomo Casanova is inimitably portrayed by Marcello Mastroianni. As of January 2011 this film remained available only in the low resolution analog VHS cassette format.

As previously mentioned, when time permits I hope to enhance this electronic text with images and other useful features, perhaps including links to digital facsimiles of works to which I refer. Some of the best ebooks contain features with different advantages, such as the electronic version of Theodore Gray's The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe available in June 2010 for the Apple iPad. Valuable enhancements to the electronic edition include the ability to rotate objects, the ability to visualize objects in 3-dimensions using inexpensive 3-D glasses, and full connectivity to the Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine for additional data. As ebooks develop they are expected to incorporate increased levels of interactivity, such as videos which explain text, audio that pronounces foreign language words as you read them, and assessment that lets you check what you remember and comprehend. Interactive features in textbooks may test your comprehension and adapt and change to help you learn questions and concepts you missed. New novel formats may provide platforms for live exchange with reading groups where you might be able to discuss the book with the author. Incidentally, even though I don't have social reading interactivity built into this essay, and doubt if I would even if I could, I would welcome your comments or criticisms; feel free to email or phone or discuss it with me if we happen to meet in actual, rather than virtual, reality!

Enhancements to digital books, while of course different and considerably more complex in their conception and operation, are analogous to features printing introduced to books in the fifteenth century, such as title pages which rarely existed, or were more appropriately called incipit pages, prior to printing. Because manuscripts were frequently not paginated, or pagination varied in manuscript copies, citations had to refer to chapters or other clearly defined parts of texts. The earliest codices were usually not paginated.

The Codex Sinaiticus.
For example, probably the most famous early codex, the Codex Sinaiticus (circa 350 CE) had no pagination but incorporated two ancient systems for numbering the quires rather than its leaves or pages. Inevitably there may have been exceptions to non-pagination, or non-standardization of pagination in manuscript codices, but they would have been rare. In The Footnote: A Curious History (1997) Anthony Grafton refers to an example of what might have been a an extremely early use of uniform pagination in the late fifth century CE. The case in point concerned the  Collatio legum Romanarum et Mosaicarum, a fourth-century legal treatise which argued that the laws of Moses were compatible with those of Rome. Three primary manuscripts of this text survive, of which the Berlin codex, dated by various scholars from the eighth to the tenth century, is considered the earliest and most authoritative. From the standpoint of book history this text is significant for its precise references to Roman laws, and the way in which these could be precisely cited. Grafton writes on p. 30: "Fragmentary preserved notes on a legal lecture from the late fifth century C.E. reveal that professors referred students to their sources [in the Collatio] not only by book and chapter divisions, but also by the page number, in what were evidently uniform copies." Standardization of pagination within a printed edition resulted in more accurate and usable indices with references to folio or page of a printed volume or set, as well as more accurate citations when information in the printed edition was cited by other scholars.

Besides greater portability and cost and space-saving, digital books also have the advantage of being searchable almost instantly by keyword or phrase. This advantage may be so useful, especially for printed books that contain unsatisfactory indexes or no index at all, that I sometimes find myself searching the electronic edition when I have the physical book in front of me. Though these engineered advantages of ebooks and ebook readers might seem to be their selling points, another advantage they are turning out to have is privacy, at least for some readers. According to an article published on December 9, 2010 in The New York Times, one of the hottest selling fields in ebooks is romance novels, which are also top-sellers in paperback. It turns out that many buyers prefer ordering romance novels online to buying them in public locations such as drug stores where they might run into people they know. Many also prefer to read these on an ebook reader, especially in public places like buses or trains, so they don't have to expose the racy nature of the novels, typically advertised graphically on covers of paperback editions.

In the fifteenth century portability does not seem to have been an advantage of print over manuscript. The format of early printed books was typically copied from manuscript formats, of which certain devotional works were designed to be portable.

Chained books at the Malatesta Library in Cesena.
Other early printed books, often bound in heavy bindings of leather over oak boards with metal bosses and clasps, were hardly intended to be portable, especially if they were chained to reading desks-- a common fifteenth century library practice. The first printer to publish a series of non-devotional works in the more portable, and less expensive octavo format was Aldus Manutius, beginning with his edition of Virgil (1502). This edition was also the first book printed entirely in Italic types, which in addition to graphic elegance, had a higher character count, allowing text to be printed on fewer pages. Nor was privacy an advantage that printed books had over manuscripts. If any literature that we would actually consider racy was printed during the fifteenth century none survived. In that very religious time what generally caught the attention of censors was heresy. Reflecting the tastes of their clientele, the first printers were generally conservative in their offerings, mostly sticking to accepted religious texts, school books, and editions of the classics. Nevertheless, such relatively obscure material as pagan love poetry, tame or not, might have been perceived as lascivious by prudish authorities, and could have been both highly commercial and a source of censorship problems for early printers.
The Bible of Borso d'Este.
In terms of mainstream printing, historians of the book have observed that once printers began issuing editions of the Bible demand for production of new manuscript Bibles appears to have essentially ceased, except for the production of a few great luxury manuscript bibles such as the Bible of Borso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, with its more than 1000 miniatures, commissioned by the duke coincident with the publication of Gutenberg's Bible, in 1455. Undoubtedly the cost of copying the lengthy texts of both the Old and New Testaments by hand was extremely high, and based on the comment in 1468 of humanist Giovanni Andrea Bussi cited in section 1.D, we may assume that the cost of printed editions was far less. Whether or not cost savings was the primary cause, the shift in production of Bibles from manuscript to print within the first decade of printing, or shortly thereafter, was one of the first major signposts in the transition from old to new technologies in fifteenth century book production. (This section was last revised on June 11, 2011.)

back to top