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From Manuscript To Bound Book: How The Printing Press Revolutionized 15th Century Literature

1900 words - 8 pages

From Manuscript to Bound Book: How the Printing Press Revolutionized 15th Century Literature
“The invention of printing broadcast the printed language and gave to print a degree of authority that it has never lost.”- A. Lloyd James
Before the days of automated printers and wireless communication, manuscripts represented the primary but inefficient and costly way to record, obtain and share knowledge. It was not until the 15th century when Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionized the way information was stored and disseminated. The printing press quickly changed the way in which written works were manufactured and which works could be produced by allowing private citizens to ...view middle of the document...

While there existed means to replicate written works prior Gutenberg, they were limited in their scope. Technologies like woodblock printing have existed since 220 AD [cite] while the art of transcription has existed since antiquity. Woodblock printing involves carving a relief pattern into a block of wood and then stamping the inked block onto a piece of paper, animal skin or cloth. However, the carving of these blocks was a time, and labour intensive process and any errors in the block were permanent. Further constraints included only being able to print on one side of each sheet, as the stamping process would damage the first side, and the complexity of the craft necessitated skilled tradesmen to carve them. Scribes were the other way of reproducing work, but, like block printing, transcription took a very long time, with some works taking up to a year for a single scribe. []
To understand why the printing press so radically changed the status quo of the time, one has to appreciate how text was created and reproduced. In medieval times, the word “author” did not hold the same significance as it does today. Text was copied and circulated freely without credit [Chaytor 1950] and the idea of the author was a fluid definition. [McLuhan 1964] The scribes transcribing literature were less concerned with the origins of text and more of the utility. [McLuhan 1964] There were few trustworthy records of the origin of a copied text and the scribes that transcribed manuscripts usually wrote their own names at the end of the piece, instead of the name of the original author. If a new author wanted to cite something, he would have to sift through a compendium (a collection of texts too small to be their own book, usually listed by the author of the first entry) of other works that usually did not have the correct attributions, and make a reference to that particular work. However, there could be many versions of the same piece of text, in different compendia. [McLuhan 1964] Thus, ideas of ownership and authorship did not prevail as they do in modernity, and the concept of a static piece of work was nonexistent.
The staple of academia is the textbook: A collection of text from multiple authors researched and checked for accuracy. Throughout history prior to the printing press, students learned by copying the recitations of their professor, who read aloud from a manuscript. [McLuhan 1964] Books were simply too expensive for every student to own, and this system of dictation benefited both parties; the student learned as he wrote and had a private copy at the end course while the professor was ensured a large, paying audience. [Hajnal 1959] This was the state of academia: One person reading to an entire lecture hall. If one could not afford the tuition to attend a lecture, the only other option was to buy a copy of the manuscript, which was likely to be just as expensive. However, this barrier to entry was removed with the introduction of the printing...

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