Course Description

450.683 - The History of the Book from the Ancient World to the Digital Humanities

"What is the future of the book?" This course will tackle that question in two distinct ways. First, we will delve into the distant historical past together and explore the circumstances governing the transmission of knowledge itself, from its origins in Bronze Age cuneiform, hieroglyphic and Semitic-language manuscripts, up to the Greco-Roman period, in the form of inscribed tablets, papyrus rolls, and epigraphic fragments. The next portion of the course will address the medieval "manuscript revolution," marking the epochal technological transition to the codex book-form still in use today. Here we will address the progress of paleography-the forensic development of Western handwriting over time-and the proliferation of book illustration and illumination alongside the parallel development of traditional sacred and novel secular textual genres, partly made possible through these same innovations in book production. In the interest of presenting an especially focused study over the final half of the course, we will then move from the late Middle Ages to the "Printing Revolution," from the middle of the 15th c. up to the close of the 17th c. We will hone in on the first era of "information overload" (before our present-day digital revolution) and its broader cultural impact on the cultures of book history and the reception of knowledge over time. (Available Online)