4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Education / Scholarship / Reading / Literacy Timeline


2,800,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

The Advantages of Orally Transmitted Traditions Circa 30,000 BCE

Dependent as we are on written culture we should not lose sight of the advantages of orally transmitted traditions:

"Some might argue that, without writing, the same beliefs could not have prevailed over such a long period of time, but in reality, oral traditions are far more faithfully passed on than the written word. A written account can be open to multiple interpretations, distortions, and transformations, depending on the time and situation, economic imperatives, or the whims of political or religious leaders. Orally transmitted traditions, in contrast, must be rigorously and accurately passed on in order to survive in all their subtlety, and in the smallest of details. Furthermore, the written word, thought to be the surer and safer means of communication, is not only less reliable but also more permeable to outside aggression than are the more secret codes of an oral system. During the time of the Roman Empire, for instance, the fact that the Celts were still 'prehistoric'—meaning that they hadn't recorded their history, ways, and beliefs— made it much harder for the conquering Romans to devise an appropriate strategy to subjugate them" (Desdemaines-Hugon, Stepping-Stones. A Journey Through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordogne [2010] 75).

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8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Earliest Autograph Signatures Circa 3,100 BCE

A pictographic list of titles and professions in ancient Sumeria (top), with the scribe's signature on the reverse side (bottom.) (View Larger)

Pictographic lexical lists written in ancient Sumerian pictographic script on clay tablets are the earliest literature known, and also the earliest known evidence of school and learning.

An example preserved in the Schøyen Collection (MS 2429/4 MS 2429/4) is a lexical list of 41 titles and professions, starting: Nam Gist Sita (Lord of the Mace), signed by the scribe Gar.Ama. 

The scribal signatures on this tablet and other lexical lists are the earliest autograph signatures extant.

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Education in the Bronze Age in the Middle East Circa 3,000 BCE – 1,200 BCE

Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), the most famous of the early Babylonian kings. (View Larger)

"In the Bronze Age (c. 3000-1200 BC in the Middle East) the production and transmission of literate knowledge was cited in scribal schools. No doubt temples, courts and other places were also centers of intellectual and cultural exchange at this time, but they have not yet been identified and analyzed as such through the archaeological record. Second-millennium schools, on the other hand, have been carefully studied in recent years, enabling us to look at them in the light of book history. For instance, in the early 1950s over a thousand tablets, mostly in fragments, were excavated from 'House F," a small urban house in Nippur near modern Najaf. According to the datable household documents found in it, House F was used as a scribal school in the 1750s BC, immediately after the reign of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) the most famous of the early Babylonian kings.

"About half of the tablets in House F are the by-products of an elementary scribal education. They take the trainee from learning how to use a stylus to make horizontal, vertical, and diagonal wedges on the tablet to writing whole sentences in literary Sumerian. The students doubless learned to make their own tablets too, because in the corner of the tiny courtyard was a bitumen-lined basin filled with a mixture of fresh tablet clay and crumpled up tablets waiting to be recycled. Both the elementary exercises and the tablets themselves were standardized, with format and content closely related to pedagogical function" (Robson, "The Clay Tablet Book in Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia," Eliot & Rose [eds.], A Companion to the History of the Book [2007] 71).

It is thought that the tablets from House F survived because they were reused as building material.

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The Abu Salbikh Tablet Lost in the Iraq War Circa 2,500 BCE

The Instructions of Shuruppak, one of the earliest surviving literary works, is a Sumerian "wisdom" text. This was a genre of literature common in the Ancient Near East intended to teach proper piety, inculcate virtue and preserve community standing.

The text was set in great antiquity by its incipit: "In those days, in those far remote times, in those nights, in those faraway nights, in those years, in those far remote years." The precepts were placed in the mouth of a king "Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu." Ubara-Tutu was the last king of Sumer before the universal deluge.

The oldest known copy of the Instructions of Shuruppak is the Abu Salabikh Tablet found at Abu Salabikh, near near the site of ancient Nippur in Central Babylonia (now southern Iraq). Abu Salabikh marks the site of a small Sumerian city of the mid third millennium BCE. It was excavated by an American expedition from the Oriental Institute of Chicago in 1963 and 1965, and was a British concern for the British School of Archaeology in Iraq (1975–89), after which excavations were suspended with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

"The city, built on a rectilinear plan in Early Uruk times, revealed a small but important repertory of cuneiform texts on some 500 tablets, of which the originals were stored in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, and were largely lost when the museum was looted in the early stages of the Second Iraq War; fortunately they had been carefully published."

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

One of the Two Oldest Records of the Greek Alphabet Circa 740 BCE

The ancient Greek wine jug bearing the Dipylon inscription.

The Dipylon inscription, a short text written on an ancient Greek pottery vessel, is, along with the  Cup of Nestor from Pithikoussai, one of the two oldest known examples of the use of the Greek alphabet.

"The text is scratched on a wine jug (oenochoe), which was found in 1871 and is named after the location where it was found, the ancient Dipylon Cemetery, near the Dipylon Gate on the area of Kerameikos in Athens. The jug is attributed to the Late Geometrical Period (750-700 BCE), and it has been dated to ca. 740 BCE. It is now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens (inv. 192)" (Wikipedia article on Diplyon inscription, accessed 04-25-2009).

(This entry was last revised on April 13, 2014.)

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One of the Two Oldest Known Examples of Writing in Greek Circa 740 BCE – 720 BCE

The Cup of Nestor. (View Larger)

The so-called Cup of Nestor from Pithikoussai, a clay drinking cup (kotyle) was found in 1954 at excavations in a grave in the ancient Greek site of Pithikoussai on the island of Ischia in the Tyrrhenian Sea, at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples. It bears a three-line inscription that was scratched on its side at a later time. This inscription, and the so-called Dipylon inscription from Athens, are the oldest known examples of writing in the Greek alphabet.

The inscription is fragmented, as some shards of the cup are lost. It is written in the early Euboean form of the Western Greek alphabet, written from right to left in three separate lines. The text runs:


This is usually transcribed (in later classical orthography, with the missing parts in brackets) as:

Νέστορος [εἰμὶ] εὔποτ[ον] ποτήριο[ν]·
ὃς δ’ ἂν τοῦδε π[ίησι] ποτηρί[ου] αὐτίκα κῆνον
ἵμερ[ος αἱρ]ήσει καλλιστ[εφάν]ου Ἀφροδίτης.
Nestor’s cup I am, good to drink from.
Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway
the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.

Pithikoussai was one of the earliest Greek colonies in the West. The cup is dated to the Geometric Period (c.750-700 BCE) and is believed to have been originally manufactured in Rhodes. It is preserved in the Villa Arbusto museum in the village of Lacco Ameno on the island of Ischia, Italy.

Both the Cup of Nestor and the Dipylon inscription have been linked to early writing in the island of Euboea.

Meiggs & Lewis, A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. (1969) No. 1.

(This entry was last revised on April 13, 2014.)

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Ancient Shopping Lists on Ostracons Reveal Spread of Literacy at Fort in Arad, israel Circa 600 BCE

Computer analysis of shopping lists written on pottery, known as ostracons, found in the Judahite desert fortress of Arad, Israel, indicate a wider spread of literacy in Israel toward the end of the First Temple period around 600 BCE. Based on a statistical analysis of the results, and taking into account the content of the texts that were chosen for the sample, researchers concluded that at least six different hands wrote the 16 notes at around the same time. From this evidence it appears that even soldiers in the lower ranks of the Judahite army could read and write.

Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, et al. "Algorithmic handwriting analysis of Judah’s military correspondence sheds light on composition of biblical texts," PNAS, 113, No. 17


"Scholars debate whether the first major phase of compilation of biblical texts took place before or after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Proliferation of literacy is considered a precondition for the creation of such texts. Ancient inscriptions provide important evidence of the proliferation of literacy. This paper focuses on 16 ink inscriptions found in the desert fortress of Arad, written ca. 600 BCE. By using novel image processing and machine learning algorithms we deduce the presence of at least six authors in this corpus. This indicates a high degree of literacy in the Judahite administrative apparatus and provides a possible stage setting for compilation of biblical texts. After the kingdom’s demise, a similar literacy level reemerges only ca. 200 BCE.


"The relationship between the expansion of literacy in Judah and composition of biblical texts has attracted scholarly attention for over a century. Information on this issue can be deduced from Hebrew inscriptions from the final phase of the first Temple period. We report our investigation of 16 inscriptions from the Judahite desert fortress of Arad, dated ca. 600 BCE—the eve of Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem. The inquiry is based on new methods for image processing and document analysis, as well as machine learning algorithms. These techniques enable identification of the minimal number of authors in a given group of inscriptions. Our algorithmic analysis, complemented by the textual information, reveals a minimum of six authors within the examined inscriptions. The results indicate that in this remote fort literacy had spread throughout the military hierarchy, down to the quartermaster and probably even below that rank. This implies that an educational infrastructure that could support the composition of literary texts in Judah already existed before the destruction of the first Temple. A similar level of literacy in this area is attested again only 400 y later, ca. 200 BCE."

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Ezra Introduces Public Reading of the Torah Circa 536 BCE

Ezra the Scribe

After the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity abpit 536 BCE Ezra the Scribe introduced public reading of the Torah.

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How Herodotus Used Writing and Messages in his Histories Circa 450 BCE – 420 BCE

As Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) was the founder of historical writing, references to written or archival records in his Histories (The History) are of particular interest. By the mid-fifth century BCE writing in Greece had existed for only about 300 years. Because writing was relatively new, and only a small portion of society was literate, it may not be surprising that Herodotus appears to have consulted few written sources in compiling his Histories. From Herodotus's own account it seems that most often he did not find it necessary, or perhaps practical, to verify information that he compiled from personal observation through the consultation of written records. Herodotus also expected his Histories to be read aloud, in which case citing written sources within the Histories might have been a kind of distraction.

Herodotus begins his Histories with a sentence that has been translated in various ways: "Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time."  Another translation of the same sentence reads, "What follows is a performance of the enquiries of Herodotus from Halicarnassus." According to Robert Strassler, editor of The Landmark Herodotus (2007) 3, Proem.b, "This almost certainly implies that Herodotus performed (read aloud) his text, in whole or in part, to an audience gathered to hear him."

Herodotus usually refers to records in the context of government, law, or communication. He often refers to dispatches sent by leaders as part of political or military negotiations, such as dispatches sent in the context of war. He describes attempts to send secret messages. He also refers to records used for the enforcement of laws, which were, of course, in written form. He is aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of writing over oral communication.

"Herodotus recognized the usefulness of writing for interpersonal communication, but he also knew that it could be problematic. Because writing fixed a message in time and space, a written document that seemed objective and straightforward could also be full of paradoxes. In the generation after Herodotus, Socrates would complain (in the dialogue Phaedrus, set down by Plato) that writing represented 'no true wisdom, . . . but only its semblance.' Written words 'seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent,' the philosopher said, 'but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you the same thing for ever.' Even worse, once something is put in writing it 'drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it doesn't know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong. '  

"Like Socrates, Herodotus knew that writing was full of ambiguities. Since a written document could not be cross-examined as a speaking person could, it might be used not to inform but to deceive. Themistocles, the Athenian general who led the resistance to the invasion of Xerxes. knew this too. Both sides in the war were vying for the help of the Ionians, descendants of Greek settlers who had colonized the Aegean islands and the adjacent mainland coastal areas of present-day Turkey. Most Ionians sided with the Persians, their powerful near-neighbours, but the Greeks sought their aid on the grounds of common ancestry. Themistocles used the ambiguity of writing to enlist their help, or at least to minimize the potential harm they might do to the Greek cause. He sent men to the "drinkable-water places" where Ionian ships put in for resupply, and he had them cut written messages into the rocks there, urging the Ionians to abandon Xerxes and join the Greek side. His plan was clever: either the Ionians who read the messages would be persuaded to rebel against the Persians, he reasoned, or Xerxes himself would see the messages and distrust his allies, withholding them from the order of battle (8.22). As it happened, only a few Ionians defected to the Greeks (see 8.85), but a more important point had been made: writing could send a deliberately confusing message as well as a direct one. Writing was not always so straightforward as it appeared to be.

"Writing could also be useful for sending messages in secret, and Herodotus provided several examples of how written records promoted secrecy. There was a danger in committing anything to writing since, if the document were intercepted, secrecy would be lost. Histiaeus, who had been made Despot of Miletus by Darius, learned this lesson when he sought through secret messages to stir up a revolt against his benefactor. The King's brother intercepted these letters, read them, and then sent them on to their original destination, having meanwhile profited from knowing what plans were afoot. When the revolt came, the loyal forces 'killed a great number ... when they were thus revealed' (6.4). Still, writing out a message and smuggling it to a confederate could be safer than entrusting it orally to a messenger, who could be bribed or tortured into talking if apprehended. Because of the possibility of such discovery, special care was needed over secret communications, and Herodotus found several instances of such security precautions.

"These stories present the historian at his anecdotal best, and we may well doubt whether any of them actually happened. Their very dramatic content, however, highlights the problem Socrates complained of; namely, writing drifting 'all over the place' and getting into the wrong hands. In one case, a Mede named Harpagus plotted with Cyrus to overthrow the King and install the young man in his place. 'Because the roads were guarded,' a secret message had to be smuggled through by some 'contrivance.' Harpagus took a hare and split open its belly, leaving the fur intact. Next, he inserted "a paper on which he wrote what he wanted," stitched the animal back together, and entrusted it to a servant, disguised as an innocuous huntsman. The servant made it past the guards along the road and delivered the message to its intended recipient (1.123; the text of the message itself is at 1.124)" (O'Toole, "Herodotus and the Written Record," Archivaria 33 [1991-92] 153-54).

Whatever Herodotus's ideas regarding the written record, his Histories survived because he wrote them down, and because they were re-copied. According to Roger Pearse, tertullian.org, 18 papyrus fragments of Herdotus survived, all fragments of a page, with little overlap. Most of these fragments date from the first or second centuries CE. Pearse cites nine medieval manuscript exemplars. The earliest, Laurentian 70, 3, known as Codex A, dates from the 10th century C.E. This was carefully written by two scribes in succession. The text contains marginal summaries and the remains of scholia, copied from its exemplar, as well as much later marginal notes, especially in book 1.

Pearse provides the following general comments on the surviving sources for Herodotus: "The manuscripts and papyri do not give us information on all the forms of the text of Herodotus that were known in antiquity. This we can see from the quotations of the text in other ancient authors. . . . Both the manuscripts and papyri appear to derive from a common ancient edition which was widely circulated in the early centuries AD. Who made this is unknown. . . ."

(This entry was last revised on 04-24-2014.)

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One of the Earliest Images of Someone Reading a Papyrus Roll 440 BCE – 435 BCE

One of the earliest surviving images of anyone reading a papyrus roll, preserved in the Louvre. (View Larger)

A tondo, or circular work of art, from the inside base of an Attic red figure cup depicts the teacher Linos (named on the right) reading from a papyrus roll while his pupil Mousaios (named on the left) reads from writing tablets.

Preserved in the Louvre (G457), this school scene is one of the earliest surviving images of anyone reading a papyrus roll. The tondo shows Linos reading the roll vertically, perhaps because of the demands of the artistic composition; the usual method of reading a papyrus roll appears to have been in the horizontal position with the roll rolling to the right and left. To the left of Linos the boy, Mousaios, stands reading from the wood tablets he holds in his left hand. Behind Mousaios the chest depicted is thought to be a storage container for papyrus rolls.  The cup, attributed to the "Eretria Painter," is 9.9 cm high x 25.4 cm in diameter and 33.9 cm wide.  

Lewis, Papyrus in Classical Antiquity (1974) Plate 8 and caption 8 (p. 152).

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Socrates on the Invention of Writing and the Relationship of Writing to Memory Circa 370 BCE

In the Phaedrus, written circa 370 BCE, Plato recorded Socrates's discussion of the Egyptian myth of the creation of writing. In the process Socrates faulted writing for weakening the necessity and power of memory, and for allowing the pretense of understanding, rather than true understanding.

From Plato's dialogue Phaedrus 14, 274c-275b:

Socrates: [274c] I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who [274d] invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. 

Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in the great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame, according as he approved [274e] or disapproved.  

"The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, [274e] “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; [275a] and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess.  

"For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem [275b] to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise." 

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Euclid's Elements: "The Founding Document of Mathematics" 323 BCE – 283 BCE

Between 323 and 283 BCE mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, a teacher at the Alexandrian Library under the reign of Ptolemy I, wrote the Elements, in which he summarized and codified the preceding two centuries of mathematical research. Considered the founding document of mathematics, the Elements was the standard textbook for mathematical education in the ancient world, in the Islamic world, and in Europe through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and until almost the present time. "The system of thought presented by the Elements, in which knowledge was distilled in the form of theorems and then given a written proof, inspired fields as diverse as law and physics. Indeed, Newton’s Principia, which marked the beginning of modern physics, took Euclid’s work as its intellectual and stylistic model.”

♦ For numerous related entries in this database about the transmission and publication of Euclid, and its influence, please search under Euclid in the keyword search.

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Royal Library of Alexandria: The Largest Collection of Recorded Information in the Ancient World Circa 300 BCE

The Royal Library of Alexandria, associated with the Museum or Mouseion at Alexandria (Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας), was probably founded around 300 BCE under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II. Though it was the largest library in the ancient world, and the repository of so much Greek literature that was eventually passed down to us, and also so much that was eventually lost, the number of papyrus rolls preserved at Alexandria at its peak, or any other time, is unknown. At its peak, the number of rolls that it might have held has been estimated by numerous scholars, without any reliable evidence, from as many as 400,000 to 700,000 to as few as 40,000, or even less. A typical papyrus roll probably contained a text about the length of one book of Homer.

Writing in 2002, American classical scholar Roger Bagnall argued that very high numbers of rolls traditionally estimated by scholars to have been held by the Royal Library of Alexandria, such as 400,000 to 700,000 rolls, may reflect modern expectations rather than the extent of written literature that may have been produced by ancient Greek writers: 

"The computer databank of ancient Greek literature, the Thesurus Linguae Graecae, contains about 450 authors of whom at least a few words survive in quotation and whose lives are thought to have begun by the late fourth century. No doubt there were authors extant in the early Hellenistic period of whom not a line survives today, but we cannot estimate their numbers. Of most of these 450, we have literally a few sentences. There are another 175 known whose lives are placed, or whose births are placed in the third century B. C. Most of these authors probably wrote what by modern standards was a modest amount—a few book-rolls full, perhaps. Even the most voluminous authors of the group, like the Athenian dramatists, probably filled nor more than a hundred rolls or so. If the average writer filled 50 rolls, our known authors to the end of the third century would have produced 31,250 rolls. . . .

"To look at matters another way, just, 2,871,000 words of Greek are preserved for all authors known to have lived at least in part in the fourth century or earlier. Adding the third and second centuries brings the total to 3,773,000 words (or about 12,600 pages of 300 words each). At an average of 15,000 words per roll, this corpus would require a mere 251 rolls. Even at an average of 10,000 words per roll the figure would be only 377 rolls. It was estimated by one eminent ancient historian that the original bulk of historical writings in ancient Greece amounted to something like forty times what has survived. If so, our estimate would run to an original body of 10,000 to 15,000 rolls. This may be too low, but is it likely that it is too low by a factor of thirty or forty, and that only one word in 1,500 or 2,000 has survived? . . . (Roger S. Bagnall, "Alexandria: Library of Dreams," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 146 (2002) 348-62, quoting from 352-53).

Traditionally the Alexandrian Library is thought to have been based upon the library of Aristotle. By tradition it is also believed, without concrete evidence, that the much of the collection of rolls was acquired by order of Ptolemy III, who supposedly required all visitors to Alexandria to surrender rolls in their possession. These writings were then copied by official scribes, the originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners.

The Alexandrian Library was associated with a school and a museum. Scholars at Alexandria were responsible for the editing and standardization for many earlier Greek texts. One of the best-known of these editors was Aristophanes of Byzantium, a director of the library, whose work on the text of the Iliad may be preserved in the Venetus A manuscript, but who was also known for editing authors such as Pindar and Hesiod.

Though it is known that portions of the Alexandrian Library survived for several centuries, the various accounts of the library's eventual destruction are contradictory. The Wikipedia article on the Library of Alexandria outlined four possible scenarios for its destruction:

  1. Julius Caesar's fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BCE
  2. The attack of Aurelian in the Third century CE
  3. The decree of Theophilus in 391 CE. (Destruction of pagan literature by early Christians.)
  4. The Muslim conquest in 642 CE, or thereafter.

♦ Other factors in the eventual destruction of the contents of the Alexandrian Library might have included the decay of the papyrus rolls as a result of the climate. Most of the papyrus rolls and fragments that survived after the Alexandrian Library did so in the dry sands of the Egyptian desert. Papyrus rolls do not keep well either in dampness or in salty sea air, to which they were likely exposed in the library located in the port of Alexandria. Thus, independently of the selected library destruction scenario, because of decay of the storage medium, or as a result of fires, rodent damage, natural catastrophes, or neglect, it is probable that significant portions of the information in the Alexandrian library were lost before the library was physically destroyed.

Whatever the circumstances and timing of the physical destruction of the Library, it is evident that by the eighth century the Alexandrian Library was no longer a significant institution. 

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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Philology Probably Begins at the Royal Library of Alexandria Circa 280 BCE

Fragments of the Odyssey, most likely copied in Alexandria.

Commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey written during the Hellenistic period at Alexandria began exploring the textual inconsistencies of the poems which occurred as the result of different scribes writing down differing versions of poems passed down through the oral tradition. Examples of these variant readings have survived in Bodleian Library papyrus (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]). The process of comparing different manuscript texts— such as would have been preserved at the Alexandrian Library— to arrive at what might be the “canonical” text, was the beginning of philology

The first critical edition of Homer was made by Zenodotus of Ephesus, first superintendant of the Library of Alexandria, who lived during the reigns of the first two Ptolemies, and was at the height of his reputation about 280 BCE. His colleagues in librarianship were Alexander of Aetolia and Lycophron of Chalcis, to whom were allotted the tragic and comic writers respectively, Homer and other epic poets being assigned to Zenodotus.

"Having collated the different manuscripts in the library, he expunged or obelized doubtful verses, transposed or altered lines, and introduced new readings. It is probable that he was responsible for the division of the Homeric poems into twenty-four books each (using capital Greek letters for the Iliad, and lower-case for the Odyssey), and possibly was the author of the calculation of the days of the Iliad in the Tabula Iliaca" (Wikipedia article on Zenodotus, accessed 11-26-2008).

The most famous Greek manuscript of the IliadVenetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), a tenth century codex preserved at the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia." These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance.

(This entry was last revised on 12-20-2014.)

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The Earliest Treatise on Mnemonics Circa 90 BCE

Rhetorica ad Herennium, a treatise on rhetoric, persuasion, and mnemonics, was composed about 90 BCE. This treatise, of which over 100 medieval manuscripts survive, was formerly attributed to the Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, orator Cicero. Its authorship is now considered unknown.

During the Middle Ages Rhetorica ad Herennium was the most influential treatise on mnemonics. The techniques it expounded, known as the method of loci, or memory palace, were attributed to the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos (Kea). The Rhetorica is the only comprehensive discussion of Simonides' techniques that survived from the ancient world through the Middle Ages.  

"The techniques described in this book were widely practiced in the ancient and medieval worlds. Memory training was considered a centerpiece of classical education in the language arts, on par with grammar, logic and rhetoric. Students were taught not just what to remember but how to remember it. In a world with few books, memory was sacrosanct" (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html, accessed 02-20-2011).

The section on mnemonics appears in Book III, pp. 205-213 of the Loeb Library edition.

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Details of the Roman Book Trade Circa 70 BCE – 100 CE

"Bookdealers, like many businessmen in Rome, tended to be freedmen, men of low social status. We come across a few names: the Sosii, for instance, who worked with Horace; Dorus, who Seneca says handled Livy; and Pollio Valerianus, the freedman Secundus, and Trypho, who deal with the books of Martial. They were, in simple terms the owners of small shops that dealt in luxury items. Perhaps as significant, they apparently only handled current literature and did not sell older works.

"Their business was conducted at the retail level: each bookdealer made the copies he sold. There was little or no distribution system to support the individual shop-owner and therefore, virtually no broad-based geographical distribution except on the individual level. If a bookshop owner in a provincial city sold a copy of a book, it implies that he had made that copy, not that he had bought a large number of copies from a Rome-based distributor.

"Most of the copies bookdealers sold were probably made at the specific request of a customer. The shop-owner merely needed to have on hand or to acquire exemplars of various texts from which he could make copies as necessary. A stock might be maintained of some texts . . . .

"We have no idea at all how many copies of a work might be made. A famous letter of Pliny mentions that Regulus had one thousand copies made of his eulogy for his son, but that is an unusual kind of text and Pliny thinks the number excessive and in bad taste. The question is actually close to meaningless in a world of individually made copies, since the number of copies would increase directly in proportion to the number of readers who wanted one and was not related to the number made at any particular time.

"Nor do we know how the individual copies were made. The most common method was undoubtedly having slaves make one copy after another from a master copy, as probably happened with Regulus' one thousand copies of his eulogy of his son. Various other methods have also been suggested. To extrapolate the pecia system back in time, a text might be divided into sections which would then be passed out to a number of different copyists. Alternatively, one person mght dictate a text to several others, who would write it out, thus producing an economy of time. Our modern insistence on economies of speed and scale, however, makes it difficult for us to keep in mind that such economies did not necessarily motivate the Romans.

"Book prices in bookstores also elude conclusive discussion, since they appear only very occasionally in the surviving sources. For example, as we have seen, Martial mentions that a deluxe copy of one of his books costs five denarii. The basic points, however, reduce the importance of the question. First, book prices would not have concerned the large majority of the population of the Roman world for the simple reason that they could not read. Second, the economic structure of that population – with a very small number of very wealthy people, a very large number of very poor people, and no significant middle class in the modern sense – put books at any price out of most people's reach. Third, as we have seen, the booktrade was merely an ancillary system of circulation beside the private channels that probably supplied the vast majority of literary texts. In short, not many people owned books in the first place, and, of those who did, not many bought them at bookshops.

"More tantatlizing questions are who patronized bookdealers and why. The answer may lie in the fact that Roman bookdealers were not in competition with the private channels of circulation in which so much of roman literature moved. If a Roman could acquire a text through those private channels, there was no reason for him to buy from a bookdealer. Neither Cicero nor Pliny, for instance, two of our major sources for the circulation of literary texts, ever mentions going to a bookshop. This, of course, does not prove that they never visited such a shop, but it may suggest that they obtained any texts they wanted through their friends. if a reader's circle of friends included neither the author of the text nor someone who owned a copy, then a bookstore might provide a helpful service. Catullus, for example, says that he will torment a friend by buying books of bad poetry and giving them to him (14.1-20). The joke may be based not only on the low quality of the poetry but also on the implication that the poets he mentions were so terrible that no one in his circle would know them or own a copy of their poetry.

"Since even the elite used bookstores as gathering-places and since booksellers put up advertisements on their doorposts, the shop would expose the work of unknowns to the literary upper crust. That exposure might conceivably and eventually produce social contact, which at least theoretically, might provide a way to break into the concentric circules of circulation and friendship and might even result in the discovery of a patron. Monetary gain directly from the sale of copies was not a factor.

"Other advantages have been suggested by modern scholars but are overstated. First, a bookstore was a place to send people who wanted a copy, as Martial sends his obnoxious Quintus, to whom he does not want to give a gift copy and with whom he does not want to acknowledge the degree of friendship that would imply. This, however, would only be done in awkward situations, not as a common practice. Second, bookshops have been thought to provide some safeguard for the accuracy of the text, at least early in its circulation, although the relatively unregulated circulation of texts would substantially limit this advantage.

"The Booktrade appears to become more important during the first century A.D., so that by Pliny's time it appears to have become an accepted method for the circulation of literature, although by no means the only method. Martial, as we have seen, often mentions the dealers who handle his books. . . . By Pliny's time, at least some authors thought it appropriate to give a copy of a work to a bookseller, who could then make and sell copies if anyone wanted them. Even if bookshops did become more important, however, private channels did not lose their importance. Such channels wold have continued to serve the literary needs of the established literary and social élite and would also have continued to provide non-literary works such as commentaries and lexica.

"The increasing importance of bookshops may be due to several factors. First, authors in Pliny's time may have wanted to reach further beyond the narrow circles of their own friends and their friends' friends. It would be misleading to think of this as an increase in author's ambitions, since this might seem to imply that earlier writers were men of modest ambitions. Rather, the change may have represented a somewhat broader conception of the potential audience for a literary work. Even so, wider distribution does not imply an enormous increase in the number and diversity of the reading public, since the potential audience remains the intellectual aristocracy. The change would still be profound, nonetheless, since it implies the partial freeing of literature from the bonds of friendship.

Second, a larger role for bookshops may reflect the emergence of a relatively new type of Roman writer. For old Roman writers, literature was always seen as merely one facet of the life of an aristocrat, albeit a very important one. Althought writing and reading undoubtedly affected their social relationships, those relationships were also based on other ties such as politics, marriage alliances and family traditions. For the newer writers such as Martial, however, arriving in Rome from abroad, lacking the ties of politics and the other elements of aristocratic friendship, literature provided a point of access to the aristocracy, a way of making contact with the elite. From them ltierature played a functional role in addition to its earlier one. Any financial advantage, however, came from the well-established system of patronage.

"Third, since, as has been argued above, bookshops enjoyed no special status above that of any luxury shop, that very commonality of commercial status may hint that literature was becoming something that could be bought and sold like perfume or expensive fabric. Since literature had been and remained a symbol of social status, its reduction to a marketable commodity may indicate a weakening of the hold of the traditional aristocracy on the control of access to social status. In earlier Roman society, one had to be a member of an aristocratic group to acquire access to works that circulated primarily with that group. In this later period, bookstores made it at least theoretically possible for access to literature to precede and perhaps even to facilitate access to certain refined circles.

"Yet, for all these suggestions, Roman literature remained the preserve of the aristocracy except in oratorical events and public performances. If bookshops helped literature move out of the strict control of aristocratic groups of friends, they actually did so only to help outsiders gain access to those élite circles" (Raymond J. Starr,"The Circulation of Literary Texts in the Roman World," The Classical Quarterly 37, No. 1 [1987] 213-223, quoting from 219-23.) Note that I could not include the approximately 30 footnotes associated with this quotation.

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Humorous Inscriptions on Lead Sling-Bolts (Sling Bullets; Slingshot) Reflect a Roman War of Words 41 BCE

Sling-bolts, or bullets, engraved with a winged lightning-bolt on one side, and the words 'take that' on another. Circa fourth century BCE Athens. (View Larger)

Evidence of wide-ranging military literacy in the Roman Empire can be of a very ephemeral kind:

"In 41 BC during the civil war that followed the death of Julius Caesar, Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) trapped Lucius Antonius and Fulvia (the brother and the wife of Mark Antony) within the walls of the central Italian town of Perugia. A number of lead sling-bolts (roughly the size of hazelnuts), manufactured during the seige that followed, have been recovered in Perugia; they bear short inscriptions, which both sides carved into their moulds, so that the bolts [also called sling bullets or slingshot] could be used in a war of words, as well as to inflict death or injury. Some of these inscriptions are fairly tame, wishing victory to one or other side, or commenting on Lucius Antonius' receding hairline (which is also known from his coinage). Others are rather richer in flavour, like the one, fired from Octavian's side, which bluntly asks: Lucius Antonius the bald, and Fulvia, show us your arse [L. [uci] A[antoni] calve, Fulvia, culum pan[dite] ]. Whoever composed this refined piece of propaganda and had it cast into a sling-bolt certainly expected some of the soldery on the other side to be able to read" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 157-58).

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30 CE – 500 CE

Probably the Earliest Surviving Image of the Crucifixion: A Graffito Circa 50 CE – 250 CE

The Alexamenos Grafitto. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving image of the Crucifixion appears to be an anti-Christian graffito discovered in 1857 carved in plaster on a wall near the Palatine Hill in Rome, now in the Palatine Antiquarium Museum. A Greek inscription, translated as "Alexamenos worshipping his God," is scratched on the graffito causing it to be known as the "Alexamenos Grafitto." The date of this graffito has been estimated as between 50 and 250 CE.

"It is assumed that the comment is sarcastic: in what appears to be an attitude of prayer, the smaller figure stands before a crucified man with the head of an ass. Contemporary Christian writers remark that pagans accuse Christians of worshiping an ass.  

"In its discussion of the graffito (under 'Archæology of the Cross and Crucifix'), the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that the graffiti artist may have seen actual Christian worship involving a crucifix, because the figure on the cross is wearing the perizoma, the short loincloth which is commonly used in Christian images of the crucifixion. (In actual crucifixions, the victim is naked)" (http://www.aug.edu/augusta/iconography/2003additions/alexamenosGraffito.html,accessed 10-14-2010).

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Note-Taking Versus "Place Memory" from Antiquity through the Renaissance and Later Circa 50 CE – 1700

"Frances Yates first called attention to memory practices as an object of historical inquiry with her pathbreaking study of the long reception of the ancient arts of memory [Yates, The Art of Memory (1966)]. The art of memory was designed to facilitate recall by associating the items to be remembered with vivid imagery, often related to the places in a building. Aristotle and Cicero explained the origins of this method from the story of Simonides who remembered all the guests who were killed at a banquet by the places they had occupied around the table. Today, still advice books on improving memory recommend similar techniques of association with vivid images and places. Yates's book has left the impression that place memory was the main method of recall used from antiquity through the Renaissance. Without denying that place memory was used, especially for short-term recall to memorize a speech or perform a feat of memory, I emphasize that for the long-term retention and accumulation of information, note-taking was the more common aid to memory. Note-taking is documented in antiquity (with Pliny) and can be surmised ans the principal means of composition of florilegia and large compilations in the Middle Ages. Starting in the Renaissance, note-taking can be studied from abundant surviving sources. Images were valued as mnemonic aids in manuscript and print, but repetition and copying out were the keystones of Renaissance pedagogy.

"As Yates herself notes, European pedagogues and scholars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were increasingly critical of place memory. Though he conceded that places could help, Erasmus maintained that 'the best memory is based on three things above all: understanding, system, and care.' The natural historian Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) complained that the investment required to learn the system of places was greater than the reward, and Gabriel Naudé (1600-53) saw it as positively pernicious because 'artifical memory spoils and perverts the natural [memory].' In the German academic world Bartholomaeus Kecermann (1571-1608) considered the arts of memory 'confused philosophically and blasphemous theologically.' Instead, these and other pedagogues in the wake of humanism advocated note-taking, which they portrayed as the best aid to memory.

"Note-taking manuals and treatises on the arts of memory formed two quite distinct traditions that made no explicit reference to one another. In practice, however, note-taking certainly did not preclude reliance on images or visual elements as mnemonic aids. For example, the abundant note-taker Conrad Gesner used an image of the hand as a mnemonic for the five Latin declensions; the hand was a widespread mnemonic image, the use of which did not involve elaborate place memory. Page layout in both manuscript and print could also facilitate recall of material from the look of the page on which it appeared...." (Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 75-76).

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Roman Portraits Celebrating Literacy Circa 75 CE

A fresco of a Pompein couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus scroll, preserved in the Museuo Archeologico Nazionale. (View Larger)

A fresco of a Pompeian couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus roll from about 75 CE, shows a man holding a papyrus scroll and a woman holding a stylus to her lips for writing on the wax tablets that she holds in her other hand. It is one of several surviving Roman portraits depicting the symbols of literacy.

"This couple, who did not come from the very highest ranks of the Pompeian aristocracy, probably chose to be depicted in this way as a mark of their status—they belonged to the ranks of those who were literate, and they wished to display the fact. In this sense, the portrait is evidence that literacy was far from universal in Roman Pompeii. But it is none the less an impressive fact, typical of the Roman world and difficult to parallel before modern times, that a provincial couple should have chosen to be painted in a way that very specifically celebrated a close relationship with the written word, on the part of both the man and his wife" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 162-63, plate 7.10).

The fresco is preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

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Over 11,000 Wall Inscriptions Survived from Pompeii 79 CE

An inscription depicting a contemporaneous politician. (View Larger)

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius over two days in 79 CE buried the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in lava, destroying life, but preserving buildings in a remarkable way.

From the ruins of Pompeii over 11,000 inscriptions have been recorded—of many different kinds—carved, painted  or scratched into walls, formal, humorous, erotic, and scatological. They reflect wide use of writing and comparatively wide availability of literacy in Roman society.

"Some of them [the inscriptions] are very grand and formal, like the dedications of public buildings and the funerary epitaphs, similar to others found all over the Roman world. Inscriptions such as these are not necessarily good evidence of widespread literacy. The enormous numbers that were produced in Roman times could reflect a fashion for this particular medium of display, rather than a dramatic spread of the ability to read and write.

"Other Pompeian inscriptions are perhaps more telling, because they display a desire to cummunicate in a less formal and more ephemeral way with fellow citizens. Walls on the main streets of Pompeii are often decorated with painted messages, whose regular script and layout reveal the work of professional sign-writers. Some are advertisements for events such as games in the amphitheatre; others are endoresements of candiates for civic office, by individuals and groups within the city. . . .

"Graffiti offer even more striking evidence of the spread and use of writing in Pompeian society. These are found all over the city, scratched into stone or plaster by townspeople with time on their hands and a message to convey to future idlers. . . .

"Even though we cannot estimate the proportion of Pompeians who were literate (was it 30 per cent, or more, or perhaps on 10 per cent ?) we can say with confidence that writing was an essential, and a day-to-day part of the city's life" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 153-54, & 155-57).

Because graffiti such as those preserved in Pompeii were intended to be widely shared some have called these evidence of early social media. 

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The Oldest Surviving Handwritten Documents in Britain Circa 100 CE

Vindolanda Tablet 309, an inventory of wooden goods dispatched dispatched by and to civilians working for the military. (View Larger, with translation.)

The Vindolanda Writing Tablets, excavated from the Roman fort at Vindolanda, one of the main military posts on the Northern frontier of Britain before the building of Hadrian's Wall, were written in carbon ink on wafer-thin slices of wood around 100 CE. The tablets were excavated in 1973 near the modern village of Bardon Mill from waterlogged conditions in rubbish deposits in and around the commanding officer's residence. Experts have identified the handwriting of hundreds of different people in these documents. They confirm that the officers of Vindolanda were most certainly literate, and that some soldiers in the ranks may also have been literate.

"These, and hundreds of other fragments which have come to light in subsequent excavations, are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.

"Most of the tablets are official military documents relating to the auxiliary units stationed at the fort. However, others are private letters sent to or written by the serving soldiers. The content is fascinating, giving us a remarkable insight into the working and private lives of the Roman garrison. They also display a great variety of individual handwriting, which adds to our knowledge of Roman cursive writing around AD 100.

"The tablets are not made of wood and wax, previously thought to be the most popular medium for writing in the Roman world apart from papyrus. Instead they are wafer thin slices of wood, written on with carbon ink and quill-type pens. Even after specialised conservation the exacavated tablets are fragile and require a carefully controlled environment" (British Museum, Our Top Ten British Treasures, accessed 05-10-2009).

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Commercial and Private Book Trade in 2nd Century Egypt Circa 150 CE

"If the book trade had come to stay, then the commercial copying and selling of texts did not replace their private reproduction and circulation, in Rome or elsewhere. . . . [an] interesting papyrus letter (P. Oxy.2192) alludes to private efforts to obtain texts in Egypt in the late second century. That letter carries a postscript in the hand of the sender that reads: 'Make and send to me copies of books 6 and 7 of Hypsicrates' Characters in Comedy. For Harpocration says that they among Polion's books. But it is likely that others, too, have got them. He also has prose epitomes of Thersagorus' work on the myths of tragedy.' Here the writer asks his correspondent to make copies of books that he wants and suggests an individual who owns them who might permit them to be copied. Following this postscript is a note written in a different hand. it reads: 'According to Harpocration, Demetrius the bookseller has got them. I have instructed Apollonides to send me certain of my own books, which you will hear of in good time from Seleucus himself. If you find any, apart from those I possess, make copies and send them to me. Diodorus and his friends also have some which I haven't got.' It is not certain who appended this note; it was probably added by a member of the letter writer's circle as a supplement to the preceding postscript. The letter reveals a group of friends who acquired books by making copies from exemplars owned by friends who lived elsewhere (Harpocration, Polion, Diodorus, and their circle). Yet there is mention of the bookseller Demetrius, who could serve as a fall-back source. Here, then, in provincial Egypt we see the independent coexistence of private and commercial means of obtaining books.

"We know that some of individuals named in this letter--Harpocration, Polion (Pollio), and Diodorus--were professional scholars, known for their lexigraphical work. The books requested are scholarly, not books that have popular appeal, so it is surprising that the bookseller Demetrius might have them. One would expect a bookseller to deal in popular literature, as apparently was the case with the Roman booksellers we know by name. In a setting where a scholarly community was active, an astute dealer probably did not disdain service to that clientele. Yet, as a rule, classical texts and especially scholarly tools and studies circulated principally if not exclusively through private channels. The practices of Cicero in late republican Rome, of the scholarly circle in Oxyrhynchus in the late second century, and of Libanius and his fellow scholars in fourth-century Syrian Antioch, widespread as these were in time and place, all attest that private copying and circulation formed the persistent norm for professional scholars.

"The reason for this was not only the limited market for scholarly works. The quality of commercial copying was not particularly high, whereas scholars were fastidious, at least about their books. The complaints voiced by many ancient writers about the quality of commercial copies were consistent and continuous. The employment of mediocre copyists and the failure to collate copies and exemplars--practices that Strabo (13.1.54) encountered in Alexandria as well as Rome--resulted in books that did not meet the scholarly standard" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church. A History of Early Christian Texts [1995] 92-93.)

Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (1971) no. 68 (p. 114) reproduces the text and an excellent black and white image of P. Oxy.2192.

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The Bankes Homer: One of the Best Preserved Papyri of Homer Circa 150 CE

The Bankes Homer, a second century papyrus roll consisting of Iliad 24 (Ω) lines 127-804, (P. Lond. Lit. 28; TM 60500), is one of the longest and best preserved papyri of Homer surviving from antiquity. Its colophon reads Ἰλίαδος Ω. Like most Homeric papyri, it is incomplete, lacking the first 126 lines of Iliad 24, and possibly all of Iliad 23. The roll measures 240 x 2325mm. In April 2014 digital facsimiles of the papyrus unrolled and unpressed showing its wrinkles, and also flattened out under glass, were available from the British Library at this link.

The Banks Homer contains 16 columns of Greek written in scriptio continua in an uncial hand, each column measuring 195 x 105mm, and containing between 42 and 44 lines. The papyrus also contains the names of characters in the margin to indicate passages of direct speech, and abbreviated notes marking narrative sequences of text. In addition, it contains breathing marks and accents made by an ancient diorthotes or "corrector" to show correct poetic pronunciation. 

In the ancient world reading of literary texts was done aloud, and the accentual marks served as an aid for maintaining correct pronunciation. In scholia for the Tékhnē grammatiké (τέχνη γραμματική) attributed to the Hellenistic grammarian Dionysius Thrax (23.3f. ed. Hilgard 1901) the role of the "corrector" was described:

"Before the student would begin to read the corrector [diorthotes] would take the book and correct [diorthousthai] so that he [the student] would not read it wrong and thus fall into a bad habit. Afterward, the student woudl take the book as corrected [diorthousthai] to a reading-teacher [anagnostikos] who was supposed to teach him how to read according to the correction-work  [diorthosis] of the corrector [diorthotes]" (Nagy, "Traces of an Ancient System of Reading in the Venetus A," Dué (ed) Recapturing a Homeric Legacy [2009] 135.)

The Bankes Homer was purchased in Elephantine, Egypt in 1821 by the explorer, Egyptologist, adventurer, and antiquary William John Bankes. Bankes retained as interpreter and intermediary another adventurer named Giovanni Finati, and it was Finati who acquired the manuscript, describing the purchase his memoirs, which Bankes translated from the Italian and edited for publication as Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati, Native of Ferrara, 2 vols, London 1830, vol. 2, pp. 357-58. In his blog dated 02-13-2014 Roger Pearse reproduced this section of Bankes edition of Finati's text, which I quote:

". . . we all took our departure together for Assouan. And it was during our stay there of a few days that, on the opposite island of Elephantine, (which I have always remarked to be, after Thebes, the place where the greatest harvest of curious antiquities is brought for sale by the natives,) a roll of papyrus in the Greek character + was put into my hands, for which I bargained and fixed the price in the first place, and then took it to Monsieur Linant for the money, stipulating at the time that it was to be bought on Mr. Bankes’s account.

"This roll proved to be that manuscript of Homer * which is considered so precious, but which it grieved me afterwards, and ever will, to have seen sold for more than its weight in gold + to that gentleman whom I considered the owner of it, and who would certainly have had it at my hands, without any further demand.

"+ In my own journey, I bought a scrap of Greek upon papyrus in a very fine clear character, which seems to be the fragment of a letter or edict. I have a great number of tiles also written in a cursive Greek character, and highly curious upon that account, which purport to be receipts of pay by the Roman soldiery at Assouan during several reigns, from Tiberius to Commodius—one of these I found myself at Elephantine; and I have an amphora, also, that has served the same purposes as a modern slate to some tradesman’s family in Roman times, with his house or shop accounts registered upon it in ink from day to day.

"* It contains the last book of the Iliad, most beautifully written, in uncial letters, and the lines numbered in the margin: what is very surprising, it has had accents added to it afterwards.

"+ The author, though the first who had the handling of this papyrus, seems here to have formed a very undue estimate of its weight, for the sum which I paid for it amounted to no less than 25,000 piastres (about 500l.), that being stated as the offer that had been made for it from another quarter."

In 1879 the British Museum acquired the papyrus from Walter Ralph Bankes (1853-1904). 

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The Diptych Document Format 198 CE

An unusually well-preserved diptych dated 198 CE in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, shows how this document format was used during the Roman empire.

"The diptych contains the appointment of a guardian for a woman by the prefect of Egypt. The main body of the text inscribed on the wax is in Latin, followed by a subscription written in Greek by an amanuensis on behalf of the woman, who was illiterate. On the outside there are copies of these sections and a list of the names of seven witnesses, all written in ink directly on the wood. The diptych was originally tied shut and sealed with the seals of the witnesses to prevent tampering with the inner text, the authenticated version, while the exterior text remained available for consultation" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, no. 32.)

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Origen's Hexapla: Made Possible by the Codex Form, and the First Codices to Display Information in Tabular Form Circa 234 CE – 253 CE

After his arrival in Caesaria, Palestine, from Alexandria, in 234 Christian scholar and theologian Origen (Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs or Origen Adamantius) undertook compilation of the Hexapla, an elaborate tool for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible containing the Old Testament written in six parallel columns laid out across each page opening, in a series of large, thick codices. The project is thought to have taken roughly 20 years to complete, by Origen with a team of assistants and scribes, some of whom may have been slaves. To undertake his scholarly work Origen collected a very significant library, though we have little understanding of its precise contents. 

Origen was the first Christian biblical scholar, and the first Christian scholar to undertake the study of Hebrew. His Hexapla was not only a massive scholarly achievement in the early days of Christianity, but also a landmark in book history, since the Hexapla was undoubtedly the largest scholarly endeavor in the early history of Christianity—a work so large in terms of sheer information quantity that it could only have been written in a series of large codices, the format of the book that was gradually replacing the papyrus roll between 100 and 400 CE. In papyrus roll form the Hexapla would have occupied hundreds of rolls, and would have been virtually impossible to use, a consideration which would have assured that the codex format was employed. The volumes of the Hexapla were also presumably the first codices to display information in tabular form– a form that Origen appears to have invented.

It is estimated that the original Hexapla consisted of about 6000 folio pages in perhaps 40 codices, and that because of the immense cost of its production- perhaps 150,000 denarii based on Diocletian's price edict- it probably existed in only a single complete copy. This copy may have been preserved in the library of the bishops of Caesarea for several centuries, but was lost in the Muslim invasion of in 638, if not earlier. The three column page format of the large codices of the Hexapla is thought to have been influential on the four column format of the other large codex produced about a century later, which did survive— the Codex Sinaiticus. It is, of course, also likely that the Hexapla was used in editing the Bible text recorded in the Codex Sinaiticus. Origen's table format was also influential on the development of Eusebius's table format in his Chronicon.

Because so little physical evidence survived from the transitional period from the papyrus roll to the codex during first four centuries CE, details that we have of Origen's Hexapla and its relationship to Eusebius's Chronicon and to the Codex Sinaiticus are significant markers for this critical early period in book history. Only a few small fragments of codices have survived from the third century, and nothing from that date confirms the tabular form of the Hexapla, or even that it was written in codex form. For confirmation of the layout of the codex page openings of the Hexapla we depend upon later evidence: two early manuscript fragments that survived. The first is a palimpsest from the Cairo Genizah in which the 8th century Greek text of a portion of the Psalms in the columnar form of the Hexapla was overwritten in Hebrew. This leaf, preserved at Cambridge, was first reproduced by Charles Taylor in Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests from the Taylor-Schechter Collection, Including a Fragment of the Twenty-Second Psalm According to Origen's Hexapla. (1900),plates 1 and 2. (I discovered this publication detail when I acquired a copy of Taylor's book in 2016.) More recently the leaf was reproduced on p. 97 of Grafton & Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book. Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea (2006) On p. 99 of the same work the authors reproduce a diagram showing the layout of the partial Hexapla leaf showing its actual linear and columnar arrangement in white and a hypothetical reconstruction of the original folio page opening in six columns in gray. The other fragment, coincidentally also of the Psalms, preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, was written in Greek minuscule circa 900, and palimpsested with a 13th or 14th century Greek text.

For further support of the written format of the Hexapla we depend upon the account of Jerome:

"Our best ancient evidence for the form and content of the Hexapla comes from Jerome, writing in Palestine at the end of the fourth century. Jerome knew the work well. Not only did he possess Hexaplatic volumes of his own, which he used extensively in his translations and commentaries, but he also consulted the original at Caesarea. In a brief aside in commentary on the pseudo-Pauline letter to Titus, he gives a detailed account of the work. Jerome says that in the original Hexapla preserved at Caesarea:

"the very Hebrew words, too, are copied in their own letters, and expressed in Greek letters in the neighboring column. Aquila also, and Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodion hold their places. But for not a few books, and especially those which among the Hebrews are composed in verse, three other editions have been added, which are called the fifth, sixth, and seventh translations; they are considered authoritative though the names of the translators are lost." 

"Jerome thus confirms the presence of a Hebrew column in Hebrew letters as well as a column in Greek transliteration, which gives an unambiguous description of the order of the columns" (Grafton & Williams, op. cit. 91).

Study of surviving fragments of Origen's Hexapla continued over the centuries. The first edition considered comprehensive was Bernard de Montfaucon's Hexaplorum Origenis quae supersunt (2 vols., 1713). This was superceded by the edition of Frederick Field (1875). 

(This entry was last revised on 02-24-2016.)

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The Library of Lactantius, an Early Christian Author Circa 240 CE – 320 CE

Remarkably little is known about the libraries of individuals in classical, Hellenistic, or even medieval times. In his small book, The Library of Lactantius (Oxford, 1978) R. M. Ogilvie studied the books that the Latin Christian apologist Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (Lactantius) read and knew well. Born in North Africa, possibly at Cirta in Numidia (modern Algeria), Lactantius, a professional rhetor, or teacher of rhetoric, was summoned to the Imperial Court at Nicomedia by the Roman emperor Diocletian. After converting to Christianity Lactantius resigned his post before the publication of Diocletian's first Edict Against the Christians (February 24, 303), and lived in poverty as a writer until he became advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor Contantine I, guiding Constantine's religious policy as it developed, and serving as tutor of Constantine's son Flavius Julius Crispus. It is believed that Lactantius may have followed Crispus to Trier when Crispus was made Caesar (lesser co-emperor) and sent to that city. The circumstances of Lactantius's death are unknown.

Lactantius's primary work, Divinae Institutiones (Divine Institutes), was an early systematic presentation of Christian thought. It was considered somewhat heretical after his death, but Renaissance humanists took a renewed interest in Lactantius, more for his elaborately rhetorical Latin style than for his theology. The early humanists called him Cicero Christianus (Christian Cicero), and his Opera (1465) was the first dated book printed in Italy.

The earliest surviving, and probably the most reliable text of Lactantius's Opera is Bologna, R. Biblioteca Universitaria 701, an uncial manuscript of 283 leaves written in North or Central Italy in a center of learning and fine calligraphy in the second half of the fifth century. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores III (1938) No. 280. This manuscript is dated within little more than a century after Lactantius's death.

From Ogilvie's The Library of Lactantius, I quote Chapter XII, "Conclusion", pp. 109-10. The links are, of course, my additions:

"The library resources of Carthage or Alexandria or Rome were boundless but Lactantius was a traveller and could not rely on finding what he needed at Nicomedia or Trier. Nor, as we have seen, was he a scholar of great range and acumen: indeed his familiarity with Greek literature is slight, which may partly account for his evident unhappiness in Bithynia. The preceding chapters have attempted to discover what works he either used in writing. D. I. [Divinae Institutiones] or knew sufficiently well to be able to quote from memory.

"The resulting list is an interesting one. No Greek classical prose or poetry. His Greek reading is confined to oracular literature—Sibylline Oracles, oracles of Apollo and Hystaspes, some Orphic poems and some hermetic works—most of which may have been known to him through a single compilation on Theosophy. His Latin reading of poetry extends to Lucretius, Horace, Virgil, Ovid's Fasti and Metamorphoses, and Persius, Satires 2 and 6: for the rest he is indebted to one or more florilegia. Of classical prose authors Cicero leads the field, although the absence of so many speeches and other works, such as the De Finibus and the letters, is striking. He knew Livy's first Decade and Sallust's Catiline but not Tacitus nor, probably, Varro. He knew Seneca's philosophical works and an edition of Book I of Valerius Maximus. Aulus Gellius he came across after writing the D. I., but he may have had access to a similar compendium for some of his antiquarian and mythological material, unless it was all to be found in a commentary on the Aratea. An anthology provided him with most of his biblical and apocryphal quotations and, probably, with those apologetic commonplaces which he could not locate in Minucius, Cyprian, Theophilus, or Tertullian's Apologeticum.

"In his reading he offers an interesting comparison with Tertullian a hundred years before him, and Augustine or Jerome seventy years later. Terullian was writing during the great archaizing revival of the later second century, when old books were unearthed and reread, and before the political breakdown of the third century. he still knew Herodotus, Plato, Josephus, Pliny the younger, Tacitus, Juvenal, Ennius Varro, perhaps the elder Cato— to name but a few.

"In the later fourth century, pagans and Christians rediscovered some forgotten classics, especially Juvenal and Tacitus, but in the intervening period much literature had been lost beyond recall. Thus Jerome was familiar not only with the range of works which Lactantius knew but also with Plautus, Lucan and Martial. But in other respects he and Augustine are very similar to Lactantius. Augustine knew little Greek and derived his Platonic philosophy from Cicero (Epist. 118.2.10), whereas Jerome did not become closely acquainted with Greek literature until thirty years after his school days. On the other hand Virgil and Cicero's works, above all the Hortensius, meant much to Augustine (C.D. 1.3; Conf. 3.4.7). The same picture emerges from a study of Ausonius, or of Claudian although his interest and opportunities gave hima slightly wider range.

"Lactantius, therefore, in a real sense marks the beginning of the Middle Ages. Between the time of Tertullian and his own day the great process of survival had already jettisoned many literary treasures of Athens and Rome to oblivion."

As a small bibliophilic aside, I was surprised to acquire R. M. Oglivie's personal corrected copy of his book on Lactantius for only £26. 

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Foundation of Imperial Nanking University 258 CE – 317 CE

Imperial Nanking University, the predecessor of Nanjing University, was founded in Nanjing (南京, Nankin, Nanking) in the first year of the Yong'an reign (258 CE) under the Kingdom of Wu by Sun Xiu, Emperor Jing of Wu. Its first president was scholar politican Wei Zhao (韋昭). The Imperial University in Nanking (南京太學, Nanking Taixue) was reestablished by Emperor Yuan of Jin (晋元帝/晉元帝) in the first year of Jianwu reign (317). 155 new rooms were built in the campus which was located in today's Fuzimiao (夫子廟) area of Nanjing situated on Qinhuai River banks, and the Nanking Imperial University began recruiting students from common families instead of only from families of high ranking officials. Like its forerunner Chengjun (成均) and succeeding Shang Hsiang (上庠) founded by the legendary Yu the Great (禹, 21st century BCE) in Chungyuan– the earliest recorded imperial higher learning institutions and their successors–it was the Kingdom's central university.

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The Porphyrian Tree: The Earliest Metaphorical Tree of Knowledge 270 CE

About 270 Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (Πορφύριος, Porphyrios) published his Introduction (εἰσαγωγή, Isagoge) to logic, perhaps while he was in Rome. In this work, which was translated into Latin by Anicus Manlius Severinus Boëthius, and remained a disseminated and copied text throughout the Middle Ages, Porphyrios reframed the predictables (praedicamenta) defined by Aristotle in his Organon into a list of five classes: genus (genos), species (eidos), difference (diaphora), property (idion), and accident (sumbebekos). From these Porphyrios created the scala praedicamentalis, or Porphyrian Tree (Tree of Porphyry, Arbor Porphyriana).

Porphyry's introduction was the most successful work of its kind ever published. Translated into many languages, for 1500 years every student read it as the first text on its subject. As a result, its influence was immense in philosophy and logic, and in the organization of knowledge, and its visualization in arborial form.

"Expanding on Aristotle's Categories and visually alluding to a tree's trunk, Porphyry's structure reveals the idea of a layered assembly in logic. It is made of three columns of words, where the central column contains a series of dichomatous divisions between genus and species, whcih derive from the supreme genus, Substance. Even through Porphyry himself never drew such an illustration—his original tree was purely textual in nature—the symbolic tree of Porphyry was frequently represented in medieval and Renaissance works on logic and set the stage for theological and philosophical developments by scholars throughout the ages. It was also, as far as we know, the earliest metaphorical tree of knowledge" (Lima, Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information [2011] 28).

The standard of edition of Porphryios's text is Porphyri. Introduction, Translated with a Commentary by Jonathan Barnes (Oxford, 2003). Of this work of xxxi, 415pp., only the first 19 pages consist of the translation of Porphyri's brief text. From it we learn that

"as a young man he [Porphyry] removed to Athens, where he studied rhetoric, mathematics and philosophy with Longinus, the 'living library and walking museum'. . .In 263 he migrated to Rome and joined the magic circle of Plotinus.. .. He became a fevern and favoured acolyte of Plotinus . But he remained with him for no more than five years; in 268 he fell sick with a melancholy and Plotinus urged him south to Sicily for his health's sake.

"In 270 Plotinus died. Later, Porphyry returned to Rome, where he lectured on his master's philosophy—and where, in 301, he made public his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. When, and for how long, he was back in Rome we cannot tell; nor is it known when he visited North Africa (where he stayed long enough to befriend a partridge). Late in life he married (and not for love). In a letter to his wife Marcella, he explains that he must leave her to look after the 'interests of the pagans...: some have inferred that Porphyry, an enemy of Christianity, was summoned to the imperial capital to advise the persecuting Emperor Diocletian. 

"The date and place of his death are unknown" (Barnes p. x).

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The Role of Books in the Rule of the Earliest Christian Monasteries 318 CE – 323 CE

Between 318 and 323 St. Pachomius (Pakhom, Pachome and Pakhomius, Παχώμιος), a farmer once press-ganged into the army of Constantine, founded community or cenobitic organization, linking the cells of male or female hermits into monastic settlements in Upper Egypt. Beginning at Tabennisi (Tabenna,Tabennae) in the Thebaid, these monastics lived together, and had their possessions in common, under the leadership of an abbot or abbess, following an established rule, which included directions for the operation of a monastic library:

"that the books of the House are to be kept in a cupboard (fenestra) in the thickness of the wall. Any brother who wanted a book might have one for a week, at the end of which he was bound to return it. No brother might leave a book open when he went to church to meals. In the evening the officer called 'the Second,' that is, the second in command, was to take charge of the books, count them, and lock them up" (Clark, The Care of Books [1902] 54-55).

"He [Pachomius] established his first monastery between 318 and 323. The first to join him was his elder brother John, and soon more than 100 monks lived at his monastery. He came to found nine monasteries in his lifetime, and after 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at his Pabau monastery. From his initial monastery, demand quickly grew and, by the time of his death in 346, one count estimates there were 3000 monasteries dotting Egypt from north to south. Within a generation after his death, this number grew to 7000 and then moved out of Egypt into Palestine and the Judea Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe. Other sources maintain that the number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000" (Wikipedia article on Pachomius, accessed 11-28-2010).

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A Sarcophagus Showing a Greek Physician in His Library Circa 320 CE

A Roman sarcophagus from Ostia, Italy, dating from about 320 and preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts a Greek physician in his library reading a papyrus roll with a book cabinet in which other rolls are visible. On top of the book cabinet an open case depicts surgical instruments.

A warning inscribed on the sarcophagus in Greek may be translated as:

"If anyone shall dare to bury another person along with this one, he shall pay to the treasury three times two thousand [whatever the unit was]. This is what he shall pay to [the city of] Portus, but he himself will endure the eternal punishment of the violator of graves."

"The tomb's owner is shown seated with an open scroll, the pose of a philosopher, demonstrating that he is a learned man. His profession can be identified by the open case containing surgical tools on the cabinet top. Other scrolls and a basin for bleeding patients within the cabinet offer further proof of his profession. The style of his dress and the language of the inscription indicate that he was one of the many Greeks living in Italy. Beginning in the 300s, Christians would adopt in their art the philosopher pose and the undulating motifs, or strigils, that appear on the sides of the sarcophagus" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/48.76.1, accessed 10-25-2011).

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The Decline of Literacy in the Byzantine Empire 330 CE – 1453

"The Byzantine empire is often thought of as an age of decline. Such a view does not do justice to its distinctive qualities as the home of a new style of art and as a civilising influence in eastern Europe. But there is a sense in which it was obviously inferior to the empire that had once controlled the whole Mediterranean area. In economic terms it was not able to provide for the inhabitants of its towns and villages the standard of living and amenities that had been enjoyed by the vast majority of the citizens of the Roman empire. We may infer that one of the direct consequences of the decline in standards was a reduction the number of people able to acquire an education. Although there is some evidence, principally from lives of saints, that elementary education was widely available, the impression must remain that literacy was less widespread and the average level of culture less high than had been the case in the ancient world. It is hard to imagine, for instance, a Byzantine province producing evidence of readers with such diverse and learned interests as those provded by the finds of papyri from the country districts of Greco-Roman Egypt. From the reduced economic circumstances of the Byzantine empire it would be tempting to infer that the prospects for the survival of ancient Greek literature were poor, and that there would be little chance of it being the object of scholarly study. Certainly a great deal was lost, and it is impossible to deny that the Byzantines failed to save many texts that had come down to them. Publishing and the book trade in general were so much less well organised than they had been in antiquity that the use of these terms in a Byzantine context is scarcely legitimate. Photius in the ninth century, to name only the most obvious example, read many texts that ceased to be copied soon after. But although some blame must attach to the Byzantines, care should be taken not to allocate them too large a share of the responsibility. At least some of the texts read by Photius will have been lost in 1204 when Constantinople was destroyed by the Fourth Crusade, and there were almost certainly many other books that Photius had not been able to read because even the resources of the richer society of antiquity had failed to guarantee production in sufficient numbers of copies for them to survive the hazards of war and accidental destruction.

"In view of their limited resources the Byzantines made a creditable effort to preseve a high standard of literary culture. As will become clear, they achieved what may be their greatest success at a time of economic and political decline in the late thirteen and early fourteenth centuries. By at all times they maintained, even if only in a small section of their society, an intense interest in liteature. One might suggest that though their cultural activies were confined to the few by economic circumstances, the intensity of activity was greater than at almost any time in antiquity itself. The Byzantines struggled against great odds to uphold their ideals, and these can be seen in various distinctive features of their society. The government required of its chief functionaries a good grounding in classical literature, and they attempted to display their culture in the documents drafted for public circulation by the excellence of their prose style and sometimes even by literary allusions. The government's expectations of candidates for employment in the top ranks of the civil service are made clear by an order of the emperor Constantius and his junior colleague Julian in 360 (Theodosian Code 14.1.1): 'No person shall obtain a post of the first rank unless it shall be proved that he excels in long practice of liberal studies, and that he is so polished in literary matters that words flow from his pen faultlessly.' Although this order may soon have been forgotten and does not appear to have been renewed by later emperors, in practice successive governments behaved as if it were still in force. . . ." (Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium [1983] 1-2).

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The Most Widely Used Medieval Grammar Circa 350 CE

Around the year 350 Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric Aelius Donatus wrote the Latin grammar book, Ars grammaticaDonatus was the teacher of St. Jerome.

"His Ars grammatica, especially the section on the eight parts of speech, though possessing little claim to originality, and evidently based on the same authorities which were used by the grammarians Charisius and Diomedes, attained such popularity as a schoolbook that, in the Middle Ages, he became the eponym for a rudimentary treatise of any sort, called a donet. When books came to be printed in the 15th century, editions of the little book were multiplied to an enormous extent. It is also the only purely textual work to be printed in blockbook form (cut like a woodcut, not using movable type). It is in the form of an Ars Minor, which only treats of the parts of speech, and an Ars Major, which deals with grammar in general at greater length.

"Donatus was a proponent of an early system of punctuation, consisting of dots placed in three successively higher positions to indicate successively longer pauses, roughly equivalent to the modern comma, colon, and full stop. This system remained current through the seventh century, when a more refined system due to Isidore of Seville gained prominence" (Wikipedia article on Aelius Donatus, accessed 01-15-2011).

About 1454 an edition of the Ars minor by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus was printed in Mainz in the type of the 36-line Bible (sometimes also called the DK-type). The year of printing is uncertain.

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Possibly the World's First University Circa 350 CE

About 350 CE the School of Nisibis (Syriac: ܐܣܟܘܠܐ ܕܢܨܝܒܝܢ) was founded in Nisibis (modern day Turkey) by Jacob of Nisibis.  The school, which had three primary departments teaching theology, philosophy, and medicine, has sometimes been called the world's first university.

"In 363, when Nisibis fell to the Persians, St. Ephrem accompanied by a number of teachers left the school. They went to the School of Edessa, where St. Ephrem took over the directorship of the school there. It had been founded as long ago as the 2nd century by the kings of the Abgar dynasty. When St. Ephrem took over the school, its importance grew still further. After the Nestorian Schism, when the Byzantine emperor Zeno ordered the school closed for its teachings of Nestorian doctrine, deemed heretical by Chalcedonian Christianity, the School moved back to Nisibis."

"The fame of this theological seminary was so great [by the sixth century] that Pope Agapetus I and Cassiodorus wished to found one in Italy of a similar kind. Although the troubled times prevented their wishes from being realized, but Cassiodorus's monastery at Vivarium was inspired by the example of Nisibis, about which he had learned from the Quaestor Junillus during his time in Constantinople" (Wikipedia article of School of Nisibis, accessed 03-04-2013).

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Augustine on Silent Reading 397 CE – 1470

Was silent reading unusual during Augustine's time? If so, what implications might a comment by Augustine in his Confessions (6.3.3.) have on the larger question of whether reading was primarily oral rather than silent in the ancient world?

In "Toward a Sociology of Reading in Classical Antiquity," American Journal of Philology 121 (2000) 593-627 William A. Johnson quoted Augustine's passage from the Confessions concerning the reading habits of his mentor, the archbishop of Milan, Aurelius Ambrosius:

"When Ambrose read, his eyes ran over the columns of writing and his heart searched out the meaning, but his voice and his tongue were at rest. Often when I was present—for he did not close his door to anyone and it was customary to come in unannounced—I have seen him reading silently, never in fact otherwise. I would sit for a long time in silence, not daring to disturb someone so deep in thought, and then go on my way. I asked myself why he read in this way. Was it that he did not wish to be interrupted in those rare moments he found to refresh his mind and rest from the tumult of others' affairs? Or perhaps he was worried that he would have to explain obscurities in the text to some eager listener, or discuss other difficult problems? For he would thereby lose time and be prevented from reading as much as he had planned. But the preservation of his voice, which easily became hoarse, may well have been the true cause of his silent reading."

No later than 1470 printer Johann Mentelin of Strasbourg issued the first printing of St. Augustine's ConfessionsThe edition is undated but has been determined to be not later than 1470. 

ISTC no. ia01250000.  In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

In September 2014 I had the pleasure of viewing the German biographical film starring Franco NeroDes Leben des heiligen Augustinus (2010). Conveniently the DVD was very well dubbed in English. This was best film that I had seen to date with respect not only to its treatment of Augstine's life, but also in its authentic depiction of book rolls and early codices in the period of transition from the roll to the codex. As expected, the trailer in English did not feature the book aspect of Augustine's life.

(This entry was last revised on 10-03-2014.)

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At the Beginning of the Dark Ages Production of New Manuscripts Essentially Ceased Circa 400 CE – 600

"There is a tendency to write about ancient literature and late antique manuscripts as if they vanished, all at once, in the chaotic centuries often called the Dark Ages—to see the history of transmission in this period largely in terms of large-scale physical destruction. Such a picture is slightly out of focus. Yes, the period AD 400-600 saw a great deal of destruction; but then, destruction from fire and the elements was not new to Roman history. The exceptional element was that the production of new manuscripts ceased; the market for new books rapidly diminished and, once the market dried up, the means of production disappeared. This was not so much a result of the physical destruction of either the readers or the bookshops, but rather because the traditional audience, namely the Roman senatorial class, within a couple of centuries dwindled in size and recycled itself as an ecclesiastical class with its own, albeit small, means of producing manuscripts.

"Lack of production, of course, does not equal lack of use—in many respects, quite the opposite. The newly emerging societies cherished Roman coins, and clipped them to make the smaller denominations appropriate to their greatly reduced money economy, since they did not mint large quantities of precious metals of their own. In similar fashion, Roman books whether papyrus or parchment continued to serve the needs of the shrinking literate class—not new books, but the enormous residue of the antique book trade that reposed in public and private libraries. These slowly gravitated to ecclesiastical libraries (locus of the new literate class), to be sent north with the missionaries. Benedict Biscop, for example, had no difficulty finding books to carry north to Norhumbria when he visited Rome in the 670s; but these were old books, already a century or two older than he.

"What is remarkable is the length of time that Christian Rome and its infrastructure endured. As we have suggested, Roman civilization, centred on the city, the forum, and the public baths, which was once thought to have been destroyed by the Visigoths and Ostrogoths who sacked Rome in the course of the fifth century, is now generally recognized as having remained, though undeniably altered, reasonably intact until the middle of the sixth century; indeed, the external trappings of this civilization were gladly appropriated by the Ostrogothic kindom of Theodoric (475-527), whom both Boethius and Cassiodorus served. The physical devastation of Roman Italy occurred, ironically, through the reassertion of imperial power—the reappearance in 540 of Byzantine armies in Italy under the emperor Justinian's general Belisarius. Rome changed hands five times in these campaigns.

"What survived Belisarius' legions fell to the Lombards, the last of the tribal groups to move into Italy. Any city, such as Milan, that opposed the Lombard advance was razed; those like Verona that opened their gates survived unharmed. It is no wonder, then, that little of ancient Milan, city of Ambrose, survived—or, conversely, that Petrarch in the fourteenth century could find what was probably a late antique manuscript of Cicero's letters to Atticus in Verona. Remarkably, the Roman aqueducts still functioned in the time of Pope Gregory I (pope 590-604); but gradually the Roman ruling class was replaced or absorbed by Lombard (or, in Gaul, by Frankish) peoples who had little need, or even less ability, to maintain the physical infrastructure of Roman civilization: the forum, public baths, roads, libraries, temples. As they became unnecessary, they were increasingly neglected. Eventually they served the only useful purpose left to them, becoming the quarries that provided the cut stone from which early medieval basilicas and royal palaces were built" (Rouse," The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 44-45). [As usual, the links are my addition.]

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The Withdrawal of Roman Legions from Britannia Results in the End of Literacy in the Region 410 CE – 449 CE

A map of Britannia from A Classical Atlas of Ancient Geography by Alexander G. Findlay. New York: Harper and Brothers 1849. (View Larger)

In 410 Roman legions withdrew from the province of Britannia. With the departure of the last legions from Britain, and the end of Roman rule, literacy gradually left England. Within 40 to 50 years from the time of the departure of the Romans to the arrival in 597 of Augustine of Canterbury on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons, and for a period thereafter, it is believed that the people of Britain were, with few exceptions, essentially illiterate.

Roughly 40 years after the Romans departed, in 449, Saxons, Angles, and Jutes conducted large scale invasions of Britain, causing numerous members of the Christian aristocracy to flee to Bretagne, France. The environment in Britain became increasingly hostile to Christians, and increasingly illiterate.

The period from the departure of the Roman legions to the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury in 597 is often called Sub-Roman Britain or Post-Roman Britain. The date taken for the end of this period is arbitrary in that sub-Roman culture continued in the West of England, and in Wales, for a period of time thereafter. Reflecting the decline of literacy and of educational institutions, very little written material survived from the period.

"Two primary contemporary British sources exist: the Confessio of Saint Patrick and GildasDe Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain). Patrick's Confessio and his Letter to Coroticus reveal aspects of life in Britain, from where he was abducted to Ireland. It is particularly useful in highlighting the state of Christianity at the time. Gildas is the nearest to a source of Sub-Roman history but there are many problems in using it. The document represents British history as he and his audience understood it. Though a few other documents of the period do exist, such as Gildas' letters on monasticism, they are not directly relevant to British history. Gildas' De Excidio is a jeremiad: it is written as a polemic to warn contemporary rulers against sin, demonstrating through historical and biblical examples that bad rulers are always punished by God — in the case of Britain, through the destructive wrath of the Saxon invaders. The historical section of De Excidio is short, and the material in it is clearly selected with Gildas' purpose in mind. There are no absolute dates given, and some of the details, such as those regarding the Hadrian's and Antonine Walls are clearly wrong. Nevertheless, Gildas does provide us with an insight into some of the kingdoms that existed when he was writing, and how an educated monk perceived the situation that had developed between the Anglo-Saxons and the Britons.

"There are more continental contemporary sources that mention Britain, though these are highly problematic. The most famous is the so-called Rescript of Honorius, in which the Western Emperor Honorius tells the British civitates to look to their own defence. The first reference to this rescript is written by the 6th century Byzantine  scholar Zosimus and is found in the middle of a discussion of southern Italy; no further mention of Britain is made, which has led some, though not all, modern academics to suggest that the rescript does not apply to Britain, but to Bruttium in Italy. The Gallic Chronicles, Chronica Gallica of 452 and Chronica Gallica of 511, say prematurely that 'Britain, abandoned by the Romans, passed into the power of the Saxons' and provide information about St Germanus and his visit(s) to Britain, though again this text has received considerable academic deconstruction. The work of Procopius, another 6th century Byzantine writer, makes some references to Britain, though the accuracy of these is uncertain."

"There are numerous later written sources that claim to provide accurate accounts of the period. The first to attempt this was the monk Bede, writing in the early 8th century. He based his account of the Sub-Roman period in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (written around 731) heavily on Gildas, though he tried to provide dates for the events Gildas describes. It was written from an anti-Briton point of view. Later sources, such as the Historia Brittonum often attributed to Nennius, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (again written from a non-Briton point of view, based on West Saxon sources) and the Annales Cambriae, are all heavily shrouded in myth and can only be used with caution as evidence for this period. There are also documents giving Welsh poetry (of Taliesin and Aneirin) and land deeds (Llandaff charters) that appear to date back to the 6th century" (Wikipedia article on Sub-Roman Britain, accessed 04-18-2014).

(This entry was last revised on 04-18-2014.) 

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The Church Assumes Role of Educator and Civil Service for the Tribal Kingdoms Circa 450 CE – 650

"The end of classical civilization in the West—roughly between AD 450 and 650, with regard to transmission of texts—is not so much the story of a violent physical destruction of the Roman empire as was once thought, but rather a matter of the barbarization of Roman civilization over 200 years or so, as the army, the government officials, the business classes, and the very population assumed the styles and customs first of the Ostrogoths and then of the Lombards. In the course of time, the forum, the bath and the temple fell into disuse and decay, their traditional roles in civic life forgotten as the public city-state was replaced by the private tribal kingdom. As Roman civilization faded, the Roman education of public school and private tutor slowly diminished; the body of literature that was the common property of the educated in Antiquity ceased to have an audience, and as the market for books disappeared the public stationers vanished. In Gaul, centurions like Martin (c.316-97) became saints, senators like Sidonius (c. 423-80) became bishops, and some patricians disenchanted with society, like Benedict (c. 480-550), removed themselves and formed communities with their fellows that lived according to a rule. Order and stability, once the obligation of the state, became the Church's responsibility. Literacy, necessary both to the teaching of a religion dependent on Scripture and to the function of the Church as administrative heir to the Roman state, became the near monopoly of the Church, which acted in effect as the civil service of the tribal kingdoms for the next 500 years" (R. Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal (1992) 43).

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Hesychius of Alexandria's Dictionary Survived in Only One Deeply Corrupt Renaissance Manuscript Circa 450 CE

The "Alphabetical Collection of All Words" (Συναγωγὴ Πασῶν Λεξέων κατὰ Στοιχεῖον), written in the fifth century by the Greek grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria (Ἡσύχιος ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς), remains the richest lexicon of unusual and obscure Greek words that survived. It includes many words not found in surviving ancient Greek texts, and its explanations of many epithets and phrases also reveal important facts about the religion and social life of the ancients.

Hesychius's work survived in only one "deeply corrupt" 15th century manuscript preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice (Marc. Gr. 622). This manuscript, which belonged to the Mantuan scholar Giangiacomo Bordellone, was edited by Greek scholar and philosopher Marcus Musurus (Μάρκος Μουσοῦρος; Marco Musuro) and published for the first time in print by Aldus Manutius of Venice in 1514. In his preface to the first edition Aldus thanked Bordellone for loaning the manuscript to Musurus so that it could be published.

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The First Residential University 450 CE – 1193

Historical sources not cited by the website of the proposed new Nālandā University in Rajgir, near Nalanda, Bihar, India, indicate that the university was founded in the fifth century and endured almost continuously from the fifth to the twelfth century. It may have had as many as 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim and scholar Xuanzang spent nearly 15 years there, studying and teaching. He left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century. Another Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk Yijing left information about other kingdoms lying on the route between China and Nālandā university. He was responsible for the translation of a large number of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese.

According to the Wikipedia article on the university, notable scholars who studied at Nalanda included Emperor Ashoka, HarshavardhanaVasubandhuDharmapalaSuvishnuAsangaSilabhadraDharmakirtiShantarakshitaNagarjunaAryadevaPadmasambhava (the reputed founder of Buddhism in Tibet), Xuanzang and Hwui Li.

"The Nalanda ruins reveal through their architectural components the holistic nature of knowledge that was sought and imparted at this University.... The profound knowledge of the Nalanda teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture and learning of this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese" (http://nalandauniv.edu.in/abt-history.html, accessed 01-12-2014).

"According to records of history, Nalanda University was destroyed three times by invaders, but only rebuilt twice. The first time was by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455–467 AD). But Skanda's successors promptly undertook the restoration, improving it with even grander buildings, and endowed it with enough resources to let the university sustain itself in the longer term.

"The second destruction came with an assault by the Gaudas in the early 7th century. This time, the Hindu king Harshavardhana (606–648 AD) restored the Buddhist university.

"In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Muslim Turk; this event is seen by scholars as a late milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaquat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism" (Wikipedia article Nalanda University, accessed 01-12-2014).

Classes at the new Nalanda University were scheduled to begin in 2014.

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"A Bibliography of Works on Medieval Communication" 476 CE – 1500

In November 2014 I obtained a copy of A Bibliography of Works on Medieval Communication by Marco Mostert of the University of Utrecht, published by Brepols in Turnhout, Belgium in 2012. This bibliography includes 6,843 publications under sixteen headings— far more publications on many more topics than I would have guessed were in existence. In due time, as I work through selected studies listed in this bibliography, entries citing it will undoubtedly appear in HistoryofInformation.com. As a bibliographer myself I am particularly interested in the ways that information is organized. Therefore I have quoted the entire Contents organizational scheme of the book below:

Table of Contents



How to Use This Bibliography

Chapter 1. Introductions

1.1 Theory of Literacy and (Written) Communication
1.2 Anthropological and Sociological Contributions to the Debate
1.3 Psychological Contributions to the Debate
1.4 Linguistic Contributions to the Debate
1.5 Literacy and (Written) Communication (in the Middle Ages)
1.5.1 The Münster School
1.5.2 The Freiburg School

Chapter 2. Surveys of the Introduction and Development of Written Culture

2.1 From Antiquity to the Present
2.2 Antiquity
2.2.1 Biblical Antiquity and Early Christianity
2.2.2 Classical Antiquity
2.2.3 Greek Antiquity
2.2.4 Roman Antiquity
2.2.5 Late Antiquity
2.3 Byzantium
2.4 The Middle Ages
2.4.1 Early Middle Ages
2.4.2 Later Middle Ages
2.5 Italy
2.5.1 Italy in the Early Middle Ages
2.5.2 Italy in the Later Middle Ages
2.6 Iberian Peninsula
2.7 France
2.8 Germany
2.8.1 Germany in the Early Middle Ages
2.8.2 Germany in the Later Middle Ages
2.9 Low Countries
2.10 England
2.10.1 England in the Early Middle Ages
2.10.2 England in the Later Middle Ages
2.11 Ireland and the ‘Celtic Fringe’
2.12 Scandinavia
12.13 The Eastern Baltic Shores
2.14 East Central and Eastern Europe
2.14.1 East Central Europe: Bohemia, Hungary and Poland
2.14.2 The Balkans (without Byzantium)
2.14.3 Eastern Europe: The Russias
2.15 Jews
2.16 The Islamic World
2.17 After the Middle Ages

Chapter 3. Forms of Non-Verbal Communication

3.1 Middle Ages – General
3.2 Symbolic Spaces, Public and Private
3.3 The Senses
3.3.1 Smells
3.3.2 Flavours
3.4 Colours
3.5 Visual Images
3.5.1 Visual Images in Antiquity
3.5.2 Visual Images in Byzantium
3.5.3 Visual Images in the Middle Ages Visual Images in the Early Middle Ages Visual Images in the Later Middle Ages
3.5.4 Visual Images after the Middle Ages
3.6 Visual Images and Texts
3.6.1 General Visual Images and the Illiterate
3.6.2 Visual Images and Texts in Antiquity
3.6.3 Visual Images and Texts in Byzantium
3.6.4 Visual Images and Texts in Islam
3.6.5 Visual Images and Texts in the Middle Ages Visual Images and Texts in the Early Middle Ages Visual Images and Texts in the Later Middle Ages
3.6.6 Visual Images and Texts after the Middle Ages
3.7 Sound and Noise
3.7.1 Music
3.8 The Human Body
3.9 Gestures
3.9.1 Gestures from Antiquity to the Present
3.9.2 Gestures in Antiquity
3.9.3 Gestures in Byzantium
3.9.4 Gestures in the Middle Ages Gestures in the Early Middle Ages Gestures in the Later Middle Ages
3.9.5 Gestures after the Middle Ages
3.10 Sign Language
3.11 Dance
3.12 Clothes
3.13 Symbolic Objects
3.14 Laughter

Chapter 4. Ritual

4.1 Theory of Ritual
4.2 (Ritualised) Emotions
4.3 Ritual – General Surveys
4.4 Ritual in the Middle Ages
4.5 Ritual in Early Modern Europe
4.6 Forms of Ritual
4.6.1 Forms of Ritual: Feasts
4.6.2 Forms of Ritual: Meals and Banquets
4.6.3 Forms of Ritual: (Table) Manners
4.7 Representation, Political Ritual and Ceremony
4.7.1 Representation
4.7.2 The Notion of Political Ritual
4.7.3 Political Ritual – General Surveys
4.7.4 Political Ritual in Antiquity
4.7.5 Political Ritual in the Middle Ages Political Ritual in Early Medieval Europe Political Ritual in Later Medieval Europe
4.7.6 Rituals of Rule: Acclamations, Coronations and Investitures
4.7.7 Rituals of Rule: Festive Entries
4.7.8 Rituals of Rule: The Meeting of Rulers
4.7.9 Rituals of Rule: Assemblies, Councils and Counsel
4.7.10 Rituals of Rule: The Lit de Justice
4.7.11 Rituals of Rule: Oaths, Pacts and Peace-Making
4.7.12 Rituals of Rule: On The Battlefield
4.7.13 Rituals of Rule: Staged Emotions
4.7.14 Rituals of Rule: Weddings
4.7.15 Rituals of Rule: Funerals
4.7.16 Rituals of Rule: The Papacy
4.7.17 Rituals of Rule: The Aristocracy
4.7.18 Rituals of Rule: The Towns
4.8 Rituals in Literature

Chapter 5. Language

5.1 Thinking about Language
5.2 Language in Antiquity
5.3 The Problem of Latin
5.3.1 Latin: General
5.3.2 Christian and Late Latin
5.3.3 Latin as Mother Tongue: From Latin to Romance
5.3.4 Latin as Father Tongue: Medieval Latin
5.3.5 Neo-Latin
5.4 The Problem of the Vernaculars
5.5 The Problem of Translation
5.6 Languages in Europe
5.6.1 Languages in the Italian Peninsula
5.6.2 Languages in the Iberian Peninsula
5.6.3 Languages in France
5.6.4 Languages in Switzerland
5.6.5 Languages in the German-speaking World
5.6.6 Languages in the Low Countries
5.6.7 Languages in the British Isles: Generalities Languages in the British Isles: England Languages in the British Isles: Scotland Languages in the British Isles: The ‘Celtic Fringe’ in the British Isles: Ireland in the British Isles: Wales
5.6.8 Languages in Scandinavia
5.6.9 Languages on the Eastern Shores of the Baltic
5.6.10 Languages in East Central and Eastern Europe: Generalities Languages in East Central Europe: Bohemia, Poland and Hungary Languages in Eastern Europe: The Russias
5.6.11 Languages in South Eastern Europe (Including Byzantium)
5.6.12 Languages in the Middle East
5.7 Language as a Means of Distinction
5.8 Forms of Oral Communication
5.8.1 Forms of Oral Communication: Silence
5.8.2 Forms of Oral Communication: Battles of Words
5.8.3 Forms of Oral Communication: Proverbs
5.8.4 Forms of Oral Communication: Riddles
5.8.5 Forms of Oral Communication: Gossip
5.8.6 Forms of Oral Communication: Addressing the Ruler
5.8.7 Forms of Oral Communication: Law and Justice
5.8.8 Forms of Oral Communication: Administration
5.8.9 Forms of Oral Communication: Blasphemy, Curses and Other Verbal Injuries
5.8.10 Forms of Oral Communication: Parliamentary Rhetoric
5.8.11 Forms of Oral Communication: Battlefield Language
5.8.12 Forms of Oral Communication: Shouting

Chapter 6. Oral and Written Memory

6.1 Classical Antiquity
6.2 Middle Ages
6.3 “Lieux de Mémoire”
6.4 The Past in Primarily Oral Societies
6.5 Oral Tradition
6.5.1 Oral Tradition in Antiquity
6.5.2 Oral Tradition in the Middle Ages Oral Tradition in the Early Middle Ages Oral Tradition in the Later Middle Ages
6.5.3 Oral Tradition in Literary Texts
6.5.4 Oral Tradition in Historiography

Chapter 7. Teaching, Mainly of Reading and Writing

7.1 Teaching in Antiquity
7.2 Teaching in the Middle Ages
7.2.1 Teaching in the Early Middle Ages
7.2.2 Teaching in the Later Middle Ages
7.2.3 The Medieval University
7.3 Teaching in Islam
7.4 Jewish Education

Chapter 8. Production and Use of Written Texts

8.1 Script and Script Forms
8.2 Runes, Inscriptions, Graffiti and Wax Tablets
8.3 Book Production and Use
8.3.1 Book Production in Antiquity, Byzantium and the Islamic World
8.3.2 Book Production in the Middle Ages Book Production in the Early Middle Ages Book Production in the Later Middle Ages
8.4 Producing Charters and Archival Documents
8.5 Reading and the Reception of Texts
8.5.1 Reading in Antiquity
8.5.2 Reading in Byzantium
8.5.3 Reading in the Middle Ages Reading in the Early Middle Ages Reading in the Later Middle Ages
8.5.4 Reading in Early Modern Times
8.5.5 Reading, Lay-out, Manuscript Research and Editorial Techniques
8.6 The Printed Word

Chapter 9. The Preservation and Wilful Destruction of Written Texts

Chapter 10. Correspondence, Messengers and the Postal System

10.1 Messengers and Ambassadors

Chapter 11. Mandarin Literacy

Chapter 12. The Use of Writing by Different Social Groups

12.1 Clergy and Laymen
12.1.1 Secular Clergy
12.1.2 Regular Clergy
12.2 Aristocrats
12.3 Peasants
12.4 Town Dwellers
12.5 Women
12.5.1 Women Before the Middle Ages
12.5.2 Women in the Middle Ages
12.5.3 Women in the Early Middle Ages
12.5.4 Women in the Later Middle Ages
12.5.5 Religious Women
12.5.6 Lay Women: Queens and Noblewomen
12.5.7 Lay Women: Town Dwellers

Chapter 13. Uses of Writing in Government, Management and Trade

13.1 Legislation and Law
13.2 Charters
13.3 Jurisdiction and Dispute Settlement
13.4 Government
13.5 Notaries Public and Their Work
13.6 Management
13.7 Trade

Chapter 14. Literature

14.1 ‘Oral’ Literature
14.2 (Oral) Epic
14.3 The Composition of (Mainly) Oral Literature
14.4 Performance
14.5 The Bible as Literature
14.6 Classical Literature
14.6.1 Classical Greek Literature
14.6.2 Classical Latin Literature
14.6.3 Late Antique Literature
14.7 Byzantine Literature
14.8 Medieval Literature
14.8.1 Medieval Latin Literature
14.8.2 Literature in the Italian Peninsula
14.8.3 Literature in the Iberian Peninsula
14.8.4 Literature in France
14.8.5 Literature in the German-Speaking World
14.8.6 Literature in the Low Countries
14.7.9 Literature in the British Isles Literature in the British Isles: England in the Early Middle Ages Literature in the British Isles: England in the Later Middle Ages Literature in the British Isles: The ‘Celtic Fringe’
14.7.10 Literature in Scandinavia
14.7.11 Literature in East Central and Eastern Europe
14.7.12 Literature in the (mainly Arabic) Middle East
14.8 Drama, Theatre, Feast and Spectacle

Chapter 15. Religion and Writing

15.1 Before the Middle Ages and Generalities
15.2 Middle Ages
15.3 Mission
15.4 Liturgy
15.5 Sermons and Preaching
15.6 Hagiography
15.7 Visions, Dreams and Prophecy
15.8 The Magic of the Written Word

Chapter 16. The Symbolism of the Book

Subject Index

Index of Modern Authors and Editors

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500 CE – 600

How the Middle Ages Processed and Recycled Roman Culture Circa 524 – 1300

"An interest in classical antiquity never waned altogether during the centuries of the Middle Ages. In the West and particularly in Italy, the great Latin classics never ceased to be studied in the schools and cherished by individuals with a bent for letters. It is true that writers like Tacitus and Lucretius, Propertius and Catullus, just to give a few leading examples, fell quickly into oblivion after the Carolingian age, only to reappear again with the rise of humanism. But Virgil and Cicero, Ovid and Lucan, Persius and Juvenal, Horace and Terence, Seneca and Valerius Maximus, Livy and Statius, and the list is by no means complete, were always read. Virgil became also a prophet of Christianity by the fourth century and a sorcerer in the twelfth century. Some of Ovid's poems were given a Christian interpretation, while Seneca, besides being hailed as the traditional exponent of ancient morality, was also cherished as the correspondent of St. Paul, which he certain was not. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the idea of Rome as 'caput mundi' never faded out in the West. Neither Constantinople nor Aachen ever succeeded in achieving the universal prestige of Rome, just as neither Ravenna nor Antioch, nor Milan, nor Aquileia, nor Treves, had ever come near it during the last centuries of the Empire. The very Barbarians who invaded Italy succumbed to Latin civilization, just as some centuries before the Romans had surrended to that of conquered Greece. Towns were proud of their Roman origins. At Pavia an inscription, testifying to the existence of the town in Roman times, was preserved as a relic in a church, while the equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor, known as the 'Regisol' and removed from Ravenna, adorned one of its squares and was the visible symbol of the town and its traditions until its destruction at the hands of the French in 1796.

"That some interest in the ancient monuments remained alive is not surprising, just as it is not surprising that even smaller antiquities, such as coins, ivories, or engraved gems, were continually sought after during the Middle Ages. 'What was lost, notwithstanding the reminder contained in St. Augustine's Civitas Dei, was the Varronian idea of 'antiquitates'— the idea of a civilization recovered by systematic collection of all the relics of the past.' What led to the collection of antique objects during the Middle Ages was not their antiquity but their appeal to the eye or their rare or unusual materials, or simply because they were different; or even in some cases because they were thought to be endowed with magical powers. The antiques preserved in the treasuries of cathedrals were kept there because their materials or their craftsmanship were considered precious, not becuase they were ancient. Even those few who had a genuine interest in Antiquity were drawn to it by an attraction tempered by utilitarian considerations. The Latin classics were considered above all as repositories of unusual information or moral teachings or as collections of fine phrases suitable for quotation or insertion into one's own writings. They were certainly not seen as the expressions of a great civilization. Roman remains were employed as building materials, or as architectural models, as can be seen for instance in the interior of Autun Cathedral and on the façade of that of Saint Gilles, or they could influence sculpture, as happened in France during the early thirteenth century, when art acquired there a new vitality through the study of ancient marbles. The inscriptions left wherever Rome had ruled were sometimes considered useful models, and as such were transcribed and imitated. Statues and sarcophagi were used again, while smaller antiques were often employed for various purposes. Roman cinerary urns were frequently turned into small stoups for holy water, as may be seen in more than one church in Rome, or could even be provided with a fresh inscription, as was the inscription in honour of St. Agnes and St. Alexander, placed there during the thirteenth century by Marco, Abbot of Santa Prassede. The ivory diptychs of the consuls became covers of gospel books or were even employed to record the dead of a particular church as happened for instance to the Boethius diptych of 487, on which were entered the names of the deceased of the church of Brescia. Sometimes the figures of the consuls carved on them were turned into saints or biblical characters, as happened in a diptych now at Monza, where they became King David and St. Gregory, and in one at Prague, where the consul was transformed into none other than St. Peter himself. Engraved gems went to adorn crowns and diadems, crosses, reliquaries and book covers. Thus the cross [of Lothair] given to the Minster at Aachen by the Emperor Otho III has an ancient cameo of the young Augustus; and also at Aachen the eleventh century ambo still displays some antique ivory tablets with decidedly pagan deities.

"One thing that must be borne in mind is that the Middle Ages did not envisage classical antiquity as a different civilization or a lost Paradise. Despite the difference in religion, until Petrarch medieval men failed to notice a fracture between the classical age and their own times. To them Frederick Barbarossa was as much a Roman Emperor as Augustus or Trajan and only differed from Constantine by his having been born several centuries after him. The medieval empire and that founded by Augustus were believed to be one and the same, and classical myth was often used for decoration in a religious setting. In fact the frequent warnings that pagan art was dangerous found little response even in ecclesiastical circles. During the early Middle Ages a vigorous classical revival took place under the Carolingians. This was in many ways a real renaissance, and the widest in scope ever witnessed before that which illuminated the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. . . ." (Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 2-3).

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The Code of Justinian, The Basis for Civil Law in Western Europe 529 – 533

Justinian. (Click to view larger.)

Thinking that the curriculum was contrary to Christian teachings, Byzantine Emperor Justinian I closed the last surviving classical school at Athens, causing Constantinople to become the capital of Greek culture. He also appointed a commission of scholars to codify 2000 volumes of legal works, some dating back about 1000 years. 

This condensation, produced from 529 to 533, formed the Codex Justinianus, later known as the Code of Justinian or, after a printed edition of 1583, as the Corpus Juris Civilis. The Corpus Juris Civilis became the basis for civil law in western Europe. It was written and distributed in Latin, which remained the official language of the government of the Empire even though the prevalent language of merchants, farmers, seamen, and other citizens was Greek. By the early 7th century, the official government language of the Byzantine empire segued into ancient Greek under the lengthy reign of Heraclius.

"This code compiled, in the Latin language, all of the existing imperial constitutiones (imperial pronouncements having the force of law), back to the time of Hadrian. It used both the Codex Theodosianus and the fourth-century collections embodied in the Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus, which provided the model for division into books that were divided into titles. These codices had developed authoritative standing."

"Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis was distributed in the West but was lost sight of; it was scarcely needed in the comparatively primitive conditions that followed the secession of Italy from the Byzantine empire in 8th century. The only western province where the Justinianic code was effectively introduced was Italy, following its recovery by Byzantine armies (Pragmatic Sanction of 554), but a continuous tradition of Roman law in medieval Italy has not been proven. Historians disagree on the precise way it was recovered in Northern Italy about 1070: perhaps it was waiting unneeded and unnoticed in a library until the legal studies that were undertaken on behalf of papal authority that was central to the Gregorian Reform of Pope Gregory VII led to its accidental rediscovery. Aside from the Littera Florentina, a 6th-century codex of the Pandects that was preserved at Pisa, apparently without ever being publicly consulted, (and removed to Florence after Florence conquered Pisa in 1406), there may have been other manuscript sources for the text that began to be taught at Bologna, by Pepo and then by Irnerius. The latter's technique was to read a passage aloud, which permitted his students to copy it, then to deliver an excursus explaining and illuminating Justinian's text, in the form of glosses. Irnerius's pupils, the so-called Four Doctors of Bologna, were among the first of the "glossators" who established the curriculum of Roman law. The tradition was carried on by French lawyers, known as the Ultramontani, in the 13th century. 

"The merchant classes of Italian communes required law with a concept of equity and which covered situations inherent in urban life better than the primitive Germanic oral traditions. The provenance of the Code appealed to scholars who saw in the Holy Roman Empire a revival of venerable precedents from the classical heritage. The new class of lawyers staffed the bureaucracies that were beginning to be required by the princes of Europe. The University of Bologna, where Justinian's Code was first taught, remained the dominant centre for the study of law through the High Middle Ages" (Wikipedia article on Corpus Juris Civilis, accessed 01-02-2010).

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The Deterioration of Libraries, Publishing and Educational Institutions in Italy by the Sixth Century 534

"In classical times the publication of a book had followed a rather exclusive pattern. A new work could be offered by the author to some friend or sponsor, or it could be publicaly read, or in some cases deposited in a public library. Thereafter, whoever wished to become the owner of a copy had to hire a scribe, give orders to a literate slave, or copy it himself from a borrowed example. This system led to each sample having a highly individual nature, to the point that when Pliny lamented the negligence of copyists who had departed from the exactitude of the prototype of the illustratrated treatise by Crateuas he suggested that the new copies should be amended by going back to a specialised medical garden for a new start. The prescription was against the formation of a tranmission from model to copies; in fact each copy would have been an independent original work.

"Prior to the existence of efficient copyists, public libraries had fulfilled the need to go back to the prototype, providing editors with a number of examples by which to control their new edition.

"In 534, Securus Melior Felix, a school master who practiced his trade on the Forum Traiani, amended Martianus Capella's Nuptiae Mercurrii et Philologiae with the help of his disciple Deuterius but unfortunately checking his work, as he states, against very defective examples. The proximity of his working place to the famous Bibliotheca Ulpia had been of little help in this case. Already at the time when the Historia Augusta was composed, many books from that library had been transferred to the baths of Diocletian. The contents of the Ulpian library had become legendary. One of the authors of the Historia, writing under the pseudonym of Flavius Volpiscus Syracusanus, mentions an ivory book, of which he even gives the class-number in the library's shelves.

"In the fourth century, the catalogue of the regions [Libellus de regionibus urbis Romae] gives the number of twenty-eight libraries in Rome. Many were still extant in the sixth century before the Gothic wars, although in what condition we do not know. Almost all the public libraries of Rome were attached to a temple and they must have suffered from the measures taken by Theodosius against pagan worship after the defeat of Eugenius. A library is a collection of fragile material, particularly if the majority of its books are made of papyrus and therefore require constant care. We may presume that the closing of the temples was one of the causes of the loss of many texts by classic authors.

"It has been suggested that the collections of books in the villas of Campania were transferred to the newly founded monasteries. There is no evidence for this supposition, nor it seems was there any intention to keep an eye on things reputedly pagan and at least distracting. Maintaining a library is expensive and there were not the conditions for imposing an extra expenditure on a monastery. It is certain that the long campaign of Justinian against the Goths inflicted a terrible blow to all the cultural structures of the ancient capital and of many municipal towns. We have a very authoritative witness for this disaster in Cassiodorus.

"In his introduction to the Institutiones, Cassiodorus tells us how in the same year 534 when Securus Melior Felix was editing Martianus Capella, he had tried with the help of Pope Agapitus to build a library and a school for Christian studies in Rome, on the model of that of Nisibis [Nusaybin]. This would be a new institution which would rival the public teaching of secular lterature. However, due to the wars and troubles which 'had devastated the kingdom of Italy', the project fell through" (Bertelli, "The Production and Distribution of Books in Late Antiquity," IN: Hodges & Bowden (eds) The Sixth Century: Production, Distribution and Demand [1998] 52-54).

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The Most Important Medical Center During 6th and 7th Centuries 550 – 650

Gundishapur, province of Khuzestan, Iran. (View Larger)

The Academy of Gundishapur, located in the present-day province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, contained an important library and offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. According to the Cambridge History of Iran, this Academy was "the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries."

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"A Public Popularity for Books Never Existed in Antiquity" Circa 550

In the Byzantine world, and also in Europe of the sixth century, book ownership was primarily limited to the elite.

"This social restriction was not a novelty. Although in the second century, Gellius had been offered some Greek books for sale at the harbour of Brundisium, which he found 'full of wonders and tales', a public popularity for books never existed in Antiquity. What we would term 'popular literature' was in fact intended for the entertainment of the well-to-do. Furthermore, in the sixth century, if the circulation of books was limited by social factors in the East, in the West, an additional barrier was formed by the presence of large groups, in some cases militarily and politcally dominant, for whom Latin was a foreign language, while the number of people who were able to read Greek was rapidly decreasing. As Cassiodorus put, 'Other people have arms, the Romans only eloquence.' " (Bertelli, "The Production and Distribution of Books in Late Antiquity," IN: Hodges & Bowden (eds) The Sixth Century: Production, Distribution and Demand [1998] 41-42).

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The Scriptorium and Library at the Vivarium Circa 560

An image from Codex Amiantinus. (Click to view larger.)

About 560, after the execution of Boethius, Roman statesman Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (generally known as Cassiodorus) retired and formed a school and monastery at his estate at Squillace in the far south of Italy. He named it the Vivarium, after the fishponds which were a "feature of its civilized lifestyle." The monastery included a purpose-built scriptorium intended to collect, copy, and preserve texts. Former magister officiorum to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic ruler of Rome, Cassiodorus lived in the twilight of Late Antiquity. His Vivarium was the last effort, at the very close of the Classical period, to bring Greek learning to Latin readers, a concern shared by Boethius who had been executed in 524.

Prior to founding the Vivarium, Cassiodorus, along with Pope Agapetus I had desired to found a seminary modeled after the School of Nisibis, about which Cassiodorus had learned in Constantinople from the Quaestor Junillus. However, resources were insufficient for such a large project.

"Cassiodorus was not so much concerned with preserving ancient literature as with educating Christian clerics. But he saw, as Augustine had seen, that a grounding in the traditional liberal arts was a necessary preliminary to the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. This program of study, set out in his treatise on divine and secular learning, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium literarum, necessarily involved a supply of books and the foundation of a library. His monks were enjoined to copy manuscripts as an act of piety, paying close attention the accuracy and presentation of their handiwork. Pagan works stood on the shelves as ancillary to Christian studies, The library of Cassiodorus, apparently arranged by subject in at least ten armaria (book cupboards), is the only sixth-century example of which there is definite knowledge.

"The monastery of Vivarium and its library seem not to have long survived the death of Cassiodrus circa 580, but amid growing political distintegration and cultural decay it set an example that was widely followed elsewhere (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 104-5).

At the Vivarium Cassiodorus had monks produce a vast pandect of the bible called the Codex Grandior. He also had them copy out nine volumes of his own work, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum. "Along with detailed instruction for a religious routine, the author told how manuscripts should be handled, corrected, copied, and repaired, and included what amounted to an annotated bibliography of the best literature of the time " (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 91).

Cassiodorus also stated "that biblical manuscripts should be bound in covers worthy of their contents, and he added that he had provided a pattern book with specimens of different kinds of bindings"  (Graham Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] 1). This may be the earliest detailed reference to bookbinding.

"From his [Cassiodorus's] writings we know that the library founded by him possessed 231 codices of 92 different authors, amongst which were five codices on medical subjects, including the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, Celsus and Coelius Aurelianus" (Capparoni, "Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti". A Contribution to the History of the Medical School of Salerno. [1923] 3).

After the death of Cassiodorus the manuscripts at the Vivarium were dispersed, though some of them found their way into the library maintained at the Lateran Palace in Rome by the Popes.

The image is from the Codex Amiatinus, which is thought to be based upon Cassiodorus' Codex Grandior.

(This entry was last revised on 09-22-2015.)

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From the Monastery on the Small Island of Iona, the Conversion of Pagan Scotland and Much of Northern England Circa 563

Saint Columba (View Larger)

Exiled from his native Ireland, in 563 Saint Columba founded with 12 companions a monastery on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. From there the monks undertook the conversion of pagan Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Iona's fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread throughout Europe. It became a major site of pilgrimage, and the burial ground of several kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway.

"The establishment of Iona as the centre of Celtic Christianity outside Ireland by Columba c. 563 marked the effective beginning of the conversion of Scotland and led on in time to the foundation of such important monasteries as Lindisfarne in Northumbria and Malmesbury in the south-west. Even more spectacular was the continental mission of Columbanus [not to be confused with Columba] who blazed a trail accross Europe marked out by such important monastic foundations as those of Luxeuil in Burgundy (590), from which Corbie was founded a century later, Bobbio in northern Italy (614) and Saint Gall, which developed from a hermitage which his pupil Gallus established in Switzerland c. 613" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 87).

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Augustine of Canterbury Preaches to the Anglo-Saxons 597

St. Augustine of Canterbury. (View Larger)

In 597 Pope Gregory I sent the Benedictine monk Augustine of Canterbury and 40 other monks to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons of Britain. For this purpose Gregory gave Augustine precious manuscripts, probably from the Lateran Library.

King Ethelbert of Kent, a pagan, and his wife, Berthe, a Christian, permitted the monks to preach in the town of Canterbury. Soon Augustine converted Ethelbert and within a short time at Christmas "10,000 of the king's subjects were baptized."

"Augustine reconsecrated and rebuilt an old church at Canterbury as his cathedral and founded a monastery in connection with it. He also restored a church and founded the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls. He is claimed to have founded the King's School, Canterbury, which would make it the world's oldest school; however there may be little more to this than that some teaching took place at the monastery."

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600 – 700

The Springmount Bog Wax Tablets Circa 600

Tablet 3v of the Springmount Bog Tablets. (National Museum. Dublin, 1914: 2) (View Larger)

Probably the oldest examples of Latin writing from Ireland are the Springmount Bog tablets — wax tablets, on which are inscribed the Vulgate text of Psalms 30-32, found in a bog in County Antrim, Ireland, in the 20th century. They are preserved in the National Museum of Ireland.  

"The tablets are c. 75 x 210 mm, c. 7 mm thick, and appear to have been lashed together as a group of six, waxed sides together" (Stevenson, "Literarcy in Ireland: the evidence of the Patrick dossier in the Bookf Armagh," IN: McKitterick (ed) The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe [1990] 20).

"These are an unusual survival, given the climatic conditions of northern Europe; they were preserved owing to loss in a peat bog, and they convey graphically the obligation of the priest to be ‘psalteratus’ – to have memorised and be able to recite the Psalms, in the tradition of the Judaic priesthood – and recall exhortations to ordinands to spend whatever time possible learning them, even when travelling (as the person studying these extracts may have been)" (Michelle P. Brown, Preaching with the Pen: the Contribution of Insular Scribes to the Transmission of Sacred Text, from the 6th to 9th Centuries [2004]).

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Excepting the Bible, Probably the Most Widely Circulated Educational Work During the Middle Ages Circa 633

Perhaps in 633 or at his death in 636 Archbishop of Seville Isidore of Seville, frequently called "the last scholar of the ancient world," turned over his encyclopedic compilation of secular and ecclesiastical learning called Etymologiae, or Origines, to his friend, Bishop Braulio of Zaragoza (Braulius), for editing and distribution. Braulio was responsible for dividing the work into twenty books. Like Cassiodorus, who wrote his  Institutes of Divine Learning in Italy in the previous century, Isidore intended his Etymologiae to disseminate knoweldge of books that had become scarce and difficult to find and read as a result of the decline of the Roman Empire and its educational system.

The dissemination of the work was swift and unusually extensive. Excepting the Bible, the Etymologiae was the most widely copied and circulated educational text during the Middle Ages. Over 1000 medieval manuscripts of the Etymologiae survive, but probably because of the length of the work (about 250,000 words in English translation), it was also widely excerpted, and only 60 manuscripts include the complete text. In Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (1990; p. 193) Bischoff speculated that the Moorish occupation of Spain in 711, which caused the migration of Spanish Christians into France, Sardinia and Italy, may have stimulated dissemination of this and other Spanish texts.

The manuscripts of Etymologiae are generally categorized as "Spanish", "French," and "Italian" with the greatest number surviving in French. Among the earliest and finest of the "French" manuscripts is the eighth century manuscript copied at Corbie, or in its vicinity, from a Spanish exemplar: MS II. 4856 preserved in the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores X, no. 1554. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of this manuscript was available from the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique at this link.

"The Etymologies offered a long-influential model of information management based on summarizing books, notably those difficult of access, and following a topical order that was not always predictable but could be navigated through a table of contents listing book and chapter headings" (Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 34). 

"At the deepest level Isidore's encyclopedia is rooted in the dream that language can capture the universe and that if we but parse it correctly, it can lead us to the proper understanding of God's creation. His word derivations are not based on principles of historical linguistics but follow their own logic, serving as the basis for assertions and linkages of all sorts, often multiple and unresolved, 'Human being' (homo) is so called from 'soil' (humus), the material origin of the body (7.6.4); Mercurius is related to speech because speech is a 'go-between' (medius currens), but the god's name is also linked to 'commerce' (merx) 8.11.45-46); and poetry (carmen) derives either from the metrical and thus choppy way (carptim) it is recited from poets' madness (carere mente) (I.39.4)

"The Etymologiae displays all the late antique techniques of abbreviation, abridgment, selection, (re) ordering, and harmonizing, and Isidore is the master of bricolage.... Ludwig Traube described the work as 'a mosaic'... His reductions and compilations did indeed transmit ancient learning, but Isidore, who often relied on scholia and earlier compilations, is often simplistic scientifically and philosophically, especially compared to 4th and 5th-century figures such as Ambrose and Augustine. The Etymologiae frequently preserved for later generations some of the least helpful theories (from a scientific point of view) that were rooted in philosophy, not observation—for example the notion of the fixed 'sphere' of stars that derives from Plato's Timaeus. It also passed along, willy-nilly and however much its author as a Christian bishop may have regretted it, a universe filled with mythological references. If Isidore, like Augustine (from whom he adopts much), wished to banish the pagan gods, he nonetheless keeps them alive in his writings via euhemerist and other rationalizing explanations of pagan names and stories, just as he cites as authorities the very Latin poets whose works he asserts are 'fables' and 'fictions' (Etymologiae I.40.1)" (Ralph Hexter, "Isidore of Seville," Grafton, Most, Settis (eds) The Classical Tradition [2010] 490).

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 194-96.

Etymologiae was first published in print by Gunther Zainer of Augsburg on November 19, 1472.

The first complete translation into English is Isidor of Seville's Etymologies. The complete English translation of Isidori Hisalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri XX, translated from the Latin by Priscilla Throop. 2 vols., 2005.


in 2006 the Vatican declared Isidore of Seville the patron saint of the Internet.

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Foundation of the Monastery on Lindisfarne 634

Saint Aidan (View larger)

In 634 Saint Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, founded the monastery on the tidal island at Lindisfarne off the North-East coast of England. It became a center of learning with an important library.

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700 – 800

The Earliest Surviving Letter Known to Have Been Written from One Englishman to Another 704 – 705

In 1704 Bishop Wealdhere of London wrote a "letter close" , i.e. a letter for private communication, to Archbishop Brihtwold of Canterbury.

This letter, formerly in the library of Robert Cotton, and preserved in the British Library (Brit. Lib. MS Cotton August II, 18), is the earliest surviving

"letter known to have been written by one Englishman to another. . . . Although the letter has no dating clause, internal evidence shows that it cannot have been written earlier than 704, the year of Centred's accession to the Mercian throne, or later than 705, the year of Bishop Haedde's death" (Pierre Chaplais, "The letter from Bishop Wealdhere of London to Archibshop Brihtwold of Canterbury: the earliest original 'letter close' extant in the West", Parkes and Watson (eds.) Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts & Libraries. Essays presented ot N.R. Ker [1978] 3-4).

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The Earliest Image of a Scribe Using a Writing Table Circa 715 – 720

(View Larger)

Images of scribes in the ancient world typically depict them as writing on their knee. While this may have been a convention or custom, it is hard to believe that no scribes in the ancient world had access to tables for writing.

Saenger theorizes that a writing table, as well as word spacing, would have been necessary for visual copying using silent reading, rather than copying from dictation as is understood to have been done in the ancient world.

The earliest unambiguous image of a scribe using a writing table appears in the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illuminated gospel book that incorporates word spacing, produced on the tidal island of Lindisfarne off the north-east coast of England, circa 715-720. 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.

Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origins of Silent Reading (1997) 48.

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Most of the Surviving Greek Literature was Translated into Arabic by 750 750

"Most of the surviving Greek literature was translated into Arabic by 750, and Aristotle, for example, became so widely studied that literally hundreds of books were written about him by Arabic scholars. The Moslems also obtained Greek works from Constantinople through regular trade channels and captured others in their various wars with the Eastern Empire" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 78).

"The early Abbasid Caliphs, adopting a religious philosophy that encouraged learning and debate, promoted the establishment of universities and libraries throughout their realm. Early beginnings were made under Al-Mansur (754-775) and Harun al-Rashid (785-809) of Arabian Nights fame, but was Al-Mamun the Great (813-833) who brought the "House of Learning" [House of Wisdom] or university at Baghdad into prominence. With libraries, laboratories, subsidized scholars, a translating service, and even an astronomical observatory, this institution attracted scholars from Spain to India" (Harris 79).

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Evidence of the Decline of Literacy Among the Laity in the Early Middle Ages Circa 750

"Of course, we have no early medieval Pompeii that would allow us to make a true and fair comparison of levels of casual secular literacy between Roman and post-Roman times. But we do have plenty of domestic objects from both periods, and these are a rich source of scratched letters and names in the Roman period, as well as of occasional messages (like those we have seen on tiles from Britain). In the early Middle Ages, domestic objects are almost always mute. They do very occasionally have names carved or scratched on them, but these are almost invariably very neat, suggesting that they have been applied with some care, perhaps even by a specialist writer, rather than roughly scratched by the owners themselves. There is no group of finds from post-Roman centuries that remotely compares with the 400 graffiti, mainly scratched initials, on the bottoms of pots from a Roman fort in Germany, which were almost certainly added by the soldiers themselves, in order to identify their individual vessels.

"In a much simpler world, the urgent need to read and write declined, and with it went the social pressure on the secular elite to be literate. Widespread literacy in the post-Roman West definitely became confined to the clergy. A detailed analysis of almost 1,000 subscribers to charters from eighth-century Italy has shown that just under a third of witnesses were able to sign their own names, the remainder making only a mark (identified as theirs by the charter's scribe). But the large majority of those who signed (71 per cent) were clergy. Amongst the 633 lay subscribers, only 93, or 14 per cent, wrote their own name. Since witnesses to charters were generally drawn from the ranks of the 'important' people of local society, and since the ability to write one's name does not require a profound grasp of literary skills, this figure suggests that even basic literacy was a very rare phenomenon amongst the laity as a whole" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 166).

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The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad Circa 750 – 975

"A century and a half of Graeco-Arabic scholarship has amply documented that from about the middle of the eighth century to the end of the tenth, almost all non-literary and non-historical secular Greek books that were available throughout the Eastern Byzantine Empire and the Near East were translated into Arabic. What this means is that all of the following Greek writings, other than the exceptions just noted, which have reached us from Hellenistic, Roman, and late antiquity times, and many more that have not survied in the original Greek, were subjected to the transformative magic of the translator's pen: astrology and alchemy and the rest of the occult sciences; the subjects of the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and theory of music; the entire field of Aristotelian philosophy throughout its history; metaphysics, ehtics, physics, zoology, botany, and especially logic — the Organon: all the health sciences; medicine, pharmacology, and veterinary science; and various other marginal genres of writings, such as Byzantine handbooks on military science (the tactica), popular collections of wisdom sayings, and even books on falconry— all these subjects passed through the hands of the translators. . . . In terms of the extent of the translated material, the enormity of the undertaking can best grasped if one were to consider that the edition of Galen's complete works by Kühn, and the Berlin Acadmey edition of the Greek commentaries on Aristotle—works that form only a small fraction of the books translated— comprise seventy-four large volumes. One can justly claim that the study of post-classical Greek secular writings can hardly proceed without the evidence in Arabic, which in this context becomes the second classical language, even before Latin. 

"The translation movement which began with the accession of the Abbasids to power and took place primarily in Badhdad, represents an astounding achievement which independently of its significance for Greek and Arabic philology and the history of philosophy and science (the aspects which have been overwhelmingly studied to this day), can hardly be grasped and accounted for otherwise than as a social phenonomenon (the aspect of which has been very little investigated). To elaborate: The Graeco-Arabic translation movement lasted first of all, well over two centuries; it was no ephemeral phenomenon. Second, it was supported by the entire elite of 'Abbasid society: caliphs and princes, civil servants and military leaders, merchants and bankers, and scholars and scientists; it was not the pet project of any particular group in the furtherance of their restricted agenda. Third, it was subsized by an enormous outlay of funds, both public and private; it was no eccentric whim of a Maecenas or the fashionable affectation of a few wealthy patrons seeking to invest in a philanthropic or self-aggrandizing cause. Finally, it was eventually conducted with rigorous scholarly methodology and strict philological exactitude— by the famous Hunayn ibn-Ishaq and his associates — on the basis of a sustained program that spanned generations and which reflects, in the final analysis, a social attitude and the public culture of early 'Abbasid society; it was not the result of the haphazard and random research interests of a few eccentric individuals who, in any age or time, might indulge in arcane philological and textual pursuits that in historical terms are proven irrelevant" (Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture. The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries) [1998] 1-2.)

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Foundation of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad 762

A modern photograph of a courtyard in the House of Wisdom, also known as the Bait al-Hikma. (View Larger)


In 751 the second Abbassid Caliph, Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur, founded the city of Baghdad. There he founded a palace library, which, according to some sources, evolved into The House of Wisdom. According to those sources, the library was originally concerned with translating and preserving Persian works, first from Pahlavi (Middle Persian), then from Syriac and eventually Greek and Sanskrit. One standard view was encountered in the Wikipedia article, from which I quote:

"The House of Wisdom acted as a society founded by Abbasid caliphs Harun al-Rashid and his son al-Ma'mun who reigned from 813-833 CE. Based in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries, many of the most learned Muslim scholars were part of this excellent research and educational institute. In the reign of al-Ma'mun, observatories were set up, and The House was an unrivalled centre for the study of humanities and for sciences, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, zoology and geography. Drawing on Persian, Indian and Greek texts—including those of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid, Plotinus, Galen, Sushruta, Charaka, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta—the scholars accumulated a great collection of knowledge in the world, and built on it through their own discoveries. Baghdad was known as the world's richest city and centre for intellectual development of the time, and had a population of over a million, the largest in its time.The great scholars of the House of Wisdom included Al-Khawarizmi, the "father" of algebra, which takes its name from his book Kitab al-Jabr" (Wikipedia article on House of Wisdom, accessed 12-01-2008).

In 2014 I read Dimitri Gutas's Greek Thought, Arabic Culture. The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries.) (1998). In that book Gutas presented a significantly different view of the bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom. From his summary on the topic (pp. 58-60) I quote:

"This is all the substantive and reliable evidence that we have and it allows only the following reconstruction of the nature and function of the bayt al-hikma: It was a library, most likely established as a 'bureau' under al Mansur, part of the 'Abbasid administration modeled on that of the Sasanians. Its primary function was to house both the activity and the results of translations from Persian into Arabic of Sasanian history and culture. As such there were hired translators capable to perform this function as well as book binders for the preservation of books. . . This was its function in Sasanian times, and it remained it throughout the time of Harun ar-Rasid, i.e. the time of Barmakids. Under al-Ma'mun it appears to have gained an additional function related to astrononomical and mathematical activities; at least this is what the names associated with the bayt-al-hikma during that period would imply. We have, however, no specific information about what those activities actually were; one would guess research and study only, since none of the people mentioned was himself actually a translator. Al-Ma'mun's new rationalist ideological orientations, discussed in chapter 4, would explain the additional functions of the library during his reign.

"This then is all we can safely say about the bayt al-hikma. We have abolutely no evidence for any other sort of activity. It was certainly not a center for the translation of Greek works into Arabic; the Graeco-Arabic translation movement was completely unrelated to any of the activities of the bayt-al-hikma. Among the dozens of reports about the translation of Greek works into Arabic that we have, there is not even a single one that mentions the bayt-al-hikma. This is to be contrasted with the references to translations from the Persian; we have few such references and yet two of them, both in the Fihrist cited above, do mention the bayt-al-hikma. Most amazingly, the first hand-report about the translation movement by the great Hunayn himself does not mention it. By the same token, the library was not one which stored, as part of its mission, Greek manuscripts. Hunayn mentions the efforts he expended in search of Greek manuscripts and again he never mentions that he looked for them right under his nose in the bayt al-hikma in Baghdad (cf. chapter 7.4). Ibn-an-Nadim, who claims that his Himyarite and Ethiopian manuscripts came from al-Ma'mun's library, says nothing of the sort when he describes the different kinds of Greek writing.

"The bayt-al-hikma was certainly also not an 'academy' for teaching the 'ancient sciences as they were being translated; such a preposterous idea did not even occur to the authors of the spurious reports about the transmission of the teaching of these sciences that we do have (discussed in chater 4.2). Finally, it was not a 'conference' center for the meetings of scholars even under al-Ma'mun's sponsorship. Al-Ma'mun, of course (and all the early 'Abbasid caliphs), did host scholarly conferences or rather gatherings, but not in the library; such gauche social behavior on the part of the caliph would have been inconceivable. Sessions (magalis) were held in the residences of the caliphs, when the caliphs were present, or in private residences otherwise, as the numerous descriptions of them that we have indicate (for one hosted by al-Ma-mun see chapter 4.3).

"What the bayt-al-hikma did do for the Graeco-Arabic translation movement, however, is to foster a climate in which it could be both demanded and then conducted successfully. If indeed the bayt-al-hikma was an 'Abbasid administrative bureau, then it institutionalized the Pahlavi into Arabic translation culture. This means that all activities implied or suggested by this culture—the Zorastrian ideology of the recovery of ancient Avestan texts through the (re-) translation of Greek works and all that that implied—could be conducted as semi-official activities, or at least as condoned by official policy. The numerous translations from the Greek which were commissioned by the Barmakids, for example should be seen in this light. The example set by the caliphs and the highest adminstrators was naturally followed by the others of lesser rank, both civil servants and private individuals. Once the existence of this additional official—though indirectly so—sanction for Graeco-Arabic translations is realized, the origins and rapid spread of the movement in early 'Abbasid times is better understood."

The House of Wisdom is thought to have flourished until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the sacking of Baghdad in 1258.

(This entry was last revised on 05-02-2014.)

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One of the Finest Libraries North of the Alps: About 100 Books 767

Raban Maur (left), flanked by Alcuin (middle), dedicates his work to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (Right), taken from a Carolingian manuscript (ca. 831/40) currently residing in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Wien. (View Larger)

In 1767 the monk Alcuin became head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. This cathedral had been destroyed by fire in 741, and then rebuilt on a grander scale. Alcuin devoted himself to teaching and to building up the library at the Cathedral— one the finest libraries north of the Alps at this time.

"Athough most of Alcuin's writing dates from his residence in Francia, the roots of his formidable learning and capacity lay in the York years, as he himself often made clear. It would seem in fact, that York was the first place in Europe to create a cathedral school of this scale and character. It was the model to which Alcuin turned in his mind while serving Charlemagne in the later part of his life, and he saw himself, in some ways, as its ambassador. It is important, however, not to project back upon this period the scale of later medieval schools and libraries. The closest parallel was Bede's library, built up by Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrith at Monwearmouth-Jarrow, a place that Alcuin knew well and evidently loved. It is possible to conjecture that there may have been up to 250 titles there, but not necessarily so many actual books. it seems that this may actually have been the largest library ever assembled throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Hardly any of it now remains, though perhaps some of its volumes, or copies of them, could have found their way to York itself. In his York poem, Alcuin proudly lists forty authors whose works adorned the library built up by Aethelbert. To this may be added a further eighteen works from one of the few of Alcuin's writings that can dated to his time in York. It is most unlikely, therefore, that the York library in its heyday exceeded 100 books, some of which Alcuin later exported to Tours. Mostly these would have been kept in chests rather than on open shelves. Among them would have been liturgical books, Bibles, lectionaries, sacramentaries and so forth. To York came requests for the copying of books throughout the eighth and ninth centuries, from the continent, and presumably from within England, itself. Its scriptorium was important and respected, but of the York library itself nothing certain now remains" (Dales & Williams, Alcuin: Theology and Thought [2013] 31).

Lapidge, The Anglo-Saxon Library (2006) 40-42.

(This entry was last revised on 08-11-2014.)


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The Contributions of the Emperor Charlemagne and the Educator Alcuin to the Carolingian Renaissance Circa 780 – 820

 "The classical revival of the late eighth and early ninth centuries, without doubt the most momentous and critical stage in the transmission of the legacy of Rome, was played out against the background of a reconstituted empire which stretched from the Elbe to the EbroCalais to Rome, welded together for a time into a political and spiritual whole by the commanding personality of an emperior who added to his military and material resources the blessing of Rome. Although the political achievement of Charlemagne (768-814) crumbled in the hands of his successors, the cultural movement which it fostered retained its impetus in the ninth century and survived into the tenth.

"The secular and ecclesiastical administration of a vast empire called for a large number of trained priests and functionaries. As the only common denominator in a heterogeneous realm and as the repository of both the classical and the Christian heritage of an earlier age, the Church was the obvious means of implementing the educational program necessary to produce a trained executive. But under the Merovingians the Church had fallen on evil days; some of the priests were so ignorant of Latin that Boniface heard one carrying out a baptism of dubious efficacy in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti (Epist. 68), and knowledge of antiquity had worn so thin that the author of one sermon was under the unfortunate impression that Venus was a man. Reform had begun under [Charlemagne's father] Pippin the Short; but now the need was greater, and Charlemagne felt a strong personal responsibility to raise the intellectual level of the clergy, and through them of his subjects. . . ." (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 92-93).

In 780, at Parma Charlemagne, King of the Franks, met the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin, who was head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. Charlemagne took scholarship seriously. He had learned to read as an adult, although he never quite learned how to write. At this time of reduced literacy outside of the clergy, writing of any kind was an achievement for kings, many of whom were illiterate.

Recognizing that Alcuin was a scholar who could help him achieve a renaissance of learning and reform of the Church, in 782 Charlemagne induced Alcuin to move to the royal court as Master of the Palace School at Aachen, where Alcuin remained until 796. This school was attended by members of the royal court and the sons of noble families. At Aachen Alcuin established a great library, for which Charlemagne obtained manuscripts from Monte Cassino, Rome, Ravenna and other sources.

"Books are naturally attracted to centres of power and influence, like wealth and works of art and all that goes with a prosperous cultural life. Some arrive as the prerequisites of conquest, or as the gifts that pour in unasked when the powerful have made thier wishes plain, some in response to the magnetic pull of an active and dynamic cultural movement. Others were actively sought out by those promoting the educational and cultural aims of the revival. There was such a break in the copying of the classics in the Dark Ages that many of the books that provided the exemplars from which the Carolingian copies were made must have been ancient codices, and this immediately raises a fundamental question; where did all the books that have salvaged so much of what we have of Latin literature come from? As far as we can tell from the evidence available, the total contribution of Ireland and England, Spain and Gaul, was small in comparison with what came from Italy itself, from Rome and Campania and particularly, it would seem, from Ravenna after its capture by the forces of Charlemagne. Nor did the wholesale transference of classical texts to northern Europe exhaust the deposits in Italy, for Italy continued, down to the end of the Renaissance and beyond, to produce from time to time texts which, as far as we can tell, had been unknown north of the Alps. 

"Gathering impetus with each decade, the copying of books went on apace through the length and breadth of Charlemagne's empire. Such ancient classical manuscripts as could be found, with their imposing majuscule scripts, were transformed, often at speed, into minuscule copies, and these in time begot further copies, branching out into these complex patterns to which the theory of stemmatics has reduced this fascinating process. The routes by which texts travelled as they progressed from place to place were naturallty governed in part by geographical factors, as they moved along the valleys of the Loire or Rhine, but even more by the complex relationships that existed between institutions and the men who moved between them. There are so many gaps in our knowedge, and so many of pieces in this puzzle have been irrevocably lost, that we can never hope to build up a convincing distribution map for the movements of texts in this period. But certain patterns are discernible, and the drift of texts south and west through the Low Countries and northern France, and down the Rhine to the shores of Lake Constance, appears to point to a fertile core in the area of Aachen, and this would confirm the crucial importance of the palace as a centre and a catalyst for the dissemination of classical texts" (Reynolds & Wilson, op. cit. 97-98).

Also at Aachen, and later at Tours to which he retired in 796, Alcuin promoted the development of the Carolingian minuscule, which became the writing standard for the eighth and ninth centuries.

"The use. . . of a script more compact in the body and needing less time to write, may have been decided upon in view of the plans to proceed with a State educational project, the greatest ever undertaken in the West, or perhaps anywhere at any time in the Roman Empire. For such an enterprise the employment of an accelerated script would become an interest of State, or, to be accurate, of State and Church" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 143).

Regarding the origin of Carolingian minuscule there is little consensus. In the words of palaeographer Stan Knight:

"Some authorities detect Roman (ie.half-uncial) roots, others French pre-Carolingian, some even see Insular influence (perhaps seeking a link with Alcuin), others cursive or semi-cursive scripts. Various combinations of these influences are also suggested. The opinions are many and bewildering.
        "The problem is made more complicated because the actual emergence of Carolingian minuscule appears to have been rather haphazard. There is no solid evidence to suggest that it emanated from just one center, nor can any systematic development of the script be discerned (apart from the natural maturing observable in the work of energetic scriptoria like that at Tours). . . . My considered opinion is that Carolingian minuscule was a modification of the ancient and serviceable half-uncial script, incorporating certain features gathered from other current scripts, and that the Abbey of Corbie led the field in this vitally important calligraphic development" http://dh101.humanities.ucla.edu/DH101Fall12Lab1/items/show/8, accessed 08-07-2014).

Alcuin revised the church liturgy, and also revised Jerome's translation of the Bible. Alcuin and his associates— particularly the Visigothic writer, poet and bishop Theodulf of Orleans, who produced his own, competing, edition of the Bible — were responsible for an intellectual movement within the Carolingian Empire in which many schools were attached to monasteries and cathedrals, and Latin was restored as a literary language. Along with these schools there was a flowering of libraries and manuscript book production.

Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis, a collection of legislation known as a capitulary issued in 789, covered educational and ecclesiastical reform within the Frankish kingdom, established his religious and educational aspirations for the kingdom, and became a foundation for the Carolingian Renaissance.  

"Before the surge of education following the Admonitio Generalis and subsequent Carolingian Renaissance, it was difficult for the Frankish people to connect with Christianity and the church. Peasant life was very hard; the people were illiterate and Latin, the language of the church, was not their native language, making Christianity and the Bible difficult to access. Nobles also were largely uneducated and uncultured, with few devoted Christians among them. Only the clergy were consistent in having some level of education, and thus they had the best understanding and exposure to the Bible and the full extent of Christianity. The schools, which the Admonitio ordered established by the monasteries and cathedrals, began a tradition of higher learning in Carolingian Europe, leading the revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The fulfillment of Admonitio Generalis meant that the study of language, rhetoric and grammar in these institutions, as well as the standardizing of writing scripture and Latin, was undertaken in order to make religious texts and books accessible to the clergy, as well as their correction and standardization. However this strengthened all forms of Carolingian literature, and book production, as well as developments in law, historical writing, and uses of poetry all flourished in these schools. In fact, the capitularies themselves, and the level of language they use, are examples of the increasing importance of writing within the Frankish kingdom. As well as language, the Admonitio Generalis ordered other arts such as numbers and arithmetic, ratios, taxes, measure, architecture, geometry, and astrology to be taught, leading to developments in each field and their application within society. Charlemagne pushed for an educated clergy who could help lead reform, because it was his belief that the study of arts would aid them in understanding sacred texts, which they could then pass on to their followers. During the Carolingian Renaissance, Charlemagne unified religious practices and culture within his realm, creating a Christian kingdom, and ultimately unifying his empire" (Wikipedia article on Admonitio Generalis, accessed 08-06-2014).

"The Carolingian programme of renewal was consciously based on Antiquity. Order and stability lay in a vigorous revival of that which was useful and applicable from the Roman past: e.g. its imagery and art forms, such as the human figure as the central theme of art, or its reliance on the written word. Although, culturally, its upward trajectory had peaked by AD 877, this Carolingian renewal had by then insured the survival of ancient art and literature. The text of virutally every ancient Latin author is today edited largely from Carolingian manuscripts. Texts of only a handful of ancient authors—TibullusPropertiusCatullus among them—are not reconstructed from manuscripts of the Carolingian renaissance" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns ed. The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 46-47).

(This entry was last revised on 08-19-2014).

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Approximately 1880 Manuscript Codices or Fragments Survive of Texts Written before 800 799

According to Elias Avery Lowe's (E. A. Lowe's) Codices Latini Antiquiores (11 volumes and Supplement), 1,810 manuscript codices or fragments of codices survived of texts written in Latin before 800 CE. Since Lowe died the total has increased to 1884. Lowe's survey excluded charters and other documents, of which a far greater number survived.

From the fifth century only 113 codices or fragments survive.

From the sixth century only 157 codices or fragements survive.

From the seventh century only 198 codices or fragments survive.

From the period from 550 to 750, considered the Dark Ages, only 264 codices or fragments survive.

From the eighth century only 834 codices or fragments survive.

"Of these 264 [surviving from the Dark Ages] only a tenth (26) are secular works, and most of these of a technical nature. Eight of them are legal texts, 8 are medical, 6 are works of grammar, 1 is a gromatic text. It is clear from the historical evidence that the basic arts of life went on; education, law, medicine and the surveying necessary to administration and the levying of taxes still required manuals and works of reference, and these needs are duly reflected in the pattern of manuscript survival" (Reynolds [ed.], Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics [1983] xvi).

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800 – 900

The Earliest Surviving Dated Manuscript Written in Greek Minuscule 815 – 835

A page from the Uspensky Gospels. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving dated example of a manuscript written in Greek minuscule is the Uspensky Gospels. The codex was probably written in Constantinople by monk named Nicholas between 815 and 835. Later it belonged to the monastery of Great Lavra of St. Sabas, known in Arabic as Mar Saba (Hebrew: מנזר מר סבא‎), a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley in the West Bank east of Bethlehem in Palestine. In 1844 bp Porphiryj Uspienski took it along with other manuscripts, including a portion of the Codex Coislinianus, to Russia. The Uspensky Gospels is preserved in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg (Gr. 219. 213. 101).

"As the script of this book is by no means immature or primitive, the adoption of this style should probably be dated at least half a century earlier. The place of its origin is not known for certain, but there are some grounds for thinking that it was popularized by members of the important Stoudios monastery in the capital [Constantinople], which was a well-known centre of book production at a later date. Gradually the uncial hand was abandoned, and by the end of the tenth century it was no longer used except for a few special liturgical books. The new script facilitated the copying of texts by making more economical use of parchment . . . .

"The transliteration of old uncial books into the new script was energetically undertaken by the scholars of the ninth century. It is largely owing to their activity that Greek literature can still be read, for the text of almost all authors depends ultimately on one or more books written in minuscule script at this date or shortly after, from which all later copies are derived; the quantity of literature that is available to us from the papyri and the uncial manuscripts is only a small proportion of the whole. In the process of transliteration mistakes were sometimes made, especially by misreading letters that were similar in the uncial script and therefore easily confused. At many points in Greek texts there are errors common to all the extant manuscripts which appear to be derived from the same source, and this source is usually taken to be a ninth-century copy. A further assumption generally made is that one minuscule copy was made from one uncial copy. The uncial book was then discarded, and the minuscule book became the source of all further copies. The theory has a certain a priori justification on two grounds, since the task of transliteration from a script that was becoming less and less familiar would not be willingly undertaken more often than was absolutely necessary, and there is at least some likelihod that after the destruction of the previous centuries many texts survived in one copy only. But these arguments do not amount to proof, and there are cases which can only be explained by more complicated hypotheses" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed ([1991] 59-60).

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The Only Surviving Major Architectural Drawing from the Fall of the Roman Empire to Circa 1250 820 – 830

The Plan of Saint Gall. (View Larger)

Codex Sangallensis 1092, The Plan of Saint Gall (St. Gall), "the only surviving major architectural drawing from the roughly 700-year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 13th century," was created between 820 and 830 CE.

The plan, which includes a library, probably depicts an ideal Benedictine monastic compound,

"including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, brewery, infirmary, and even a special house for bloodletting. . . . much has been learned about medieval life from the Plan. The absence of heating in the dining hall, for instance, was not an oversight but was meant to discourage excessive enjoyment of meals. In the quarters for the 120-150 monks, their guests, and visitors, the ratio of toilet seats was better than what modern hygenic codes would prescribe." 

In 1979 the University of California Press published a monumental three-volume study in folio format by Walter Horn and Ernest Born entitled The Plan of St. Gall. A Study of the Architecture & Economy of, & Life in a Paradigmatic Carolinian Monastery.  From the standpoint of book design and production this work with more than 1000 pages was one of the most spectacular scholarly publications of the late 20th century. Three years later, in 1982 to accompany an exhibition concerning the plan, the U.C. Press issued another spectacular, but much thinner volume of 100 pages, The Plan of St. Gall in Brief: An overview based on the 3-volume work. . . including selected facsimile illustrations color and black and white, and also a Note on Architectural Scale Models, with illustrations in color of the Reconstruction Scale Model of the Monastery of the Pllan of St. Gall, as interpreted by Horn and Born, and crafted in bassword by Carl Bertil Lund.

By 2012 a website at www.stgallplan.org was built to place the Plan of St. Gall in its widest cultural context. Aspects of this website were summarized by Richard Matthew Pollard and Julian Hendrix in "Digital Devotion from Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall," Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures I (2012) 292-302. | 10.1353/dph.2012.0021, from which I quote:

"A long-term digitization project ( www.stgallplan.org) to bring the Carolingian plan for the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland to life has earned justified praise for its impact. The project calls attention to and increases understanding of Carolingian monastic life at one of the great houses of the time. Whether the library was ever intended to be constructed or whether it was an imaginative conceptualization of an ideal library is immaterial to the light the project has shed on Carolingian spirituality. This article both introduces the project and demonstrates how digitization of manuscripts can increase the data available for studying devotion and the religious emotions that it entailed.

"There are few single documents more important for the history of medieval art, architecture, monasticism, and, as we hope to show in this essay, devotional emotions, than the famous drawing known as the Plan of St. Gall. This document, now preserved at the monastery Stiftsbibliothek in Switzerland, was drawn up for abbot Gosbert of St. Gall by two scribes of the sister monastery of Reichenau, on Lake Constance, around 820. An early and accomplished piece of technical drawing, the Plan measures 112 by 77.5 cm (slightly smaller than A0 paper, for those keeping track) and is made of five pieces of parchment sewn together. It depicts a large monastery complex, centred around an elaborate church, with cloister and refectories, scriptorium and library, alongside breweries, bakeries, a mill, and even a shoemaker'€™s shop. We do not know why exactly it was drawn up, but the dedication, probably written by Haito, abbot of Reichenau, indicates that it was given to Gosbert so that he might 'exercise your ingenuity and recognize my devotion.'€  Gosbert was undertaking building projects at the time, and so the plan may have been prompted by Gosbert'€™s desire to begin construction at St. Gall. It is clear, however, that St. Gall was not built from this plan, though some of the buildings there might have been inspired by it (Jacobsen). It is perhaps better to think of the Plan as a very detailed sketch of '€œthe ideal monastery' in the Carolingian imagination, where the whole world is reordered to the service of God (Dey 1940).  

"It is an unfailing axiom of medieval history that the ease of access to a document declines in proportion to its importance. This, and the Plan'€™s unwieldy size, has made it a difficult resource to use. Several years ago, therefore, Patrick Geary, of UCLA, and Bernard Frischer, of the University of Virginia, conceived of a project to make the Plan, and ancillary bibliography and analysis of it, accessible in virtual form. With the cooperation of the St. Gall librarians, extremely high-resolution pictures were taken of the Plan, and displayed using a special java applet, allowing the images to be panned, rotated, and zoomed. The result is actually much more useful and detailed than what one could experience with the large and unwieldy Plan.  In this first phase of the project, ancillary documents were added alongside to help contextualize the monastic environment that produced the Plan. Initially this focused on material culture: for instance, images of hundreds of Carolingian objects (pots, brooches, carvings, etc.) were put online to give a sense of the things used and produced in a monastery like that represented in the Plan. The second phase of the project aims to give a sense of the intellectual environment that produced the Plan by giving access to the books that were present at Reichenau (and St. Gall) when the Plan was produced. The project has acquired digital reproductions of 168 manuscripts present at Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall. These are being presented in the same, high-resolution, zoomable form as the Plan, and are paired with updated descriptions."

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The Earliest Surviving Text of Lucretius's De rerum natura Circa 825

"In practice the text of Lucretius rests upon two Leiden manuscripts traditonally known from the format as the Oblongus (O) and Quadratus (Q). The older and better is O (Voss. Lat. F. 30). It was written not long after 800 in the Palace School of Charlemagne. A contemporary corrector, using a distinctive insular hand, emended the text and in places filled up lacunae left by the orignal scribe. This hand has been recognized as that of Dungal, who became, after the death of Alcuin, the foremost Carolinian authority on astronomy and computus. It is agreeable to wonder, in the duller moments of life, if this formidable Irishman would have much rejoiced in his posthumous title of the 'corrector Saxonicus' (O). The history of O during the later Middle Ages is obscure, but by 1479 it had reached St. Martins at Mainz. Q (Voss. Lat. Q. 94) was written in the ninth century in north-east France; it appears to have spent most of the Middle Ages in Saint-Bertin....

"It would seem that Lucretius emerged towards the end of the eighth century, that the archetype of our manuscripts found its home in the Carolingian court, and that the text was disseminated from there, radiating westwards into the Low Countries and northern France and southwards along the Rhine. Excerpts show that the text was disseminated and used, and it seems to have been well established in the area of Lake Constance. Lines from the De rerum natura occur in two metrical florilegia, that of Mico of Saint-Riquier, put together at Reichenau about 825, and the Florilegium Sangallense (St. Gall 870, c.900). Lucretius is also quoted in a letter written from St. Gall by Ermenrich of Ellwangen c. 850, and there was a copy of his poem in the ninth century at Murbach. Then, despite this promising start, Lucretius went underground for the rest of the Middle Ages, an eclipse which may be partly explained by the passionately anti-religious nature of his message. All we have until the fifteenth century are a few fleeting glimpses. The abbey of Lobbes acquired a Lucretius, probably in the early twelfth century, and he is listed in the twelfth-century catalogue of Corbie.  The presence of Q at Saint-Bertin may well explain the echoes of Lucretius in the Encomium Emmae and the Lucretian gloss in Sigebert of Gembloux (c. 1030-1112) fits with the availability of his poem in the closely connected abbey of Lobbes. The degree to which the De rerum natura was known in Italy before the fifteenth century is more problematical. There was a manuscript at Bobbio in the ninth century, faint echoes have been detected in medieval Italian works, and one line, probably quoted at second hand and important from northern Europe, occurs in a florilegium of south Italian origin preserved in Venice, Marc. Lat. Z 497 (1811)" (L. D. Reynolds, "Lucretius," Texts and Transmission, Reynolds [ed] [1983] 219-21).

Regarding the earliest surviving text of Lucretius, the codex oblongus, Leiden University Library commented as follows on their website:

"This manuscript distinguishes itself by the spacious layout of the page. In spite of its large dimensions, the page counts only twenty lines. The ample spacing does full justice to the excellent Carolingian minuscule, the new script which was developed towards the end of the 8th century. As happened so often, this original manuscript was corrected afterwards. Sometimes this was done by comparing the copied text carefully with the exemplar, the book which served as a model for the copy. At other times the corrector would use his own judgment. Of course it was desirable to save the book's appearance as much as possible. In the case of parchment this is not difficult, for the writing is easily scratched out with a knife. This is what the corrector of this Lucretius manuscript did. One alteration on the presented page, folio 22r., immediately catches the eye, because the corrector replaced one single line by two new ones, marring the layout of the page in the process. The corrector's adjustments are easily recognizable, because he used another script, the so-called Insular script, which originated in England and Ireland" (http://www.mmdc.nl/static/site/highlights/352/Scribe_and_corrector.html, accessed 05-28-2012).  


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The Text of Tacitus' Annals and Histories Survived in Only Two Manuscripts Circa 850 – 1050

Roman Senator and historian Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus, who lived from 56 CE to after 117 CE, wrote the Annales (Annals) and the Historiae (Histories), spanning the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in 14 to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 and the death of Domitian in 96. First published separately, with the Histories written and issued first, these two works were meant to form a continuous historical narrative in thirty books. Only about half of Tacitus's original thirty books survived, and their survival was dependent on just two manuscripts.

The first six books of the Annals survived in a single manuscript written in Germany about 850, probably in the Benedictine Abbey of Fulda. This manuscript was later at Corvey Abbey, and is now in Florence at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (MS. plut. 68.1.) and referred to as MS M.

"The script is a pre-carolingian hand which the scribe is changing to Carolingian minuscule, together with occasional small plain majuscules (a 9th century derivative of rustic capitals), a more ornamental version of these letters with decorative shading and some uncial elements, and also a few much larger and heavier capitals of essentially rustic form.  It is generally agreed that it was copied from a text written in 'insular' script which was copied from a manuscript in 'rustic capitals', and it has been suggested that this latter was at least 4th and probably 3rd century, based on an analysis of errors made in copying the titulature and colophons of each book, which are most easily explained if these errors occurred in copying a volume written in the early period in which prose texts were normally written in comparatively large letters and very narrow columns, and the colophons were not laid out in the manner common in 5th century and later books.

"At some time after it was written, the MS was transferred to the monastery of Corvey, in Saxony. There it remained, apparently without ever being copied.

"In 1508 the volume was removed from the library. A letter of Pope Leo X of December 1, 1517 indicates that it had been stolen, and that Leo had paid a large amount of money for it. At all events it passed into the hands of Pope Leo X.

"Leo gave the MS to Filippo Beraldo the Younger, who used it to produce the first edition in 1515, and left numerous annotations in the margins of the MS. The monks of Corvey, who petitioned the Pope for the return of their treasure, were instead sent a copy of the printed volume together with an indulgence to make up the balance" (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus/#2, accessed 11-20-2013).

Books 11-16 of the Annals, and what remains of the Histories, also survived in a single manuscript, written at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino, and also preserved in the Laurentian library (MS. plut 68.2.) This is referred to as M. II or 'second Medicean', to distinguish it from the unique codex of Annals 1-6. 

"This MS is written in the difficult Beneventan hand. It was written at Monte Cassino, perhaps during the abbacy of Richer (1038-55 AD). It derives from an ancestor written in Rustic Capitals, as it contains errors of transcription natural to that bookhand.  There is some evidence that it was copied only once in about ten centuries, and that this copy was made from an original in rustic capitals of the 5th century or earlier, but other scholars believe that it was copied via at least one intermediate copy written in a minuscule hand.

"How the MS came to leave Monte Cassino is a matter of mystery.  It was still at Monte Cassino, and was used by Paulus Venetus, Bishop of Puzzuoli, sometime between 1331 and 1344.  However Boccaccio had certainly seen the text by 1371, and the MS is listed among the books given by him at his death to the monastery of S. Spirito in Florence.  Whether he had 'liberated' it, or acquired it from another collector who had done so has been extensively debated, without final result.

"The MS is next seen in 1427, in the hands of the book-collector Niccolo Niccoli, who had furnished bookcases for Boccaccio's collection at S. Spirito. That Niccolo had not acquired the MS legitimately is suggested by a letter to him from his friend Poggio Bracciolini, asking to see it and promising to keep quiet about it.  Knowledge of the text among the humanists is correspondingly limited in this period.

"Poggio returned the MS to Niccolo, complaining about its barbarous script, and comparing it unfavourably with a copy of it in humanist script held by another mutual friend, Salutati.

"At Niccolo's death in 1437, the MS passed with his books to the monastery of San Marco at Florence with the Medici as executors, and the humanist copies all date from this period or later" (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus/#2, accessed 11-20-2013. 

E. A. Lowe, "The Unique Manuscript of Tacitus' Histories," in Beiler (ed) Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 I (1972) 289-302, has this to say relative to Boccaccio and Tacitus on p. 296 (footnotes not included as usual):

"The manuscripts of Varro, Tacitus, and Apuleius probably left Monte Cassino at the same time. They were rescued, as the phrase goes, by some humanist, who was probably none other than Boccaccio. To Petrarch the works of Tacitus and Varro were only known in name. The first to use these authors was Boccaccio; and this good fortune was granted him towards the end of his life. There can be no doubt that he possessed the Beneventan manuscripts of Tacitus and Varro which are now in the Laurentian library. This may be seen, on the one hand, from the copies of these manuscripts which he left in the Convent of S. Spirito in Florence, which correspond perfectly with the original; and from the fact that Boccaccio's citations from Varro and Tacitus, in his Geneologia deorum and De claris mulieribus, as Pierre de Nolhac has shown, are taken only from books preserved in the Beneventan manuscripts, and from no others.

"How these manuscripts came into Boccaccio's hands we do not know, but we can make a shrewd guess. We have reason to believe they were not presented to him during his visits to Monte Cassino. Attracted by the fame of the abbey, as he told his pupil Benvenuto da Imola, he paid it a visit. He found the library shamefully neglected, without bolt or lock, grass growing in the windows, dust thick on the books, monks using the precious manuscripts for turning out prayer-books, which they sold for a few soldi to women and children. Grieved unto tears he left the library 'dolens  et illacrymans recessit.' But none of this I fear, is to be taken seriously. It all sounds uncommonly like an apology. He seems to be anxious to show that it was only act of simple piety to remove the precious classics to a place of safety, say to Florence. The letter which he wrote in 1371 to the Calabrian abbot Niccolò di Montefalcone requesting the return of a quire from the Tacitus, suggests that he probably had accomplices. But no one can doubt that the Tacitus manuscript was dishonestly obtained after reading Poggio's letter of 27 September 1427 to Niccolò Niccoli: "Cornelium Tacitum cum venerit, observabo penes me occulte. Scio enim omnem illam cantilenam, et unde exierit et per quem et quis eum sibi vendicet; sed nil dubites, non exibit a me ne verbo quidem.' "

Poggio's statement was translated as, "When the Cornelius Tacitus comes I shall keep it hidden with me for I know that whole song, 'Where did it come from and who brought it here? Who claims it for his own?' But do not worry, not a word shall escape me." (Two Renaissance Book Hunters. The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, Translated from the Latin and edited by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordan [1974] 116.)

Tacitus's Opera, containing the Annales XI-XVI and the Historiae, was first published in print in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira, about 1471-72. ISTC. No. it00006000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of this edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics  (1983) 406-409.

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The al-Qarawiyyin Library, the Oldest Working Library in the World, Reopens after Restoration 859 – May 2015

In March 2016 it was announced that the al-Qarawiyin Library in Fez, Morocco, the oldest working library in the world, founded ed 859 CE, would re-open after restoration. The library was founded by Fatima Muhammad Al-Fihri Al-Quraysh.

"The al-Qarawiyyin Library was created by a woman, challenging commonly held assumptions about the contribution of women in Muslim civilization. The al-Qarawiyyin, which includes a mosque, library, and university, was founded by Fatima El-Fihriya, the daughter of a rich immigrant from al-Qayrawan (Tunisia today). Well educated and devout, she vowed to spend her entire inheritance on building a mosque and knowledge center for her community. According to UNESCO, the result is the oldest operational educational institution in the world, with a high-profile role call of alumni. Mystic poet and philosopher Ibn Al-‘Arabi studied there in the 12th century, historian and economist Ibn Khaldun attended in the 14th century, while in medieval times, Al-Qarawiyyin played a leading role in the transfer of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans" (http://ideas.ted.com/restoring-the-worlds-oldest-library/, accessed 03-03-2016).

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The First Surviving Book Written Entirely in English Circa 890

A manuscript of Gregory the Great's (Pope Gregory I) Liber regulae pastoralis, or Regula pastoralis (Pope Gregory I) translated into English at the order of Alfred the Great, is the earliest surviving book written entirely in English.  It is preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"This earliest English manuscript book is the only surviving book that can be linked to the King; it is his translation from the Latin into Anglo-Saxon of Pope Gregory’s work and bears a unique preface about the decline of learning among his people in the form of a letter from the King to Waerferth, Bishop of Worcester.  

"The book represents a sophisticated approach to language and learning at a crucial time in the nation’s political and cultural development. It forms part of Alfred’s attempts to educate and rally his people through the use of edifying texts in the vernacular rather than in Latin, bringing them together in the face of an external (Viking) threat. This manuscript remained at Worcester until the late 17th century, when it was bought by the Bodleian from Robert Scot, as part of the collection of Christopher Hatton, 1st Baron Hatton" (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2011_may_23, accessed 07-16-2011) .

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Plato's Tetralogies November 895

Folio 94v of the Clarke Plato. (View Larger)

In 895 Johannes calligraphus of Constantinople copied the "Clarke Plato" for Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri, Turkey). The cost was 21 nomismata, or gold coins, for the copying and the parchment. Completed in November 895, this is the oldest surviving manuscript of Plato's Tetraologies 1-6 (Euthyphro-Meno), with some scholia. The scribe Johannes wrote out the text. Arethas and other contemporaries added scholia in uncial.

The manuscript also contains annotations by many later hands. It is thought that this may be the first volume of a two-volume copy of the whole of Plato, the second volume of which has not been identified.

Sometime between the inventory of 1382 and 1581-1582 the manuscript was purchased by the monastery of St. John the Theologian on the Island of Patmos. In 1801 E. D. Clarke purchased it from the monastery, and donated it to the Bodleian Library, where it is preserved today.

Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 56.

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900 – 1000

Printing Not to Make Literature More Accessible 932 – 953

In 932 CE Feng Tao, prime minister of China, ordered the printing of the Confucian classics from wood blocks in Xi'an, China. The work of editing and printing the Classics and their Commentaries lasted for 21 years, and extended to 130 volumes.

"The chief purpose of printing was not yet to make literature more accesible to the masses, but rather to authenticate the text. For more than a century after Feng Tao—up to the year 1064—the private printing of the Classics was forbidden. All printing must be done by the government and must give the orthodox accepted text."

"The work of Feng Tao and his asssociates for printing in China may be compared to the work of Gutenberg in Europe. There had been printing before Gutenberg—block printing certainly and very likely experimentation in typography also—but Gutenberg's Bible heralded a new day in the civilization of Europe. In the same way there had been printing before Feng Tao, but it was an obscure art that had little efffect on the culture of the country. Feng Tao's Classics made printing a power that ushered in the renaissance of the Sung era" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 72).

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The Most Famous, and Most Significant Manuscript of the Iliad Circa 950

Folio 12r of Venetus A. (View Larger)

The most famous Greek manuscript of the Homeric Iliad, Venetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), is regarded by some as the best text of the epic poem. It also contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia."  These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance. The manuscript, also includes a summary of the early Greek Epic Cycle which is considered the most important source of information on those lost poems. 

At the end of most of the books of the poem there is a subscription, attributing many of the scholia to four Homeric scholars from antiquity. This was translated as follows:

"Alongside the text lie the Signs of Aristonicus, and Didymus' work On the Edition of Aristarchus, as well as some things from the Prosody of Herodian and Nicanor's On Punctuation."

The first scholar mentioned in the subscription, the Greek grammarian Aristonicus (Ἀριστόνικος Aristonikos) of Alexandria, lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. He taught at Rome, and wrote commentaries and grammatical treatises. Most of his works were related to the Homeric poems, including On the Wanderings of Menelaus (περὶ τῆς Μενελάου πλάνης), On the Critical Signs of the Iliad and Odyssey (περὶ τῶν σημείων τῆς Ἰλιάδος καὶ Ὀδυσσείας), on the marginal signs by which the Alexandrian critics used to mark suspected or interpolated verses in the Homeric poems and in Hesiod's Theogony, and On Ungrammatical Words (ἀσυντάκτων ὀνομάτων βιβλία), a work of six books on irregular grammatical constructions in Homer. These and some other works are for the most part lost, except for fragments preserved in the scholia of Venetus A.

The second scholar mentioned, Greek scholar and grammarian Didymus Chalcenterus (Δίδυμος χαλκέντερος Didymos chalkenteros, "Didymus bronze-guts"), flourished in the time of Cicero and Augustus. His surname "bronze-guts" came from his nearly incredible productivity: he was said to have written so many books that he was unable to recollect what he had written in earlier ones, and so often contradicted himself. (Athenaeus records that he wrote 3500 books; Seneca estimated that he wrote 4000.) As a result Didymos acquired the additional nickname βιβλιολάθης "book-forgetter". Didymos taught in Alexandria and Rome, and is chiefly important as having introduced Alexandrian learning to the Romans. A follower of the school of the Alexandrian grammarian and editor Aristarchus of Samothrace (Ἀρίσταρχος), Didymos wrote a treatise on Aristarchus' edition of Homer entitled On Aristarchus' recension (περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου διορθωσέως), fragments of which are preserved in Venetus A.

The third scholar cited, Aelius Herodianus (Αἴλιος Ἡρωδιανός) or Herodian, was one of the most celebrated grammarians of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was born in Alexandria, and from there he seems to have moved to Rome, where he gained the favor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, to whom he dedicated a work on prosody. He is usually known as Herodian except when there is a danger of confusion with the historian also named Herodian.

Lastly, the Greek grammarian Nicanor (Νικάνωρ) Stigmatias lived during the reign of Hadrian in the early 2nd century. According to the Suda he came from Alexandria; according to Stephanus of Byzantium he came from Hierapolis. The Suda records that Nicanor acquired the nickname stigmatias (στιγματίας, punctuated) because of his concentration on punctuation. His scholia on the elucidation of Homer's epics through punctuation are extensively quoted in the Venetus A.

"Scholars refer to the work of these men as the 'four-man commentary,' or VMK (from the German Viermännerkommentar). The repeated subscriptions in the Venetus A identify the areas of Homeric studies to which each of the four contributed. Aristonicus wrote on the topic of editorial symbols attached to the text. Herodian wrote on questions of prosody, that is poetic meter. Nicanor wrote about punctuation. And Didymus wrote about the earlier editorial work of the Alexandrian scholar Aristarchus.

"A certain category of scholia, while related to the VMK, has been separately  identified and named the 'D Scholia.' These were once thought to have come originally from Didymus, hence their name, but this view is no longer generally accepted. The D Scholia appear on several Byzantine and medieval manuscripts of the Iliad and generally contain information about mythology, the meanings of obscure words and pieces of allegorical interpretation. On the Venetus A the D Scholia appear as interlinear notes written in a semiuncial script and are largely 'glosses,' short defintions of words in the poems. One of the most interesting aspects of the D Scholia is their lemmata, the Homeric passages that a scholion may quote before commenting. In many cases, these lemmata do not match the Homeric text that appears in the manuscript. Thus, these scholia may offer insights into alternative versions of the text, other examples of traditional material that fell out of the common text of the Iliad by the ninth century, but are preserved here and there in brief quotations by the scholiasts, the writers of these marginal notes.

"Still other scholia on our manuscript derive from the work of the scholar and philosopher Porphyry, who lived during the third century CE. Among his writings, many of which had to do with Platonic philosophy, was a treatise entitled 'Homeric Questions' (Ομηικα Ζητηματα, Homerika Zetemata, or in its more commonly given Latin translation, Quaestiones Homericae). This work exists only in a fragmentary state in the Vatican Library (Vaticanus Graecus 305), and the rest of what we know of its contents comes from close reading of various scholia on Homeric manuscripts. Porphyri's work is an example of the late-antique genre of Ζητηματα, which is generally translated 'Questions,' consisting of inquiries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. Ancient works of Ζητηματα covered ethical, legal, and historical topics, and Porphyry's work on Homer is one of the few examples of literary 'Questions,' consisting of inquries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. The scholiastic material that comes from this work is valuable for a number of reasons, although its value has not always been appreciated. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dismissed Porphyry as telling us little about Homeric poetry itself, but much about the literary 'parlor games' played by intelligent aristocrats in antiquity. But these scholia preserve some observations on Homeric poetry made by Aristotle and Plato, which in turn can tell us about the particular vocabulary these ancient thinkers used when they discussed epic poetry, and thus much about the ancient experience of listening to this poetry.

"Finally, there are scholia related to a group known as the 'bT' scholia. These get their name from the Townley Manuscript of the Iliad, an eleventh-century codex now in the British Museum (BM, Burney 86); this manuscript is believed to have been one of several copied from an even older manuscript, which is now lost, to which scholars refer by the siglum 'b', hence the 'bT' scholia. These scholia, which may also be derived from the work of Porphyry, offer explanations of thematic matters found in the Iliad, cultural practices, questions of cosmology or theology, and so forth. These scholia have not enjoyed a high reputation among scholars. Their most famous critic, K. Lehrs, said that 'not one word in them is to be believed," (nullum unum verbum iis credendum esse). But more recent students of this material have found them more valuable, suggesting that they offer important insight into how the ancient Greeks understood Homer, but also provide more access to the work of Aristarchus at the Library of Alexandria.

"There is diagreement among scholars as to how and when the VMK was created (proposed dates ranged from the fourth to seventh centuries CE) and whether or not they were created by the same editor. The 20th century scholars most interested in the Homeric scholia believed that the VMK tradition was combined with the D Scholia and the bT Scholia at some time during the eighth century, about two centuries before our nameless scribe produced the elaboratately annotated manuscript we call the Venetus A" (Blackwell & Dué, "Homer and History in the Venetus A," Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, Dué ed. [2009] 7-9).

How and when Venetus A was transported to Italy is uncertain. At one point it was thought that Giovanni Aurispa brought it there, as in 1424, he mentioned four volumes which he had brought back from Greece in a letter to Ambrogio Traversari in Venice:

Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.

Aristarchus on the Iliad in two volumes, a large and very precious work; another commentary on the Iliad; I think Aristarchus was the author of that, as well as of the one on the Odyssey that our friend Niccolò Niccoli got from me.

This has been interpretted as a reference to the codices of the Iliad known as Venetus A and B. However, it has also been argued that the two volume commentary referred to was the commentary by the twelfth century Byzantine scholar and archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica (Laurentianus LIX 2 and 3) attested in Florence a century later in the library of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, and now in the Laurentian Library.

Eventually, Venetus A came into the possession of Greek immigrant scholar, and book collector Cardinal Basileios Bessarion (Βασίλειος Βησσαρίων), who collected a library of 482 Greek manuscripts and 264 Latin manuscripts before, and especially after, the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among Bessarion's library was the only complete text of Athenaios' Deipnosophistai; the autograph of Planudes' Greek Anthology; and Venetus A and B. In 1468 Bessarion donated his library to the Republic of Venice; he continued to add to it until his death in 1472. By preserving so many Greek texts Bessarion became one of those most influential on the revival of Greek literature during the Renaissance. Bessarion's library became the core of the Biblioteca Marciana, which since 1554 has been housed to the building designed for it by Sansovino, the Biblioteca Sansoviniana.

With respect to the study of Venetus A, it is known that Martinus Phileticus used the manuscript as a source in the 1480s, followed by Vettore Fausto in 1546 or 1547. After that, Venetus A was largely forgotten until French philologist Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoison rediscovered and published it, along with the "B scholia" from Venetus B, in his book Ilias Homeri to Veteris Codicis Veneti fidem-recensita; scholia in eam antiquissima, eodem Code ex nunc primum eruta (Venice, 1788). This was the first publication of any Iliadic scholia other than the "D" scholia (the scholia minora). Because of the complexity of the writing on each page of Venetus A, Villoison's work represented a very impressive work of scholarship and a high level of technical achievement in the printing of Greek. In April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Villoison's 716-page work were available from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard at this link.

Once available to scholars, the A and B scholia were a catalyst for several new ideas from the scholar Friedrich August Wolf. In reviewing Villoison's edition, Wolf realized that these scholia proved conclusively that the Homeric epics had been transmitted orally for an unknown length of time before they were written down. This led to his seminal work, Prolegomena ad Homerum, which set the agenda for much of later Homeric scholarship.

In 1901 Venetus A was reproduced in photographic facsimile as Homeri Ilias cum scholiis. Codex Venetus A, Marcianus 454. Phototypice editus. Praefatus est Dominicus Comparetti, and published in Leiden by A. W. Sijthoff. However, the technology of the time could not reproduce all of the small script in the manuscript legibly.

More than 100 years later, in May 2007 both Venetus A and Venetus B were photographed at high resolution, using a Hasselblad H1 camera with a 39 megapixel Phase One P45 digital back, at the Biblioteca Marciana. The availability of truly legible images of all the text in these manuscripts resulted in insights published in 2009 as Hellenic Studies 35, entitled Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, edited by Casey Dué, and published by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard. In April 2014 this book was available online from homermultitext.org. Also in April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Venetus A and B were available from the same source at this link.

The Homer Multitext project also made available the Greek texts of Venetus A and B online. The site stated that "This site publishes editions of texts from Byzantine manuscripts using the Canonical Text Services protocol. The service is primarily intended for automated use by other computer programs, but you can follow the links below to to browse and read texts." The site also made available images of individual pages of the Townley Homer. However, in April 2014 a much easier to use digital facsimile of that manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

 (This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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The Massive Byzantine Encyclopedic Dictionary Circa 950

The Suda, or Souda (Σοῦδα), a massive tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedic dictionary of the Mediterranean world written in Greek, contains more than 31,000 entries, many drawn from ancient sources that were since lost. Little is known regarding its compilation except that it must have been compiled before the time of 12th century writer Eustathius of Thessalonica (Archbishop Eustathios of Thessalonike) who frequently quoted from it. Its title probably comes from the Byzantine Greek word souda, meaning "fortress" or "stronghold," with the alternate name, Suidas, stemming from an error made by Eustathius, who mistook the title for the proper name of the author.

"The Suda is somewhere between a grammatical dictionary and an encyclopedia in the modern sense. It explains the source, derivation, and meaning of words according to the philology of its period, using such earlier authorities as Harpocration and Helladios. There is nothing especially important about this aspect of the work. It is the articles on literary history that are valuable. These entries supply details and quotations from authors whose works are otherwise lost. They use older scholia to the classics (Homer, Thucydides, Sophocles, etc.), and for later writers, Polybius, Josephus, the Chronicon Paschale, George Syncellus, George Hamartolus, and so on.

"This lexicon represents a convenient work of reference for persons who played a part in political, ecclesiastical, and literary history in the East down to the tenth century. The chief source for this is the encyclopedia of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (912-59), and for Roman history the excerpts of John of Antioch (seventh century). Krumbacher (Byzantinische Literatur, 566) counts two main sources of the work: Constantine VII for ancient history, and Hamartolus (Georgios Monachos) for the Byzantine age" (Wikipedia article on Suda, accessed 02-02-2010).

Toward the very end of the 15th century humanist Demetrios Chalkokondyles (Demetrius Chalcondylas) edited the encyclopedic text and had it published for the first time in print in Greek as Lexicon graecum. Chalcondylas's edition was issued by Johannes Bissolus and Benedictus Mangius of Milan on November 15, 1499. This work, consisting of 516 leaves in folio, was the largest single-volume book printed in Greek in the fifteenth century. It was necessarily an expensive book, and included on folio 1a dialogue of Stephanus Niger between a bookseller and a student, mentioning the price of three ducats. ISTC No. is00829000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

The most significant modern edition and the first edition in English, is Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography. This online collaboration began in 1998, predating the Wikipedia, which began in 2001. In August 2014 the English translation was completed.

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The First Western Medical School Circa 950

Though the date of its foundation remains uncertain, the Schola Medica Salernitana in the coastal south Italian city of Salerno, was the first western medical school, representative of both the Greek and Arabic medical traditions. It may have been founded in the early tenth century. Texts representative of both the Greek and Arabic traditions had accumulated in the ancient library of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. Especially as these were translated into Latin, beginning in the 11th century, by physicians and scholars associated with the medical school, the received lore of Hippocrates, Galen and Dioscorides was supplemented and invigorated by Arabic medical practice, known from contacts with Sicily and North Africa. As a result, the medical practitioners of Salerno, both men and women, were unrivalled in the medieval Western Mediterranean.

The school, which found its original base in the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th century, reached its greatest fame between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, from the last decades of Lombard power, during which its fame began to spread more than locally, to the fall of the Hohenstaufen. The arrival in Salerno of Constantinus Africanus (Constantine the African) in 1077, marked the beginning of Salerno's classic period.  In the 11th century, through the encouragement of Alfano I, Archbishop of Salerno, who was a translator from the Arabic and a medical doctor himself, and the translations of Constantinus Africanus, Salerno gained the title of "Town of Hippocrates" (Hippocratica civitas or Hippocratica urbs). People from all over the world flocked to the "Schola Salerni", both the sick, in the hope of recovering, and students, to learn the art of medicine.

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A Greek Manuscript Owned and Extensively Annotated by Robert Grosseteste Circa 950

Brought to England in the thirteenth century at the instigation of English statesman, scholastic philosopher, theologian, scientist  and Bishop of Lincoln Robert GrossetesteCambridge MS Ff.1.24 was probably written in Constantinople in the tenth century. 

"Twelfth and thirteenth-century scholars were aware that many important theological, philosophical and scientific texts unavailable in the West circulated in the Greek-speaking world. Only a tiny number went to the lengths that Grosseteste did to learn Greek with the aim of obtaining, reading and translating these works.

"The chronicler, Matthew Paris, tells how in the late 1230s, one of Grosseteste’s assistants, John of Basingstoke, recalled seeing a Greek manuscript containing a text called the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in the library of the metropolitan Michael Choniates when he was in Athens some 40 years earlier. The bishop sent envoys to Athens and MS Ff.1.24, almost certainly Choniates’ copy, was brought to England for him. There are notes in Grosseteste’s hand throughout, demonstrating that he read the whole codex.

"He used the manuscript to prepare a Latin translation of the Testaments which was completed in 1242. Some early manuscripts of the translation contain a colophon recording how Grosseteste produced his text with the help of magister Nicholas Grecus, a native speaker and member of his household.

"Grosseteste and his contemporaries believed that the Greek text was a translation of a Hebrew original consisting of the genuine deathbed exhortations of the twelve sons of Jacob. They identified within the text various passages prophesying the coming of Christ. In translating the text, Grosseteste intended it to be used to convince Jews to convert to Christianity.

"Modern scholarship on the Testaments suggests that it was composed in the first or second centuries C.E. Opinion is divided as to whether it is a Christian work that draws on Jewish sources or a Jewish work with Christian prophetic passages inserted.

"Grosseteste’s translation was enormously popular; over eighty manuscripts survive and there were numerous printed editions. It was the source for vernacular translations into English, French, German, Anglo-Norman, Danish and Czech.

"MS Ff.1.24 offers an insight into the working habits and library of a major intellectual figure of the thirteenth century and, more broadly, casts light on the tradition of Greek scholarship and transmission of Greek texts in the Medieval West" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-FF-00001-00024/7, accessed 02-28-2013; the links are my additions).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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A Vast Library at Cordoba in Al-Andalus Circa 961 – 976

A map of the Caliphate of Cordoba circa 1000CE. (View Larger)

Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Cordoba in Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia), was fond of books and learning, and amassed a vast library that may possibly have contained over 400,000 books, though this number cannot be substantiated, and may well be far greater than what was actually held in the library. During his reign a massive translation effort was undertaken, and many books were translated from Latin and Greek into Arabic. For this project he formed a joint committee of Arab Muslims and Iberian Mozarab Christians.

The catalogue of the royal library "alone consisted of forty-four volumes. Under Al-Haim II (961-976) this library was reported to have given employment to over 500 people. . . . Elsewhere at Moslem Spain there was a total of seventy libraries in the 10th century, several in Toledo. In addition to the royal library, these included libraries in universities in Cordoba, Seville, Malaga, and Granada , among others, and in numerous mosques. Private libraries flourished in Moslem Spain, and it was said that Cordoba was the greatest book market in the western world in the 10th century" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81).

(This entry was last revised on 03-16-2014.)

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Foundation of Al-Azhar University 970 – 972

Between 970 and 972 Al-Azhar University ( جامعة الأزهر الشريف‎; Game'at Al-ʾAzhar al-Šarīf, "the Noble Azhar University") was founded as a madrasa (madrasah) in Cairo, Egypt. The chief center of Islamic literature and learning, it is the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt; in 1961 secular subjects were added to its curriculum.

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1000 – 1100

The First Truly Recognizable Dictionary Circa 1040 – 1050

Page from Papias' Elementarium listing words beginning with "a."


Between 1040 and 1050 Papias, an Italian sometimes known as Papias the Lombard or Papias the Grammarian, wrote Elementarium doctrinae rudimentum. This work, which was in circulation by 1053, has been called the "first fully recognizable dictionary."

"The Elementarium . . . is a landmark in the development of dictionaries as distinct from mere collections of glosses. Papias arranges entries alphabetically based on the first three letters of the word, and is the first lexicographer to name the authors or texts he uses as sources. Although most entries are not etymological, Papias laid the groundwork for derivational lexicography, which became firmly established only a century later. Papias seems to have been a cleric with theological interests, possibly living in Pavia. The name 'Papias'means 'the guide,' and may be a pseudonym or pen name. Bruno of Würzburg saw an early draft of the Elementarium before he died in 1045, but an unambiguous reference in the chronicle of Albericus Trium Fontium establishes that it was published by 1053" (Wikipedia article on Papias, accessed 11-22-2012).

Papias's Elementarium was first published in print under the title Vocabularium by Dominicus de Vespolate of Milan on December 12, 1476. ISTC No. ip00077500.

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Earliest Western Medical Treatise Circa 1075 – 1098

Folio 1r of the manuscript of Liber Pantegni preserved in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. (View Larger)

A manuscript of the Liber Pantegni by the Tunisian Muslim merchant-turned-monk, Constantinus Africanus, who traveled to Italy, converted to Christianity, and worked at the Abbey of Monte Cassino toward the end of the 11th century, is the earliest surviving copy of Constantinus's work, characterized as "the earliest Western medical treatise." It is believed that this manuscript, preserved in the Koninklijke Bibiotheek in The Hague. was produced in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, probably under the supervision of Constantine Africanus.

A compendium of Hellenistic and Islamic medicine, and to a large extent a translation of the Kitab al-malaki "Royal Book" of the Persian physician and psychologist Ali ibn al-Abbas, Constantinus's' Liber pantegni (παντεχνη "[encompassing] all [medical] arts") became a standard text at the Schola Medica Salernitana, the first European medical school, and was highly influential throughout the middle ages.  

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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The VIDI Project: "Manuscript Innovation in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance" Circa 1075 – 1225

From the website of the Leiden University VIDI Project coordinated by Dr. Erik Kwakkel, selected quotations:

"While the medieval manuscript underwent over a thousand years of development by the hands of a variety of cultures, one particular age stands out in that it arguably introduced more innovations than any other: the period 1075-1225, also referred to as the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” (Benson and Constable 1991; Haskins 1927; Swanson 1999). While this established term might be historiographically restrictive (Jaeger 2003; see also Thomson 2002), the notion it covers (one cultural movement that unites scholars in different fields and geographical locations) is useful in that it brings under one umbrella a number of related historical events, such as monastic reform, establishment of universities, birth of scholasticism, revival of jurisprudence, and the introduction of Greek and Arabic philosophy. This “Great Awakening” of Europe (Knowles 1962, Chap. 7) gave alacrity and optimism to educated society, whose members sensed they were living in a time different from their immediate past and who contemplated, often explicitly, their role in the course of history and the new present (Abulafia 2006; Jaeger 1994). The term “renaissance of letters” is sometimes used to accentuate that this cultural movement was primarily driven by intellectuals (Damian-Grint 1999; Luscombe 2004; Verger 1995), first those in Northern France, Belgium and Northern Italy, followed suit by kindred spirits in Southern Italy, Germany and Spain. These intellectuals — who lacked cohesion other than a shared background (a “career”, perhaps) in higher education, a deep yearning for knowledge and the sense that classical ideas ought to be revived in their life-time — exchanged ideas through texts and letters, which were disseminated through the main intellectual centers in medieval Europe, monasteries, cathedral schools and universities. Here the new voices, presenting new ideas in a new language of eloquence, were read and heard, and contradicted and expanded upon, by a broad range of intellectuals, from St Bernard of Clairvaux and William of Malmesbury to Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury.

"Overall aim

"The research project described here does not focus on the Twelfth-Century Renaissance as such, nor exclusively on book innovations in this age. Rather, it presents an innovative blend of the two: it aims to show how a changing literary taste, a shift in the use of texts, and a new outlook on the world among intellectuals had a direct and immediate influence on the physical appearance of manuscripts. In an age that is defined by the introduction of an unusually high number of new authors (foreign and home-grown), texts (original Latin works and translations) and genres (natural philosophy, encyclopedia), as well as a new approach to reading and evaluating the written word (through the scholastic method), it became important for readers to own manuscripts that presented texts in an entirely different format than the vehicles they inherited from the Carolingians (9th-11th centuries). This research project aims to show that to meet these demands, a new manuscript was cast in the twelfth century, custom-tailored for use in the new age. Certain elements of this new book have already been examined, such as its script (Derolez 2001, Chap. 3), decoration (Cahn 1996), bookbinding (Sheppard 1995) and the glossing it frequently contains (De Hamel 1984). Furthermore, the contexts of its production and use have been illuminated for some individual copies (Donovan 1993; Gibson 1992; Gullick 1990), regional branches (Kaufmann 1975; Ker 1955; Thomson 1998; Thomson 2006) or monastic houses (Palmer 1998, Chap. 2; Thomson 1982). However, the manuscript as a whole and as a new European book format has to date been largely ignored, as has the historical backdrop of its creation, a pan-European intellectual movement. What has been studied in depth is its successor, a book known as the “Gothic Manuscript”, the handwritten book produced between c. 1200 and c. 1530 that is defined by a new script (Gothic script), certain ornamental motives, standardization in the production stages, and a commercial production environment (Derolez 1996). The proposed project focuses on the “lost” century in the history of medieval written culture, the period between the conclusion of the Carolingian age (c. 1100) and the start of the Gothic period (c. 1200), an epoch in which the physical book is in transition from one prolific format to another. 

"Over the course of the twelfth century, manuscript production and the manner in which books were used had turned over a new leaf: a new script was introduced (known as the “Littera Praegothica”), new decoration emerged (so-called “proto-penwork” flourishing) and new aids for the reader were invented. The latter dimension proves to be of particular importance in understanding the establishment of the new book format, which can, for now, be called the “pregothic manuscript”, for lack of a better term. As this project aims to demonstrate, the majority of book innovations introduced between c. 1100 and c. 1200 were aimed either at improving the speed with which information in the book or on the page could be accessed, or facilitated a better understanding of the complex intellectual discourse that the texts of this age often presented. In short, the new format facilitated an improved “book fluency”, to borrow Kelly’s term, or the ability to read a text (presented on a page) quickly and accurately. While in the late eleventh century book culture nearly completely lacked tools that could rise to these occasions, by the outset of the thirteenth century scribes had a rich palette of aids at their disposal that facilitated comprehension and speedy access, such as pagination, running titles, paragraphs, quotation marks, footnotes, cross references, diagrams, marginal keywords clarifying the argumentation (“first argument”, “second”, “third”, etc.), the use of abbreviated names of authorities as marginal reference tools (“aug” for Augustine, “am” for Ambrose), interplay between various text colors, availability of multiple script types and sizes (“hierarchy of scripts”), and a layout that visually distinguished between main text and “add-ons” (commentary, reference, etc.). These revolutionary “paratextual” features define the pregothic manuscript, the project claims, because they were instrumental for the new breed of European scholars. They prompted what the philosopher Ivan Illich calls a “bookish culture” (Illich 1996) in that they helped to organize knowledge, convert words into arguments and open a dialogue between reader and author." 

"The project will be primarily based on 250 manuscripts written between 1075 and 1225 (the traditional boundaries of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance) present in the so-called Catalogues des Manuscrits Datés, or CMD (Derolez 2009). This source, which has seen rapid growth over the past five years and can now be used for inquiries such as the present, contains hundreds of manuscripts. The inclusion of an item is based on the presence of a scribal colophon stating when a book was made, and each entry includes a transcription of this colophon, as well as one or more images and a rudimentary manuscript description. This unique tool, which, in spite of its excellent suitability for this task, has to date never been used in an historical investigation of this kind, enables us to firmly date the emergence (and disappearance) of certain physical features. The corpus of 250 manuscripts will be expanded with a selection of other manuscripts that can with certainty be tied to a particular year of production, bringing the total to no more than 300 manuscripts. It is anticipated that most of these manuscripts will have been written in Latin. However, the project includes investigations into the application of the new book format in the European vernacular traditions, aspects of which have been probed in Kwakkel, forthcoming 2" (http://www.hum.leiden.edu/lucas/research/news/manuscript-innovation.html, accessed 02-08-2014. References referred to in these quotations were also detailed at this link.)

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Foundation of the University of Bologna 1088

The seal of the University of Bologna. (View Larger)

The foundation of Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, (UNIBO. University of Bologna) the oldest continuously operating university, ocurred in 1088.

"An important idea in the definition of a university is the notion of academic freedom. The first documentary evidence of this comes early in the life of the first university. Bologna university adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita, in 1158 or 1155, which guaranteed the right of a traveling scholar to unhindered passage in the interests of education. Today this is claimed as the origin of 'academic freedom'.This is now widely recognised internationally, when on 18 September 1988 430 University Rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, marking the 900th anniversary of Bologna's foundation" (Wikipedia article on university, accessed 09-25-2010).

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Origins of the University of Oxford 1096

Oxford University's coat of arms. (View Larger)

Though the date of the founding of the University of Oxford is unknown, there is evidence of teaching there by 1096.

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1100 – 1200

Among the Best Known Records of Early Forbidden Romantic Love 1115

A folio from MS 2085 of the Schoyen Collection, one of the twelve extant manuscripts of the letters of Abelard and Heloise. (View Larger)

At the great cathedral school of Notre Dame de Paris, Pierre Abelard became one of the most famous teachers of philosophy in Europe.

"Distinguished in figure and manners, Abélard was seen surrounded by crowds - it is said thousands of students, drawn from all countries by the fame of his teaching. Enriched by the offerings of his pupils, and entertained with universal admiration, he came, as he says, to think himself the only undefeated philosopher in the world. But a change in his fortunes was at hand. In his devotion to science, he had always lived a very regular life, enlivened only by philosophical debate: now, at the height of his fame, he encountered romance.

"Living within the precincts of Notre-Dame, under the care of her uncle, the canon Fulbert, was a girl named Heloise, of noble birth, and born about 1101. She is said to have been beautiful, but still more remarkable for her knowledge, which extended beyond Latin, it is said, to Greek and Hebrew. Abélard fell in love with her; and he sought and gained a place in Fulbert's house. Becoming tutor to the girl, he used his power for the purpose of seduction, and she returned his devotion. Their relations interfered with his public work, and were not kept a secret by Abélard himself. Soon everyone knew except the trusting Fulbert. When he found out, they were separated, only to meet in secret. Heloise became pregnant, and was carried off by her lover to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son. To appease her furious uncle, Abélard proposed a secret marriage, in order not to mar his prospects of advancement in the church; but Heloise opposed the idea. She appealed to him not to sacrifice for her the independence of his life, but reluctantly gave in to pressure. The secret of the marriage was not kept by Fulbert; and when Heloise boldly denied it, life was made so difficult for her that she sought refuge in the convent of Argenteuil at Abélard's bidding. Immediately Fulbert, believing that her husband, who had helped her run away, wanted to be rid of her, plotted revenge. He and some others broke into Abélard's chamber by night, and castrated him. The priesthood and ecclesiastical office were canonically closed to him. Heloise, not yet twenty, consummated her work of self-sacrifice at Abélard's jealous bidding that she never again share romantic love with a man, and became a nun."

For the remainder of his life Abelard endured persecution for the scandal. Apart from fiction, such as" Romeo and Juliet, " the letters of Abelard and Eloise are among the best known records of early forbidden romantic love.

"Only 12 MSS of this text are known. 7 MSS are in Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, ms. lat. 2923 (13th c.), 2544, 2545, 13057, 13826, (17th c.) and ms.n.a.lat. 1873 and 20001 (a fragment); 1 in Reims: Bibliothèque Municipale, ms.872; 1 in Troyes: Bibliothèque Municipale, ms.802; Douai: Bibliothèque Municipale, ms.797; and Oxford: Bodleian MS. Add.C.271 (a fragment)" (Schøyen Collection MS 2085).

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The Universitas Guild: Early Origin of What We Characterize as a University Circa 1125 – 1225

Early in the twelfth century a universitas magistrorum et scholarium (a guild of masters and scholars) grew up around Notre Dame cathedral. From this guild, later in the twelfth century, the University of ParisOffsite Link began. 

"First of all, it is clear that the earliest three 'universities'— the universitas guilds of Bologna, Paris, and Oxford—appear at approximately the same time in history, the late twelfth or early thirteenth century; regardless of scholarly tradition, none has been demonstrated with any certainty to be significantly earlier than the others. However, it cannot be overemphasized that although the Latin word universitas is usually translated as university, the early universitas was totally unlike a university in its purpose, structure, and functions. The word universitas originally meant an 'incorporated' guild of any kind. Although the word universitas later acquired the meaning of a 'guild of scholars' specifically, even then it still was strictly a guild; it was nothing like a university: 'The universitas was in its origin a voluntary association of indvidual masters rather than a single educational institution conducted by an organized staff. The universitas prescribed the studies which were to lead to the master's chair; but it did not attempt to interfere with the discipline of the scholars. In a sense all scholars were regarded as members, though not as governing members, of the Universitas of Masters and Scholars.'

"In short, the scholars' universitas, however influential we might think it was, long remained a guild, pure and simple: 'At the outset it [the term universitas] was applied to a single group that formed a legally recognized self-governing association. Thus a faculty of arts was a 'university' as was any faculty of medicine or faculty of theology. The masters and students of the arts faculty formed their own legal corporation, or university, as did the teachers and students of the medical faculty, and so on.'

"The early universitas guilds of scholars did not own buildings or other physical property, they were not supported by permanent financial arrangements such as pious foundations, and they did not have much of anything else that we think marks an institution of higher education as such. The only significant thing the early universitas guilds did have that we would recognize as related to the function of university was the right to bestow an advanced degree—the license to teach— and this has been shown to be a borrowing from the earlier attested ijaza li-'l-tadris 'license to teach' of medieval Islamic culture.

" 'The term that was initially employed and was in common use by the middle of the thirteenth century, to encompass all of these individual disparate universities, or university associations, was studium generale. Every master and student was a member not only of his own individual university, or corporation, but also of the studium generale. . . .The term was usuually assigned to schools that either were sufficiently prestigious, such as the customary universities of Paris, Oxford and Bologna, or were large enough to include at least three of the four traditional faculties (arts, theology, law, and medicine), or were both.'

"But by the mid-thirteenth century, when the term studium generale came into general use, the college had already spread everywhere too. its influence on the universitas, and vice versa, was such that a new institution developed out of both, namely, the university in the modern sense. The college is considered by Verger to have been the most dynamic new feature in Western European higher education. The term university replaced studium generale by the end of the Middle Ages, marking the merger of the universitas, the studium generale, and the college into the early modern college-university" (Christopher Beckwith, Warriors of the Cloisters. The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World [2012] 43-45. ♦Note that I have not included the many footnotes to statements in this quote. The interested reader is advised to consult this very worthwhile book for further details, and for Beckwith's overall historical argument.).

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The Oldest University in Spain 1134

The Universidad de Salamanca was founded in 1134 and given the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It is the oldest university in Spain and the third oldest European university in continuous operation. It was the first European institution to receive the formal title of "University," granted by King Alfonso X in 1254 and recognized by Pope Alexander IV in 1255.

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Henry II Forbids English Students to Study at Paris 1167

A 16th century portrait of King Henry II of England, by an unknown artist.

In 1167 Henry II of England forbade English students to study at the University of Paris, causing the University of Oxford to grow very quickly.


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Simultaneous Appearance in Medieval Europe of the College, the Recursive Argument Method, Translations of Scientific Works from the Arabic, & Translations of Aristotle's Works Circa 1175 – 1250

"Late twelfth-to early thirteenth-century Western Europe thus saw the more or less simultaneous appearance of the college, the recursive argument method, and translations of independent Greek and Classic Arabic scientific-philosophical works as well as translation of many of Aristotle's works from Greek and from Arabic, along with Arabic commentaries on them.

'Traveling clerics, French prelates posted in Spanish cities, and others kept scholars in France, England, and elsewhere in Europe in constant contact with the scholars working on translation of Arabic texts in Spain. Translations of Aristotle, Avicenna, and related works seem to have been in circulation in Paris within a decade or two after their translation. Because the translators focused on the one hand on works by classical Greek authors, especially Aristotle and his Arabic commentators, and, on the other, on Arabic scientific works, including the magisterial works of Avicenna on medicine and natural philosophy, the translations instantly acquired extremely high prestige in Europe. Western Europeans welcomed with open arms what became a flood of literature by philosopher scientists with the exotic Latin names Alfarabius, Agorithmus, Alhazen, Akindius, Avicenna, Averroës, and many others. The result was the 'intellectual revolution' of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Medieval Latin Europe.

"The newly translated texts became so popular so quickly that study of many of them by students of the University of Paris was banned in 1210 by a Church decree. As similar decree issued in 1215, also considered to be the charter of the university, was promulgated by Robert of Cuzon (Robert de Courçon, d. 1218), an English cleric who studied and taught in Paris, but that decree was apparently also ignored. By 1255 all of Aristotle's works were being taught at the University of Paris. The new translations were officially approved (with the exception of a few specific arguments considered heretical), and were assigned as the new 'liberal arts' curriculum—most of which consisted of logic and 'natural philosophy'—that was required of all bachelor's level university students in Western Europe" (Christopher Beckwith, Warriors of the Cloisters. The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World [2012] 107-08).

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Factors Influencing the Development of the French Language, Literature, and Book Production 1180 – 1575

"Many factors influenced the shift from Latin to the 'mother tongue.' The change from an agrarian economy based on the land to a commercial economy in the towns and cities imposed a need for the middle classes to understand each other in written as well as oral forms. The centralization of French government and the rise of a nation state with the reign of King Philip Augustus (reigned 1180-1223) dictated a need for a language through which the court and the nobles could wield power far and wide. And, not least of all, women played a major role in the rise and evolution of medieval French as women readers, writers, and collectors. By the fifteenth century, vernacular language was well established as the language of literature, historical record, and personal expression" (Hindman & Bergeron-Foote, Flowering of Medieval French Literature “Au parler que m’aprist ma mere” [2014] 5).

"Quickly, the technology of the press provided greater access to the mother tongue and contributed to its standardization. Statistics of publications in French are indeed astonishing. Whereas in 1501 only 10% of books published in Paris were in French, by 1575, 55% of all books published in Paris were in French. The triumph of the French vernacular was also promoted by King Francis I, who in 1539, deemed French the official language of his kingdom. Then, in 1635, Cardinal Richelieu founded the Académie française whose mission was 'to codify the French language, to give it rules, to make it pure and comprehensible to everyone.' . . ." (Hindman & Bergeron-Foote, op. cit., 14).

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The First College Founded in Western Europe 1180

In 1180 Jocius of London, a wealthy English merchant, who had just returned from Jerusalem, founded the first college known in Western Europe. Limted to eighteen fellows or scholars, this college, founded near Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, became known the Collège des Dix-Huit. It eventually became one of the founding units of the Université de Paris.

The founding charter of the college read as follows:

"Nous, Barbedor, doyen de l'église de Paris et tout le chapitre de la même église, nous voulons que soit connu de tous, tant présents qu'à venir, que, lorsque messire Josse de Londres est revenu de Jérusalem, ayant considéré avec la plus soigneuse dévotion l'assistance qui est portée aux pauvres et aux malades dans l'hôpital de la bienheureuse Marie de Paris, il vit là une chambre dans laquelle selon un vieil usage étaient hébergés les pauvres clercs et, sur notre conseil et celui de maître Hilduin, chancelier de Paris, alors procureur du même lieu, il en fit l'acquisition à perpétuité pour le prix de 52 livres auprès des procureurs de la même maison pour l'usage desdits clercs, sous cette condition que les procureurs de celle-ci fourniraient à titre perpétuel à 18 clercs écoliers des lits convenables et chaque mois douze deniers pris sur les aumônes qui sont recueillies dans le coffre. En contrepartie, lesdits clercs devront à tour de rôle porter la croix et l'eau bénite devant les corps des personnes décédées dans la même maison et célébrer chaque nuit sept psaumes de pénitence et les prières dues et instituées anciennement. Afin que ces dispositions demeurent fermes et stables, ledit Josse a obtenu que cette charte de notre institution soit faite par lesdits clercs et a demandé qu'elle soit confirmée par l'impression au bas de notre sceau. Fait publiquement à Paris, en notre chapitre, l'an de l'Incarnation du Seigneur 1180" (Wikipedia article on Collège des Dix-Huit, accessed 07-06-2014). 

In Warriors of the Cloisters. The Central Origins of Science in the Medieval World (2012) Christopher Beckwith argued that this earliest European college was modeled on the Central Asian madrasa:

"By the period of Jocius's visit to the Near East, madrasas were very common there. Like the madrasa, the college is an all-inclusive academic institution with a permanent endowment recognized by the government. The endowment, in both the Islamic and Western European traditions, covered the expenses of the physical property and living support for the scholars—the students and their teacher or teachers—all of whom lived together in the same structure. Based on the brief description in the founding charter and what is known about other early colleges from the following decades, including the Sorbonne, the college founded by Jocius is identical in all particulars to the typical madrasa then widespread in Syria and its vicinity. They were endowed institutions, generally quite small, which housed a small number of students, typically less than two dozen; exactly like the Collège des Dix-huit and most of the other early colleges. Because Jerusalem is located inland, Jocius had necessarily spent time in the Islamic Near East—undoubtedly in Syria, which was one of the main destinations of merchants and pilgrims alike. There he must have encountered the local small tpe of madrasa on which he modeled the identicial institution he founded in Paris, Europe's first college. The Near Eastern origin of the Western European college could hardly be clearer" (Beckwith pp. 39-40).

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1200 – 1300

Beginnings of an Active Book Trade in Europe Outside of Monasteries Circa 1200

Detail of image depicting a monk at work in a medieval scriptorium (Lacroix).  Please click to view entire image.

Detail of a fourteenth century image showing Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to University Students in Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina in the Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia, preserved in the Kupferstichkabinett SMPK, Staatliche Museen, Pressiischer Kulturbesitz, Min. 1233. 

Please click to view entire image.

Beginning around the year 1200, monasteries no longer remained the only purchasers of books in Europe, and manuscript book production started moving from the exclusive domain of monastic scriptoria to the secular communities. Intellectual life began to be increasingly centered outside the monasteries at the universities. There scholars, teachers and students, in cooperation with booksellers, artisans and craftsmen, organized an active manuscript book trade.

By the second quarter of the 13th century a much expanded demand for books for individual use encouraged the production of increasing numbers of picture books. Illustrated accounts of the lives of popular saints and other historical characters were typical productions.

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Knowledge of Greek and Greek Texts During the Middle Ages Circa 1200 – 1450

"Not before the fifteenth century were there large collections of Greek manuscripts assembled in the West, and only from the sixteenth century on were they used by a substantial number of Western scholars and other interested parties. The greater portion of the Greek inventory of the Dominican Library in Basel, the Laurentiana in Florence, the Marciana in Venice, the Vaticana in Rome, the Hapsburg Hofbibliothek in Vienna, and the Bibliothèque du Roi in Paris was first brought together through the combined efforts of Greek emigrants, Latin Humanists, and bibliophile princes. Yet ancient Greek book collections were not inaccessible to the Latin Middle Ages. Greek monasteries, none of which could have been completely without books, flourished in Rome from the seventh to the eleventh century. Grottaferrata has preserved parts of its ancient hoard of Greek books even up to the present day.

"There were populous Latin districts in Constantinople during the high Middle Ages, and in this period a great number of Italian scholars lived in the Christian metropolis on the Bosporus and made use of the rare-book libraries of the city. Moses of Bergamo was one of these scholarly Italians in twelfth-century Constantinople; he is the first Westerner known to have collected Greek manuscripts in great volume. If his own testimony is true, then the hunt for Greek manuscripts began two centuries before Guarino of Verona and Giovanni Aurispa.

"The Greek libraries of southern Italy were even closer to the Latins than those in Constantinople. Casole in Apulia, Carbone in the Basilicata, Stilo in Calabria, and Messina in Sicily had the most notable monastic libraries of the Italo-Greeks; the Cathedral Library of Rossano is still in possession of its cimelia, the famous sixth-century Greek purple evangelary ('Codex purpureus Rossanensis'), which was not 'rediscovered' there by scholars until 1879 and which recalls the significance of southern Italy for the transmission of Greek texts.

"Not before the manuscript research of recent years has the astonishing volume and the high quality (manuscripts of the classics!) of Italo-Greek book production and transmission come to light. Manuscript by manuscript, a 'translatio studii' from Byzantium to the West appears, whose line of textual transmission threads its way directly from the Macedonian Renaissance in tenth-century Constantinople, to the court library of the Norman and Hohenstaufen rulers of southern Italy, to the papal library of 1300; the Italian Renaissance picked up this thread as its starting point.

"This hoard of Greek books first appears in 1295 at the end of a catalogue of the papal library:

'Item Dyonisius super celesticam [!] Ierarchicam [!] in greco. Item Simplicius super phisicam Aristotilis . . .'

"With the exception of Dionysius the Areopagite (characteristically placed at the beginning of the list) and one other work, the twenty-three volumes all contain works of natural science and philosophy—a remarkable collection for the papacy (ed. A. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda ad Francisci Ehrle Historiae Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum ... tomum 1 [Rome 1947], pp. 23 f).

"A catalogue of the papal library from 1311 lists the same stock of Greek books:

'tem libri, qui sequuntur scripti in greco: primo scripsimus comentum Procli Permenidem Platonis 'And' et est in papiro . . . .'

"There have been several changes. In all there are now thirty-three Greek codices; ed. F. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum tum Bonifatianae tum Avenionensis (Rome 1890), I, 95-99. In nineteen of these books one finds this remarkable 'And', for which Ehrle provides the hardly convincing resolution antiquus.

"We learn from an inventory of 1327 that the thirty-three Greek codices were kept in two crates; ed. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda, p. 34. In 1339 they (all of them?) are found in a single crate together with Hebrew books (ibid., p.64); in 1369 there are still seven Greek books in the papal library (cf. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae, pp. 376 [no. 1183], 398 [no. 1512], 429 [no. 2007]. The popes obviously managed to carelessly lose their small but fine Greek collection during their Avignon adventures.

"The enigma of the notation And in the catalogue of 1311 has been solved by August Pelzer in a striking way (Addenda et emendanda, pp. 92 f.): it is to be resolved Andegavensis = Anjou! -that is, these books came to the papal library 'from Anjou.' When did the house of Anjou have cause and opportunity to present the papacy with a collection of Greek books? Pelzer answers: after the battle near Benevento (1266), when Charles of Anjou, whom the papacy had summoned to southern Italy, had disposed of the hated Hohenstaufen King Manfred. Thus the core of the Greek collection of the Norman-Staufer court library came into the possession of the papacy in 1266 in a similar way to that by which the Heidelberg Bibliotheca Palatina did in 1623.

"Codicological research has confirmed Pelzer's brilliant conclusions. Nine of the thirty-three Greek books of the 1311 catalogue have now again been identified, and the findings demonstrate clearly that this could not have been a casual acquisition by the popes or by Anjou, nor was it plunder from the conquest of Constantinople in 1204.; rather the collection came from the court in Constantinople to the court in Palermo around the middle of the twelfth century:

'Ces volumes sont de magnifiques produits des ateliers constantinopolitains au moment de la renaissance scientifique et philosophique des IXe et Xe siècles" ('These volumes are the magnificent products of the ateliers in Constantinople at the moment of the scientific and philosophical renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries;' (P. Canart, "Le livre grec,' p. 149).

"Almost half of all known scientific 'classical manuscripts' of the Byzantine Renaissance of the ninth/tenth century have been preserved via the Norman-Staufer court library (G. Derenzini, 'All origine della traduzione di opere scientifiche classiche: vicende di testi et di codici tra Bisanzio e Palermo,' Physis 18 [1976], 87-103). Thus the history of the Greek court library in the West extends back into the twelfth century, and the Greek collections in Renaissance court libraries in the West were then not altogether without precedents.

"In the outstanding monastic and cathedral libraries of the Middle Ages, there were, however, at most only scattered Greek manuscripts. The Abbey of St. Martin in Tours possessed, at least in fragments, a Greek papyrus codex from Egypt, which contained a homily of Ephraem Syrus on 'Fair Joseph.' An illuminated Greek copy of the XPICΤΙΑΝΙΚΗ ΤΟΠΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ of Cosmas Indicopleustes has been traced to the collection of the early medieval Cathedral Library in York. Reichenau had a precious Greek Psalter from the eighth to the sixteenth century. The Abbey of St. Denis tended the splendid uncial manuscript of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite which Louis the Pious had obtained from Constantinople; various other Greek manuscripts were added in the high and late Middle Ages. In the monastery of St. Simeon, established in the Porta Nigra in Trier, there was a Greek lectionary of the tenth/eleventh century. In the midst of the Investiture Controversy, the wealthy and ostentatious canons of St. Gereon in Cologne procured a magnificent Greek Psalter, which was written and illuminated around 1077 in a scriptorium closely connected with the Greek emperor. The first illumination, by a Greek artist, shows Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΜΑΡΤΥC ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙCΤΟΥ ΓΕΡΕΩΝ.

"Μany other large libraries of the Middle Ages also had their Greek showpieces to exhibit. Occasionally, the Latin West also produced manuscripts entirely in Greek. In the ninth century, as Montfaucon has noted, Sedulius Scottus was capable of writing a Greek Psalter with odes.

"From the Ottonian period on, Greco-Italian southern Italy offered the opportunity to obtain scribes who were acquainted with the Greek alphabet. A lectionary written in 1021 by an Italo-Greek Εν χόρα Φραγκίας κάστρο δε Κoλoνίας (= Cologne?) later made its way to St. Denis. In England even Western scribes ventured to produce various Greek minuscule manuscripts. According to Μ.R. James, the Greek Psalter of Cambridge, Emmanuel College III. 3. 22 is of English origin.

"In the thirteenth century, Bishop Robert Grosseteste commissioned a large-scale Corpus Dionysiacum in Greek minuscules. Grosseteste, his students, and his assistants brought together, by means of purchasing and copying, a significant collection of Greek manuscripts in England, so that it is true, at least for this country, that interest in Greek books had already arisen in the late Middle Ages; to be sure, it was a narrow circle until Humanism created a broader audience for the purely Greek book.

"The typical medieval form of the Greek codex was the bilingual manuscript. It was an inheritance from late antiquity and the Middle Ages in part made good use of it. The Mediterranean cultural symbiosis of the late Roman Empire had brought forth many such bilinguals-Latino-Greek and Greco-Latin. The most famous examples of late antique Latino-Greek editions are the remnants of the bilingual Vergil codices, recovered from the Egyptian sand; thus far, no less than nine such bilinguals of the champion of the imperial Roman cause have been brought to light. During Justinian's time, it was certainly still possible to write codices in both imperial languages in Constantinople; the Florentine digest codex ('Codex Pisanus,' soon after 533) bears impressive witness to this fact. It seems, however, that the Byzantine Empire of the medieval period proper no longer fostered bilingual editions of Roman authors, and—if southern Italy is excluded—produced no Latino-Greek manuscripts at all. 

"A Greco-Latin Homer, the counterpart of a Latino-Greek Vergil, apparently did not exist in late antiquity. The West was interested in Christian bilinguals, in Greco-Latin editions of portions of the Bible; a Greco-Latin anthology of canon law may have also existed during late antiquity, at least in one copy.

"The Latin Middle Ages carried on the tradition of assorted scriptural bilinguals: the Psalter, Gospels, Pauline epistles, and Acts of the Apostles (in fact those four books of the Bible whose comparative study Ambrogio Traversari recommended for self-instruction in Greek!). It would have been easy for the bilingual tradition of the Acts of the Apostles to have disappeared, as other bilingual scriptural texts must have: the tradition has only two witnesses-the 'Codex Bezae' in Cambridge and the 'Codex Laudianus' in Oxford.

"The Carolingian period transmitted only the Psalter, Gospels, and Pauline epistles, to some extent in the new interlinear bilingual form, which was especially cultivated by the Irish.

"In the Ottonian period, the bilingual tradition of the Pauline epistles dies out. The fragmentary 'Codex Waldeccensis' (saec. X ex. ) completes the circle of this bilingual tradition of the Middle Ages, in which the beginning and end are joined; for this bilingual manuscript, the last of the Pauline epistles known from the Middle Ages, is an exact copy of the earliest manuscript—the 'Codex Claromontanus.'

"The production of bilingual texts of the Gospels is extraordinarily rare in the high and late Middle Ages. Yet a bilingual edition of the Apocalypse curiously surfaces at that period. The Greco-Latin Psalter reached the age of Humanism, however, in an unbroken tradition. This Greco-Latin text outlasted all else because it was the text with which the Latin Middle Ages was doubtless most intimately familiar and was thus better suited than any other text to introduce the Latins to a basic study of Greek. This tradition of the Greco-Latin Psalter manuscripts, which span the entire Middle Ages, from the Cod. Verona I (saec. VI- VII) to the Cod. Plut. XVII 13 of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (which was "erst wenige Jahre alt, als in Florenz das große Unionskonzil begann" ["only a few years old as the great Union Council began in Florence"]), and to the great trilingual (Hebreo-Greco-Latin) Psalter produced for Duke Federigo of Urbino in Florence in 1473,  presents scarcely touched material for the further investigation of Greek studies in the Latin Middle Ages.

"The Greek text is presented in various manners in these Psalters: in Greek script (generally majuscule) or in Roman transcription; the Greek and Latin texts on facing pages, in parallel columns, or arranged interlinearly. The base text (left page, left column, or principal line in interlinear versions) is generally Greek. The Psalters in which the Greek text is presented only in Roman transcription must have originally served primarily liturgical purposes: Greek liturgica were always written in the Roman alphabet in the West, since they were to be read or sung aloud and were not intended to be studied. On the other hand, manuscripts with the Greek text written in Greek script were textbooks or even showpieces. The possibilities for combination are numerous and the distinctions between them fluid: even such an obvious example of a textbook as the St. Gall psalterium quadrupartitum presented the Greek text only in Roman transcription. In general, each of the numerous bilingual Psalters of the Middle Ages requires its own particular historico-philological interpretation.

"The other Greco-Latin books of the Middle Ages may be regarded as offshoots from the main trunk of bilingual biblical texts: in the sixth century, bilinguals of the first four ecumenical councils by Dionysius Exiguus; in the eleventh century, Gregory's Dialogi; in the thirteenth century, the liturgical and polemical bilinguals of Abbot Nicholas-Nectarius of Otranto. The Dominican mission in the 'Orient' continued this latter tradition and produced its controversial theological tracts in bilingual editions ('Bartholomaeus, Contra Graecos; Buonaccorsi, Thesaurus veritatis fidei). Leontius Pilatus' translations of Homer and Euripides for the early Florentine Humanists were designed as interlinear bilinguals.

"Finally, one must not forget the striking bilingualism of the imperial correspondence from Constantinople, of which a number of splendid examples from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries have been preserved in Italian archives. When the corpus of manuscripts has finally been fully catalogued, the history of the Greco-Latin bilinguals will open one of the most informative perspectives on the ever-shifting interest in Greek texts that has perished through the ages" (Walter Berschin, "Valuation and Knowledge of Greek," Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa. Transl. by Jerold C. Frakes [1992]).

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Origins of Cambridge University 1209

The coat of arms belonging to Cambridge University. (View Larger)

Though early foundation documents no longer exist, the University of Cambridge probably grew out of an association of scholars who gathered at the ancient Roman trading post of Cambridge in 1209. These scholars fled from the University of Oxford to Cambridge after a fight with local townsmen in Oxford.

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Perhaps the Oldest State-Supported University June 5, 1224

The University of Naples Federico II was founded by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II on 5 June 1224. It may be the oldest state-supported institution of higher education and research in the world.

"Frederick II had a precise political project when he stated to found the university in Naples: first, to train administrative and bureaucracy skilled professionals for the "curia regis" (the kingdom ministries and governance apparatus), also it was necessary to prepare lawyers and judges who would help the sovereign in order to draft laws and executing justice; secondly he wanted to facilitate the promising young students and scholars in their cultural formation, avoiding their unnecessary and expensive trips abroad (that is also more pragmatically to say that by creating a State University, emperor Frederick avoided that young students of his reign will complete their trainining at University of Bologna which was a city hostile to the imperial power). The University of Naples was arguably the first to be formed from scratch by a higher authority, rather than upon an already-existing private school. Although its claim to be the first state-sponsored university can be challenged by Palencia (which was founded by the Castilian monarch c.1212), Naples was certainly the first chartered one.

"The artificiality of its creation posed great difficulties in attracting students (Thomas Aquinas was one of the few who came in these early years). The university's early years were further complicated by the long existence, in nearby Salerno of Europe's most prestigious medical faculty, the Schola Medica Salernitana. The fledgling faculty of medicine at Naples had little hope to compete with it, and in 1231, the right of examination was surrendered to Salerno. The establishment of new faculties of theology and law under papal sponsorship in Rome in 1245 further drained Naples of students, as Rome was a more attractive location. In an effort to revitalize the dwindling university, in 1253, all the remaining schools of the university of Naples moved to Salerno, in the hope of creating a single viable university for the south.But that experiment failed and the university (minus medicine) moved back to Naples in 1258 (in some readings, Naples was "refounded" in 1258 by Manfred Hohenstaufen, as by this time there were hardly any students left). The Angevin reforms after 1266 and the subsequent decline of Salerno gave the University of Naples a new lease on life and put it on a stable, sustainable track" (Wikipedia article on University of Naples Federico II, accessed 01-24-2012).

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No Fewer than Twelve Libraries Available to the Public in Merv 1228

The Greater Kyz Kala at Merv, presumed to be the residence of a noble or royal personage. (View Larger)

In 1228 the geographer Yakut al-Hamawi, visiting Merv, a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the Silk Road, located near today's Mary in Turkmenistan, "found no fewer than twelve libraries there available to the public. Ten were endowed libraries and two were in mosques. One had over 12,000 volumes in codex form and another had been in existence since 494 A.D. Yakut noted that the lending policies of the libraries in Merv were so liberal that he was able to have 200 volumes to work with in his rooms at one time." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 79).

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Introduction of the Pecia System April 4, 1228

The earliest dated evidence of the pecia system of providing "certified texts" of manuscripts in university bookstores is the Vercelli contract of 1228. This coincided with the foundation of the university at Vercelli, which was "the world's first university funded by public money": 

" 'Item habebit commune Vercellarum duos exemplatores, quibus taliter providebit quod eos scolare habere possint, qui habeant exemplantia [exemplaris?] in utroque iure et in Theologia compretentia et correctam tam in text quam in gloxa, ita quod solutio fiat a scolaribus pro exemplis secundum quod convenit ad taxationem Rectorum' ('Item, the commune of Vercelli will provide two exemplatores who are to have exemplaria in both laws and in theology, complete and correct both in text and gloss, so that the scholars may pay for their copies at a price set by the rectors'). This contract was signed on 4 April 1228 between certain masters of the University of Padua who wished to secede from that university and representatives of the commune of Vercelli, who were ready to bid generously in privileges to attract a new university to their city. The University of Padua was then only six years old and it is not credible that in such a short space of time the pecia could have been created there. The University of Padua was formed in 1222 by a secession from the University of Bologna, and it seems to be plain that it was in that older university that the pecia system had its origin about the year 1200.

"The spread of the system

"The pecia system existed in at least eleven universities: at Bologna [founded 1088], Padua [founded 1222], Vercelli, Perugia (founded in 1308), Treviso (1318) and Florence (1349) in Northern Italy: at Salamanca [founded 1134] in Spain (1254) and Naples in Southern Italy (1224); at Paris [founded 1257] and Toulouse [founded 1229] in France; and at Oxford. No trace of it has been found at Salerno, Montpellier, Orléans, Angers, Avignon or Cambridge, or in any of the German or Dutch universities. Actual exemplaria and pecia copies were identified by Destrez from Bologna, Paris, Oxford and Naples, but none from the other seven universities have yet been recognised; and we only know that they provided for the pecia system in their statutes" (Pollard, "The pecia system in the medieval universities," Parkes & Watson, editors, Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts & Libraries. Essays Presented to N.R. Ker [1978] 147-48).

"Generally speaking, the purpose of the system was to provide reliable copies of the works of contemporary scholastic authors in law, theology, philosophy and pastoral aids, and it worked somewhat as follows. A university bookseller (stationarius) would obtain an autograph copy of an author's work, or, if that were hard to read (or if the author were long dead), a fair copy or other reliable exemplar of the work. From this exemplar the stationer made a copy or exemplar of his own on equal quires or pieces (peciae), each one of which was numbered in sequence, so that the stationer, when requested for copies of the text in question, could hire out these pieces in turn for copying to professional writers. . . ." (L. E. Boyle, Peciae, Apopeciae, and a Toronto MS. of the Sententia Libri Ethicorum of Aquinas, in Ganz (ed.) The Role of the Book in Medieval Culture [1986] 71).

The standard and extensively illustrated monograph on the pecia system remains Destrez, La pecia dans les manuscrits universitaires du XIIIe et du XIVe siècle (1935). This reproduces manuscript pages full-size, which is helpful since the pecia marks are small, and might be illegible if the images were reduced: 

"PECIA (var. : petiapechiapesiapeçapecca ; vieux français piecepiès, etc) : L’exemplar est copié, suivant la longueur de l’ouvrage, sur une série plus ou moins grande de cahiers de quatre folios, non reliés, mais laissés indépendants les uns des autres, et dont chacun est appelé unepecia. Primitivement, le mot pecia est probablement un terme de tannerie ou de parcheminerie ; c’est une peau de mouton préparée en vue de l’écriture. Par extension, le morceau ou la feuille de parchemin la plus grande que l’on puisse obtenir de cette pièce, quand on en a rogné les parties extérieures inutilisables, s’appelle aussi une pièce : pecia. Cette feuille est rabattue sur elle-même, puis pliée en deux ; le cahier ainsi obtenu correspond sensiblement à notre format moderne in-4.0 jésus . . . ; c’est un binion, il a deux feuilles doubles, soit huit pages, seize colonnes. On lui donne le nom de pecia. Le mot pecia, pièce, désigne donc dans l ‘industrie du livre, . . . l’unité de cahiers dont se compose l’exemplar" (Destrez, pp. 5-6).

In December 2014 a very useful illustrated summary of the system, including a comprehensive bibliography, and reproductions of several examples of pecia marks, was available in Jean-Luc Deuffic's Bibliologie Médiévale blog at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 12-15-2014.)

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Formation of the University of Paris 1257

Robert de Sorbon, founder of the University of Paris. (View Larger)

In 1257 Robert de Sorbon, a chaplain and confessor to King Louis IX, founded the Collège de Sorbonne, or University of Paris. Starting with 20 theology students, and virtually no library except a small collection of manuscripts, the college quickly built a prodigious reputation as a center for learning, and rapidly expanded its library mainly through donations, including the library of Robert de Douai, physician to Queen Marguerite. In Robert's will dated 1258 he left to the college 1500 pounds Parisian, and bequeathed " 'omnes libros meos de theologia, tam biblias, tam originalia, quam alios libros glosatos' which came to the Sorbonne four years later" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 346).  

By the end of the thirteenth century there were as many as twenty thousand foreign students resident in Paris, making Paris the capital of knowledge of the Western world.

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So Many Books were Thrown into the Tigris River that they Formed a Bridge that Would Support a Man on Horseback 1258

Hulagu Khan with his wife, Dokuz Kathun. (View Larger)

In 1258 Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad, destroying the House of Wisdom, the leading library in the leading intellectual center of the Arab world.

The House of Wisdom, founded in the eighth century, contained countless precious documents accumulated over five hundred years. Survivors said so many books were thrown into the river that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink; others said the waters were red from blood.

"In one week, libraries and their treasures that had been accumulated over hundreds of years were burned or otherwise destroyed. So many books were thrown into the Tigris River, according to one writer, that they formed a bridge that would support a man on horseback" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 85).

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139 Professional Scribes Are Working in Bologna 1265 – 1268

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By the thirteenth century the production of books moved from the exclusive province of monastic scriptoria to civilian professional scribes in cities, especially around universities. 139 professional scribes, including two women, are known to have worked in Bologna, Italy, site of the University of Bologna, from 1265-68.

Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 224, note no. 4.

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"The World's Oldest Continuously Functioning Library for University Academics and Students" 1276

The Merton College Library, at Oxford. (View Larger)

The library of Merton College, Oxford, which calls itself the "the world’s oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students" traces it origins to 1276:

"The provision of books and their storage feature in College records from 1276, when Robert Kilwardby (Archbishop of Canterbury) directed that any books that Fellows brought with them to the College, or acquired during residence, should remain at Merton. The books were to be kept in a chest under three locks, and to be assigned by the Warden and Sub-Warden to the use of the Fellows against a pledge. Later, there were two collections of books: one was kept chained in libraria (the earliest form of chaining dates from 1284), the other was a circulating library. It is not known where the first chained library was located, but repairs were needed in 1338 and it had to be plastered and whitewashed in 1346" (http://www.merton.ox.ac.uk/aboutmerton/library8.shtml)

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1300 – 1400

Lay Readers and Book Owners by the End of the 14th Century Circa 1300

"By the beginning of the fourteenth century the text of Vegetius, in addition to being used as a manual for military fortification by Edward I of England [Edward Longshanks] (1272-1307), was extracted for the preachers' manual compiled by Thomas of Ireland (before 1 July 1306), moralized by medieval preachers, and translated into French by Jean de Vignay.

"This last is a reflection of the increasing importance, at the end of the thirteenth century and in the course of the fourteenth, of an audience of lay readers (or at least of lay book-owners). Growing urbanization, increased literacy, and an overall improvement in the economy—the general lot of western Europe since the twelfth century—ultimately produced a class of country nobility and urban courtiers who patronized bookshops, artists, and translators such as de Vignay. Through the work of such book producers, the deeds of Alexander and the Caesars became as much a part of the noble household as the sermon from the pulpit" (Rouse, The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 49).

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A Venetian Ordinance on the Production of Eyeglasses April 2, 1300

Essential for reading and writing, and an important factor in the spread of literacy, spectacles are thought to have been invented in thirteenth century Europe; however, their inventor is unknown. Various unsubstantiated theories were proposed over the centuries concerning possible inventors—none supported by satisfactory evidence. Some of the theories are mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Glasses.

Other contenders and snippets of evidence regarding possible inventors are listed on the London College of Optometrists web page on the Invention of Spectacles. Even though the name of the inventor or inventors of spectacles may never be confirmed, there is sufficient reason to believe that spectacles were invented toward the end of the thirteenth century, and that they became more widely used as the fourteenth century advanced.

"Venice was a major centre of glass production, and by the end of the thirteenth century eyeglasses had certainly become an object of general use there, as we can tell from an ordinance dated 2 April 1300 aimed at makers of glass and crystal. It prohibited them from perpetrating a fraud that must have become widespread: 'acquiring or causing to acquired, and selling or causing to be sold, ordinary lenses of colourless glass, under the pretense that they are crystal, for example buttons, handles, discs for kegs and for the eyes ('roidi de botacelis et da ogli'), tablets for altar pictures and crosses, and magnifying glasses ('lapides ad legendum'). The penalty was a fine and the smashing of the fraudulent object. The precise distinction made in the document between eyeglasses and magnifying glasses establishes clearly just what each of the named objects is, and since words preserve their own past like fossils preserved in amber, I note that the term Brille, which means eyeglasses in German, is derived from berillium, the medieval latin word for crystal (Frugoni, Inventions of the Middle Ages [2007] 7 and footnote 25).

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Origins of Beijing University 1306

In 1306 Peking Guozijian (Beijing Guozijian, Imperial Peking University (北京国子监/北京國子監) or Imperial Academy or Imperial College or Imperial Central School was established as the School of the Sons of State on Giuoziijian Street in Beijing. It was a national central institute of learning and the highest institute of learning in China's traditional education system. This was the ancestor of Beijing University which was officially founded as the Imperial University of Peking in 1898.

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The Most Widely Used Medieval Florilegium or Anthology: Cutting Edge Information Technology for the Time Circa 1306

About 1306 Irish secular clergyman, writer, anthologist and indexer Thomas of Ireland (Thomas Hibernicus), working in Paris, completed the first manuscript of his Manipulus florum, a florilegium or collection of authoritative quotations. A graduate of the Sorbonne, Thomas compiled his anthology from the library of the Sorbonne, which was at the time, the largest library in Christendom.

Thomas's Manipulus florum was among the mostly widely used florilegia in the Middle Ages, and it remained extensively useful through at least  the seventeenth century. The text survives in over one hundred eighty manuscripts. It was first printed in Piacenza by Jacobus de Tyela, and issued on September 5, 1483. (ISTC No.ih00149000). During the 16th century it was printed twenty-six times, and there were eleven printed ediitions in the seventeenth century. Altogether there were at least fifty editions of the work printed between 1483 and 1887. In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1483 edition was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Probably the Manipulus florum was so extensively used because of its advanced system of indexing and cross-references:

"Thomas organized the 'flowers' that he gathered for this collection under 266 alphabetically-ordered topics, from Abstinencia to Christus (Christus coming at the end in the manuscripts and the earliest print editions because the Greek letters Χρσ are used for the abbreviation). He also assigned unique reference letters to the individual entries under each topic, doubling the letters when the number of entries for a given topic exceeded 23 (i.e. the number of letters in the Latin alphabet) entries. For example, Vsura b is the second (and last) entry under the shortest topic; because Prudencia siue prouidencia has 24 entries, the twenty-third entry is designated z and the last one is ba; and Mors di is the last entry under the largest topic, with 97 entries. As Thomas explains in his Preface, these reference letters were created to support his cross-referencing system; at the end of nearly all of the topics he provided a list which includes similar topics (essentially synonyms and antonyms, such as Temperancia and Gula which are cross-referenced at the end of Abstinencia) and, more usefully, specific entries of related interest under unrelated topics. According to Mary Rouse and Richard Rouse, this combination of an alphabetized subject listing and a cross-referencing system represents the cutting edge of information technology at the time of its compilation. They also noted the remarkable stability of the manuscript tradition, which is partly due to the reproduction of the text by the Paris stationers' companies using the pecia system" (http://web.wlu.ca/history/cnighman/page2.html, accessed 11-06-2013). The quotation is from Chris L. Nighman's major online reference, the Electronic Manipulus florum Project.

Rouse & Rouse, Preachers, florilegia and sermons: studies on the Manipulus florum of Thomas of Ireland. PIMS Texts and Studies 47, Toronto (1979).

(This entry was last revised on March 31, 2014.)


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Early Persian Appreciation of the Value of Chinese Printing for the Standardization of Correct Texts 1317

In 1317 Persian scholar Dawud al-Banakiti wrote concerning Chinese printing in his Raudat uli'l-Albab (Garden of the Intelligent) a summary copied closely from the Jami'al-Tawarikh of polymath Rashīd al-Dīn Tabīb (Persian: رشیدالدین طبیب‎) also Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī, which had been written in 1307:

"The Chinese are wont to make copies from books in such wise that no change or alteration can find its way into the text. And when they thus desire, they order a skillful calligrapher to copy a page of the book on a tablet in a fair hand, and then all the men of learning carefully correct it, inscribing their names on the back of the tablet. Then skilled and expert engravers are ordered to cut out the letters. And when they have thus taken a copy of all the pages of the book numbering all the blocks consecutively, they place them in sealed bags, like dies in a mint, and entrust them to reliable persons appointed for the purpose, keeping them securely in special offices on which they set a particular seal. When anyone wants a copy of the book he goes before the committee and pays the dues and charges fixed by the government, after which they bring out the tablets, impose them on leaves of paper like the dies are imposed on gold for coins, and so deliver the sheets to him. Thus it is impossible that there should be any omission or addition to any of their books, on which, therefore, they place complete reliance and thus is the transmission of the histories effected" (Needham, Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West [1970] 23-24).

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The Earliest Surviving Spectacles Circa 1350

A pair of leather spectacles, found, among other artifacts, in 1953 beneath the floorboards of Kloster Wienhausen, near Celle, in Germany. (View Larger)

In spite of the obvious fragility of spectacles (eyeglasses), a reasonable number of extremely early examples have survived from the mid-fourteenth century onward. Images and information about them have been collected by David A. Fleishman on his website, Antique Spectacles and other Vision Aids.

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The Earliest Depiction of Eyeglasses in a Painted Work of Art 1352

The first depiction of spectacles in art: a portrait of Cardinal Hugo of Provence at his writing desk, painted by Tommaso de Mondena in fresco in the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, Italy. (View Larger)

"The earliest depiction of spectacles [eyeglasses] in a painted work of art occurs in a series of frescoes dated 1352 by Tommaso da Modena in the Chapter House of the Seminario attached to the Basilica San Nicolo in Treviso, north of Venice. Cardinal Hugo of Provence [Hugh de St. Cher] is shown at his writing desk wearing a pair of rivet spectacles that appear to stay in place on the nose without additional support. The Cardinal actually died in the 1260s and could never have worn spectacles! Across the room Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen is depicted using a monocular lens in the style of later quizzing glasses. The artist has even tried to represent the physical effort of straining to see the book through the lens. The men depicted in this series of paintings are Dominicans (like Fra Rivalto), members of a dynamic monastic order founded in 1217 and regarded as 'the carrier of the sciences'. It is notable that visual aids are portrayed as devices for the use of literate men as well as aesthetes - they had, after all, commissioned this important work of early Renaissance art" (London College of Optometrists web page on the Invention of Spectacles, accessed 06-22-2009).

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Merton College Library Contains Approximately 500 Manuscripts 1378

A globe in the present day Merton College Library. (View Larger)

In 1378 the new library at Merton College, Oxford was finished. At this time the library at Merton College contained approximately 500 manuscripts.

"At the same time the University of Oxford itself had no more than two or three boxes of books, the ownership of which was disputed by a college, and they were not chained and made accessible till 1412" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

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Saint Catherine in her Study with her Revolving Bookstand Circa 1399 – 1416

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry written and illuminated by Herman, Paul and Johan Limbourg, and preserved in The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, includes an image of St. Catherine in her study with a most elegant revolving bookstand, on which we can see eight volumes. 

This is one of the more distinctive depictions of library furnishings in a medieval manuscript.

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1400 – 1450

The Yongle Encyclopedia in 11,095 Volumes, Organized Following a Rhyming Dictionary; No Complete Set Survived 1403 – 1408

A page of the Yongle Encyclopedia. (View Larger)

The Yongle Encyclopedia (simplified Chinese: 永乐大典; traditional Chinese: 永樂大典) literally “The Great Canon or Vast Documents of the Yongle Era”) was a Chinese compilation commissioned by the Chinese Ming Dynasty Yongle Emperor in 1403 and completed by 1408. "9169 scholars"  took part in its compilation, of which "2180 were student scholars" at Nanking (Nanjing) University, then located south of Qintian Mountain (欽天山), near Xuanwu Lake (玄武湖). Totaling 11,095 volumes, the Yongle Encyclopedia remained the world's largest general encyclopedia for many years.

"Two thousand scholars worked on the project under the direction of the Yongle Emperor (reigned 1402–1424), incorporating eight thousand texts from ancient times up to the early Ming Dynasty. They covered an array of subjects, including agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural sciences, religion, and technology, as well as descriptions of unusual natural events.

"The Encyclopedia, which was completed in 1408 at Nanjing Guozijian (南京國子監; the ancient Nanjing University - Nanjing Imperial Central College), comprised 22,877 or 22,937 manuscript rolls, or chapters in 11,095 volumes occupying roughly 40 cubic metres (1400 ft³) and using 50 million Chinese characters. It was designed to include all that had ever been written on the Confucian canon, history, philosophy and the arts and sciences. It was a massive collation of excerpts and works from the mass of Chinese literature and knowledge.

"Because of the vastness of the work, it could not be block-printed, and it is thought that only one other manuscript copy was made. In 1557, under the supervision of the Emperor Jiajing, the Encyclopedia was narrowly saved from being destroyed by a fire which burnt down three palaces in the Forbidden City. Afterwards, Emperor Jiajing ordered the transcription of another copy of the Encyclopedia.

"Fewer than 400 volumes of the three manuscript copies of the set survived into modern times. The original copy has disappeared from the historical record. The second copy was gradually dissipated and lost from the late-18th century onwards, until the roughly 800 volumes remaining were burnt in a fire started by Chinese forces attacking the neighboring British legation, or looted by the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The surviving volumes are in libraries and private collections around the world. The most complete of these surviving later Ming Dynasty copies of the Yongle Encyclopedia are kept at the National Library of China in Beijing" (Wikipedia article on Yongle Encyclopedia, accessed 10-26-2009).

In 2014 a two-section manuscript volume of the Yongle Encyclopedia was discovered at the Huntington Libary in San Marino, California. The volume, which dates from about 1562, is section 10,270 and 10,271 of the encyclopedia. The volume includes a part of the Book of Rites — one of the five Confucian Classics— writing attributed to Confucius’ disciples. This volume was one of only 419 surviving worldwide, and the only volume of the encyclopedia preserved in the western United States.

On January 8, 2015 Duncan Campbell posted a blog on the Huntington Verso site entitled Organizing an Encyclopedia, Chinese Style, from which I quote:

"To modern readers, one of the most fascinating elements about this work is the method used to organize such a gargantuan quantity of text—the rhyming categories of the Chinese language. In a classical Chinese world, arranging the book in this manner made perfect sense.

"Chinese is not alphabetic. The order of the entries followed a rhyming dictionary, the Hongwu zhengyun, authorized by the Yongle emperor’s father in 1375. The dictionary divided the monosyllabic sounds of the Chinese characters into 76 rhyming categories, distributed among the four tones of the spoken language. Every educated Chinese person knew the categories and their sequence by heart. Rhyme was an exceptionally effective search engine.

"For instance, our volume contains the partial text of a chapter from the Book of Rites (Li ji), one of five books constituting the revered Confucian Canon. This particular section, entitled “King Wen as Son and Heir” (Wen wang shizi), deals with how to educate a prince who was both son to the ruling emperor and heir apparent. This created complications in terms of etiquette and ritual because the son, by virtue of his relationship with his father, would also become the Son of Heaven. The last character of the title means “son” and is pronounced “zi.” Anyone looking for information on the topic of “son” would immediately go to the second of the rhyming categories in the rising tone, under the category headword meaning “paper,” pronounced “zhi,” a sound with which it rhymed. The logic of this arrangement was crystal clear to Chinese thinkers in a traditional world. In their circles, the ability to write a good poem and effective prose was vital, and rhyme was critical to both."

(This entry was last revised on 01-09-2015.)

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The First Dated Example of Poggio's Humanistic Script 1408

The first dated example of the humanistic script invented by the Italian scholar, writer and humanist, Poggio Bracciollini, is the copy of Cicero's Epistles to Atticus written in formal "antiqua" and preserved in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berol. Hamilton lat. 166). This carries the subscription "Scriptsit Poggius anno domini MCCCCVIII a mundi vero creatione VI mil. et DCVII." 

Regarding the origin of Poggio's humanistic script, Ullman (p. 59) mentioned the manuscript of De verecundia that appears to have been written by Poggio between 1402-03 for its author, the humanist and man of letters Coluccio Salutati.  Thus, this manuscript is "the very first datable example of humanistic script" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 267). Unlike the Cicero, however, the date of De Verecundia is based on scholarly argument rather than concrete evidence.

Ullman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script (1974)  27, 59.

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From About 1440 -1470 the Production of Manuscript Books Increased; From 1471 to 1490, with the Increase of Printed Book Production, Manuscript Book Production Declined Circa 1440 – 1475

"In the decade before the invention of typographic printing, and then  concurrently with the earliest years of European typography, the production of handwritten books increased considerably. One cause that has been proposed for this increase is the influence of German monastic reform movements, such as in Austria and south Germany, the Melk Congregation. However real and significant, this reason can provide only a local and partial explanation. The increase in bookmaking also occurred in other regions of Europe, notably Italy. The expansion of Europe's papermaking trade in the later fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth lowered the material cost of books for those who were happy to have them written on paper rather than parchment. Yet there remains some hiatus in the link between evidence and explanation.

"Whether we are to think of it as a cause or an effect, one feature of this increase has already been briefly mentioned: the growing number of less formal, 'self-written' books, of which the writer was also the intended reader. This broad phenomenon is examplifed in small by the Latin-German dictionary known as Vocabularius Ex quo, of which about 250 fifteenth-century manuscript copies have been listed, as well as nearly four dozen fifteenth-century typographic editions. A considerable number of the manuscripts, when complete, contain colophons whose writers record that at the time they were students in Basel, Kaufbeuren, Memmingen, Pforzheim, Stendal, Ulm, and so on. We may reasonably imagine that one of the common tasks of a German school student at a certain level was to transcribe for personal use a copy of Vocabularius Ex quo.

"Our best evidence for an increase in book making in this period comes from explicitly dated manuscripts, which is to say manuscripts whose scribes, for whatever varying reasons among a multiplicity of possibilities, felt the urge on finishing their tasks (or occasionally, on beginning them) to set down the date of the work. Because of the progress in recent decades of the Catalogue of Dated Manuscripts project of the Comité international de paléographie latine, we now possess a significant corpus of explicitly dated manuscripts of the fifteenth century, written in many different regions of Europe. From a global total of about 10,400 dated manuscripts of the fifteenth century, the totals for the successive five-year intervals bracketing and including this second period of fifteenth-century print-and bookmaking are as follows:

1426-30: 361

1431-35: 448

1436-40: 583

1441-45: 589

1446-50: 688

1451-55: 822

1456-60: 949

1461-65: 1001

1466-70: 1035

1471-75: 800

1476-80: 531

1481-85: 389

1486-90: 309

"Insofar as dated manuscripts are representative of fifteenth-century manuscripts overall, it thus appears that the two decades 1451-1470 mark a peak, with production almost two-thirds greater than that of the preceding interval, 1431-1450. In the next half-decade, 1471-75, there is a noticeable decline, and in the half decade after that the decline is very marked, the dated total for 1476-80 being less than that of 1436-1440.

"The striking decline in written book production in the 1470s correlates almost exactly with the strong increase in printed book production. A significant expansion of typographic printing occurred in the years 1469-1471, manifested both by the expansion of places of production—starting in 1469 with the introduction of typography to two cities that became dominant: Nuremberg, and even more preeminently, Venice—and by the increasing pace of production. To judge from physical survivals, both of integral copies and of binding-waste fragments, the surviving output of European printing shops from the early 1450s through 1469 is in the neighborhood of 325-350 editions. In 1470 to 1471, more than 400 new editions were sent to market, and in 1472 and 1473, nearly 800 more editions appeared. The rate of production 1474 and 1475 increased even further. In the crossing lines of book production in the 1470s—the handwritten variety on a descending curve, the typographic variety on an ascending—we have stronger than ordinary evidence for historical cause and effect. As the supply of printed copies of the most-used texts of literate Europe increased—copies for the most part of clear and strongly inked lettering and cheaper than commissioned scribal work—the need to create handwritten copies declined" (Paul Needham, "Prints in the Early Printing Shops," IN: Parshall (ed) The Woodcut in Fifteenth-Century Europe (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2009) 41-42).

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1450 – 1500

Possibly the First Printed Edition Donatus's "Ars minor", the Most Widely Used Medieval Grammar Circa 1454

About 1454 an edition of the Ars minor by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus was printed in Mainz in the type of the 36-line Bible (sometimes also called the DK-type). The year of printing is uncertain.

A fragment containing leaves 6/9, preserved in ULB Darmstadt, and catalogued by the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue as ISTC No.: id00314700, might be the earliest of the circa 435 different printings of the small grammar book printed in the fifteenth century. Nearly all copies of all editions of this work survived only in fragments, indicating that copies were mainly read out of existence. One other fragment preserved in Berlin is also estimated to have been printed in 1454: ISTC No.: id00314850.

Because so many of the surviving copies of Donatus are fragments we may deduce that there may have been further fifteenth century printings, of which no copies survived.

Fuessel, Gutenberg and the Impact of Printing. Translated from the German by Douglas Martin (2003) 30.

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Cicero's "De oratore", Perhaps the First Book Printed in Italy 1465

The first page of a manuscript of De oratore by Cicero, written and illuminated in Northern Italy in the 15th century, and preserved in the British Library

Sometimes considered the first book printed in Italy, an edition of Cicero’s De oratore, was issued from the press of the German printers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz at the monastery of Subiaco in 1465. The date of September 30, 1465 was inferred for the edition by scholars because, as the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue reports, "The Leipzig copy, now in Moscow, contains annotations dated 30 Sept. 1465" (ISTC no. ic00654000).  

More reliably the Lactantius Opera, also printed at Subiaco, which bears the issue date of October 29, 1465, should be considered the first full book printed in Italy. This was also one of the first books printed in Roman type, and one of the first three printed editions of a classical text. The edition size has been estimated between 100 and 275 copies. 18 copies remain extant.

"The introduction of printing in Italy (Subiaco-Rome) was almost certainly arranged by highly placed persons in the entourage of Pope Paul II. This and other similar beginnings, especially common in Italy, i.e. the establishment of presses by invitation rather than upon printers' initiative, are nevertheless a sign that the importance of printing had been recognized" (Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading 1450-1550 [1967] 106).

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The First Three Printed Editions of Classical Texts, all by Cicero 1465

Detail from page of De officiis with Paradoxa Stoicorum.  Click on the image to see the entire page.

In 1465 Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer issued De officiis with Paradoxa Stoicorum. Hexasticha XII Sapientum de titulo Ciceronis. Horatius Flaccus: Ad T. Manlium Torquatum (Car. IV 7) from Mainz. This edition, and coincidentally two other editions of texts by Cicero also printed in 1465, were the first editions of classical texts issued through the medium of printing. ISTC No.: ic00575000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

About 1465 printer Ulrich Zell issued Cicero's De officiis from Cologne. Zell learned printing in Mainz at the shop of Fust and Schöffer, and is thought to have begun printing in Cologne as early as 1463. However, a number of his books are undated, as is this edition of De officiis. If it was issued in 1465 it is one of the three earliest printed editions of a classical text, all of which appeared in 1465. The third edition of a classical text issued in 1465 was the edition of Cicero's De oratore issued at the Abbey of Subiaco, Italy by Sweynheim and Pannartz in September, 1465.

ISTC No.: ic00575500

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Depiction of Mary Reading from a Manuscript Book by Hans Memling Circa 1465 – 1475

The panel painting by Hans Memling depicting the Annunciation, with Mary reading from a manuscript. (Click on the image to view larger.)

One of the largest surviving Netherlandish depictions of The Annunciation, the panel painting by Hans Memling preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is based upon a design by Rogier van der Weyden. The painting is notable for depicting the Virgin Mary reading from what appears to be a small manuscript codex during the very early years of the transition from manuscript to print, from about 1465 to 1475.

". . . this imposing painting may have been the left wing of a triptych commissioned by the Clugny family, whose coat of arms decorates the carpet and window. The composition is based on a design by Rogier van der Weyden. Possibly commissioned before his death in 1464, it was painted by Hans Memling who, technical evidence suggests, was a journeyman in Rogier's workshop before establishing himself in Bruges in 1465" (http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/110001941, accessed 10-25-2011).

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Heynlin & Fichet Establish the First Press in France 1470

A 17th century engraving of The Sorbonne, Paris.

The first book printed in France: Epistolae ("Letters"), by Gasparinus de Bergamo. The book was printed in 1470 by the press established by Johann Heynlin.

"The first press in Paris, which was established at the Sorbonne, has often and mistakenly been called the first university press. It would be better to call it the first private press, established at the Sorbonne by Heynlein von Stein and Guillaume Fichet, who called Gering, Friburger and Crantz to Paris, probably selected the texts, and presumably guaranteed any deficit; the texts produced by these printers were slanted largely towards persons interested in new learning, among them, of course, teachers and students of the university" (Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading 1450-1550 [1967] 51).

Heynlin and Fichet's first publication with this press, and the first book printed in France, was a collection of letters by the fifteenth century grammarian Gasparinus de Bergamo (Gasparin de Pergame, Gasparinus Barzizius). Barzizius's Epistolae, issued in 1470, were intended to provide exemplars for students for the writing of artful and elegant Latin. ISTC no. ib00260500.

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue lists a total of 53 works from this press.

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Three Ways that Printing Changed Manuscript Culture Circa 1470

"Having attempted to define some features of the scribal culture that dominated that area of Europe which produced the printing press, I should like in conclusion to note three aspects of the book and its use that printing, for better or worse, drastically altered. . . . Print as an Agent of Change; its author [Elizabeth Eisenstein] curiously, does not treat these three aspects of change.

"(1) With the growth of print as the normal medium of the page, the main medieval vehicle for relating new thought to inherited tradition disappears— namely, the gloss and the practice of glossing. To be sure sure glossed books like the commentaries on the Decretum, the Liber sextus or Nicholas de Lyra on the scriptures are often printed; but the printed book is not itself an object in which one writes long glosses. Perusal of Chatelain, Paléographie des classiques latin (Paris, 1884-92), will uncover pages of Virgils, Lucans, Juvenals and Horaces, the set texts of the trivium, covered with interlinear and marginal glosses of all dates. The manuscript books had in fact been laid out to be glossed, namely, with the text in large letters down the center of the page, surrounded by white space. In contrast, one can think of only a handful of printed books in which the page has been set up in type to be glossed by hand. What effect this had on processes of thought, methods of instruction, and the structured comparison of new ideas to old, would be interesting to work out.

"(2) With the advent of print the book becomes a monolithic unit, compared to its handwritten predecessor. Medieval books, particularly those individualistic owner-produced volumes of the fifteenth century, are frequently made up of numerous pieces varying from one to several quires in length, which were initially kept in loose wrappers and were bound together by the institution which inherited the volume. A person interested in a given text could copy out what he wanted and no more: thus, of the two hundred manuscripts of the Lumen anime, only half can be classified according to one of three restructurings they represent, while the other half are all hybrids, adaptations to the needs and desires of the individual owner-producer. In contrast, although printed books are on occasion copied by hand or sections of them are copied out, the average printed-book library is comprised of whole books. Not until the advent of the Xerox machine were individuals again easily able to make up books in sections or produce tailor-made collections. It would be interesting to know what effect this had on patterns of reading.

"(3) Up to about 1450, the main vehicle par excellence for painting was the manuscript book: the monuments of medieval painting are in Gospel books, Psalters, Pontificals, Breviaries and Books of Hours. The advent of printing forces painting out of the book. It is a desperate wrench. Owners of incunabula have them filled with beautiful miniatures, printers hire illuminators to adorn books with initials and frontispieces, or to water-color woodcuts printed in Books of Hours, but it is a losing battle. By 1500-1520, the Book of Hours as the fifteenth century knew it is in the death throes of mannerism and sterility. With the exception of the producers of woodcuts—Holbein, Duerer, Pieter Breughel, all of whom also painted—not a single major artist  thereafter did his major work in the medium of the printed book. While panel painting as an art form clearly antedates the invention of printing, the transition to the printed page must have encouraged the growth of the new medium which was so important to Netherlandish art in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries" (Rouse & Rouse, "Backgrounds to Print: Aspects of the Manuscript Book in Northern Europe of the Fifteenth Century," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 465-66).

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The Earliest Printings of Plato in the Fifteenth Century 1472 – 1475

During the fifteenth century all printings of Plato were in Latin, beginning in 1472 with an edition of the Epistolae (Letters) issued in Paris by Ulrich Gering, Martin Crantz and Michael Friburger, who set up the first press in France at the University of Paris. This edition, of which ISTC No. ip00773000 records only four copies, is one of the rarest of incunabula. Next was the Apologia Socratis (Apology of Socrates) and Gorgias translated from the Greek by humanist Leonardo Bruni (Leonardus Brunus Aretinus) and printed in an undated edition in Bologna by an unknown printer called by bibliographers the "Printer of Barbatia, 'Johannina' (H 2429*)" and estimated to have been issued about 1475 (ISTC No. ip00775000). A few of the recorded copies consist of only one or the other of the two dialogues, suggesting that perhaps 15th century customers could purchase one or the other separately. 

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Scribe Filippo de Strata's Polemic Against Printing August 1473 – December 1474

Between August 1473 and December 1474, during the short time that Nicolò Marcello held the office of Doge, or chief magistrate, of Venice, Filippo de Strata, a monk and scribe in the Benedictine community of San Cipriano in Murano, addressed a polemic against printing to the Doge. Printing had only recently been introduced to the city of Venice, but evidently the scribal community already felt threatened by the new technology, and its lower costs, though its impact may not have been as dramatic as Filippo's polemic would imply. One senses considerable exaggeration in Filippo's protests, especially since the texts printed in Venice by this time were primarily editions of what we would call tame classical authors, except perhaps for Ovid. That printers undercut the prices of hand-written manuscripts was a very real issue, and perhaps the central motivation of Filippo's florid protest, more than his claim that printed books were sources of moral corruption. Needless to say, Filippo's objections to the new technology were, for all intents and purposes, ignored.

The text of Filippo's polemic is preserved in Venice's Biblioteca Marciana (Italian Manuscripts, Class I, 72 (5074) folios iv.-2r. It was translated from the Latin by Shelagh Grier and issued in 1986 by the Hayloft Press as a pamphlet with an introduction by Martin Lowry in an edition of 350 copies. Here is the translation. Throughout the translation scribes are called "writers."

"May you hold sway for ever, Marcellan house, now seated on the throne, exalted as you deserve. Doge Nicolo, you will prepare celestial realms for yourself, where you may disport yourself joyously.

"You have lived a holy life as a private citizen, keeping yourself to yourself; now you will live a just life as Doge, I am sure, living for the people also. You have helped many by distributing largesse within your means; now it will be fiting for you to assist larger numbers from your abundance. In the past you have prayed on your own for the peace of those dear to you; from now even the least of men should pray for you as Doge. With these frank verses, wending through no long preambles and circumlocutions, I respectfully present my small gift. Accept this little book which I am sending to a great man, with, I pray, a favourable disposition, with a gift or with a reward. You will read the holy writings of the saints, which I have recast in the verancular tongue, telling of the deeds of the Fathers.

" I know that you always hate printed books crammed with the foolishness of common folk, and that you follow sound precepts. The things I have described do not apply to you, but to the utterly uncouth types of people who have driven reputable writers from their homes. Among the latter this servant of yours has been driven out, bewailing the damage which results from the printers' cunning. They shamnelessly print, at a negligible price, material which may, alas, inflame impressionable youths, while a true writer dies of hunger. Cure (if you will) the plague which is doing away with the laws of all decency, and curb the printers. They persist in their sick vices, setting Tibullus in type, while a young girl reads Ovid to learn sinfulness. Through printing, tender boys and gentle girls, chaste without foul stain, take in whatever mars purity of mind or body; they encourage wantoness, and swallow up huge gain from it.

" O God! O piety! O holy venerable faith! What, my lords, are you doing? Your pledges come to nothing, as long as what is pleasant is more pleasing to you than what is honourable. They basely flood the market with anything suggestive of sexuality, and they print the stuff at such a low price that anyone and everyone procures it for himself in abundance. And so it happens that asses go to school. The printers guzzle wine and, swamped in excess, bray and scoff. The Italian writer lives like a beast in a stall. The superior art of authors who have never known any other work than producing well-written books in banished. This glory pertains to you, Doge: to lay low the printing-presses. I beg you to do this, lest the wicked should triumph.

"Writing indeed, which brings in gold for us, should be respected and held to be nobler than all goods, unless she has suffered degradation in the brothel of the printing presses. She is a maiden with a pen, a harlot in print.

"Should you not call her a harlot who makes us excessively amourous? Governed only by avaricious gain, will not that most base woman deserve the name of prostitute, who saps the strength of the young by fostering wantnoness? This is what the printing presses do: they corrupt susceptible hearts. Yet the (may we say) silly asses do not see this, and brutes rejoice in the fraudulent title of teachers, exalting themselves with a song like this (be so good as to listen):

"O good ciitzen, rejoice: your city is well stuffed with books. For a small sum men turn themselves into doctors in three years. Let thanks be rendered to the printers!

"Any uncultured person without Latin bawls these things. I propose a very different song:

"Never as the city had so small a number of books as at this time, or even of people wanting books. The printing-presses are giving us a city without cash and without a heart. If you are the kind of person who expects light to come to you out of darkness, then it will come to you from printed books.

"I do not wish to batter your ears, o most honoured Doge, with sad songs, drawn out with endless muttering. Discover, instead, how much distance there is between false and true from this book about the saints, which flowed from goose-quills, and which I have abridged with my own hands."

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Peter Schöffer Issues the "Codex Justinianus", Probably the First Printed Civil Law Book January 26, 1475

Section of a page from the Codex Justinianus.

Peter Schöffer

On January 26, 1475 printer Peter Schöffer of Mainz issued the first edition of the Codex Justinianus with the commentary of Franciscus Accursius. This is the first part of the Corpus Juris Civilis (Body of Civil Law) originally issued from Contantinople from 529 to 534 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

"Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis was lost in the West, where it was scarcely needed in the primitive conditions that followed the collapse of Odoacer's sub-Roman kingdom. Historians disagree on the precise way it was recovered in Northern Italy about 1070: perhaps it was waiting unneeded and unnoticed in a library until the legal studies that were undertaken on behalf of papal authority that was central to the Gregorian Reform of Pope Gregory VII led to its accidental rediscovery. Aside from the Littera Florentina, a 6th-century codex of the Pandects that was jealously preserved at Pisa, since 1406 at Florence, there may have been other manuscript sources for the text that began to be taught at Bologna, by Pepo and then by Irnerius, whose technique was to read a passage aloud, which permitted his students to copy it, then to deliver an excursus explaining and illuminating Justinian's text, in the form of glosses. Irmerius' pupils, the "Four Doctors" were among the first of the "Glossators" who established the curriculum of Roman law."

"The merchant classes of Italian communes required law with a concept of equity and which covered situations inherent in urban life better than the primitive Germanic oral traditions. The provenance of the Code appealed to scholars who saw in the Holy Roman Empire a revival of venerable precedents from the classical heritage. The new class of lawyers staffed the bureaucracies that were beginning to be required by the princes of Europe. The University of Bologna, where Justinian's Code was first taught, remained the dominant center for the study of law through the High Middle Ages."

 ISTC no. ij00574000. In February 2015 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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"Psalterium Graeco-latinum cum Canticis", the Earliest Printing of Any Book of the Bible in Greek 1481

In 1481 printer Bonus Accursius of Milan issued Psalterium Graeco-latinum cum Canticis. Edited by Johannes Crastonus, a Carmelite lexicographer, this liturgical psalter, publishing the Septuagint version of the Psalms with parallel Latin transation, was the earliest printing of any book of the Bible in Greek. Appended canticles, including the Benedictus and the Magnificat, represented the first texts of the New Testament printed in Greek.

"The type in this psalter is similar to the very first Greek type ever cut. That first type was designed by calligrapher Demetrios Damilas, a Cretan of Milan. it was perhaps modelled on the hand of Michael Apostolis [Apostolios] (b. ca. 1422) a prolific scribe whose script was notable for its lack of ligatures (unlike, for example, the Greek types that would become favored by Aldus Manutius), making it an easy and readable handwriting to render into type. The type appeared first in an edition of Constantine Lascaris' Epitome (Milan, 1476), the first book printed entirely in Greek, and soon thereafter in two works issued by Bonus Accursius: a dictionary by Crastonus and an undated edition of Aesop. In about 1480, Accursius' books featured a new type, presumably because the earlier types were unavailable. This new type is a variant of the older one, but remains an upright cursive, relatively free of ligatures. The letters are larger, and there are many new letterforms introduced in this second version. This psalter is the fifth and last book Accursius printed with this type" (John E. Mustain, Monuments of Printing: Gutenberg Through the Book Arts Revival [2013] p. 30).

In 2012 Cornelia Linde published "Johannes Crastonus's 1481 Edition of the Psalms," The Library, XIII,Issue 2 pp. 147-63. doi: 10.1093/library/13.2.147.  In this paper she argued that Crastonus issued this edition of the Psalms for facilitating the learning of Greek. "On the basis of Psalm 1 and some additional examples, it explores how he employed the layout and changed the Latin text in order to achieve his goal. Furthermore, this article argues that the combination of works produced by Crastonus and his publisher Bonus Accursius were designed to provide a complete corpus for self-instruction in Greek." 

ISTC No.: ip01035000

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Euclid's Elements, the Most Famous Textbook Ever Published May 25, 1482

Detail of page from Euclid's Elements.  Please click to view entire page.

On May 25, 1482 printer Erhard Ratdolt of Venice issued the first printed edition (editio princeps) of Euclid's ElementsPraeclarissimus liber elementorum Euclidis in artem geometriae. Ratdolt's text was based upon a translation from Arabic to Latin, presumably made by Abelard of Bath in the 12th century, edited and annotated by Giovanni Compano (Campanus of Novara)in the 13th century. The first printed edition of Euclid was the first substantial book to contain geometrical figures, of which it included over 400.

Ratdolt printed several copies with a dedicatory epistle in gold letters, including a dedication copy to the Doge of Venice. Of these, seven copies are preserved. To accomplish this technical feat:

"Ratdolt developed an innovative technique derived from the methods used by bookbinders to stamp gold on leather. This involved strewing a powdered bonding agent (either resin or dried albumen) on the page and probably heating the metal types so that the gold-leaf would stick to the paper. For his 1488 edition of the 'Chronica Hungarorum', Ratdolt employed a simpler method using golden printing ink. His technique of printing in golden letters was first copied in 1499 by the Venetian printer Zacharias Kallierges" (Wagner, Als die Lettern laufen lernten. Inkunabeln aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München [2009] no. 20).

In order to print the unusually large number of complex geometrical diagrams, usually containing type, in the margins Ratdolt used printer's "rules," i.e. thin strips of metal, type high, which he bent and cut and adjusted and set into a substance that would both hold them (and pieces of type) in place.

Renzo Baldasso, "La stampa dell'editio princeps degli Elementi di Euclide (Venezia, Erhard Ratdolt, 1482)", The Books of Venice/Il libro veneziano, ed. Lisa Pon and Craig Kallendorf (2009) 61-100.

There are two distinct states of the first edition. The second state has leaves a1-a9 set differently from the first state: the heading on a1v is in two lines rather than three and is set in the same type as the text rather than heading type; the three-sided woodcut border and woodcut initial P are added to a2r; the headline in red on a2r begins "Preclarissimus liber elementorum"; and headlines do not begin until a10r. "The two outer pages of sheet c1 also differ, having been evidently reprinted owing to errors in the text and the diagram. . . of the 12th proposition of the 4th book" (B.M.C. vol. 5, 285-286.). See Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science (1964) no. 27. for a detailed illustrated comparison of the two states. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 729.

Characterized as the most famous textbook ever published, Euclid's Elements was one of the most widely printed and studied texts for the next 500 years. It is also considered the most widely printed text after the Bible, with more than 1000 editions issued.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of one of the copies with the dedication printed in gold was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link

Based on the unusually large number of surviving copies, Ratdolt printed an edition considerably larger than the 300 copies considered average for a 15th century print run. You can view the long list of institutions which hold a copy at ISTC no. ie00113000.

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Printed on Vellum and Illuminated by Girolamo da Cremona, and Others February 1 – October 25, 1483

In the last three decades of the fifteenth century the exponential increase in the number of books being printed created an important and lucrative new market for miniaturists, since many printed books contained areas left blank for the addition of illuminated initials and rubrications. The quality of illumination or rubrication that might have been added to printed books depended, of course, on the taste and budget of their purchasers. In Italy where antique monuments were most often seen and appreciated during the Renaissance, patrons generally favored the concentration of decoration at the beginning of volumes. This preference culminated in what has been called the "architectural frontispiece", in which lines of text, title and author of the book, or combinations of these were incorporated by the miniaturist into an imaginary antique monument resembling a triumphal arch or an epitaph. In the sixteenth century, when printed title pages and printed frontispieces for printed books became the convention, architectural borders and architectural designs, either engraved in wood or on copperplates, became a widely-used format for frontispieces and engraved title pages.
Between February 1 and October 25, 1483 printers Andreas Torresanus, de Asula (Andrea Torresani di Asolo) and Bartholomaeus de Blavis, de Alexandria of Venice issued in eight parts an edition of the Opera (Collected Works) of Aristotle, together with the Liber quinque praedicabilium (also known as the Isagoge) of the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyri. It was edited by the Paduan scholar Nicoletus Vernia (Nicoleta Vernia) with commentary by the Moroccan Andalusian Muslim polymath, and master of Aristotelian philosophy Averroes, (ʾAbū l-Walīd Muḥammad bin ʾAḥmad bin Rušd, commonly known as Ibn Rushd). It was largely through the commentaries of Averroes that the writings of Aristotle were re-introduced to European culture after the Middle Ages. The printer, Torresani, who undertook this huge edition with partners, had acquired the fonts and punches of Nicolas Jenson, from whom he learned the printing trade.

A copy of this work printed on vellum, and preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum, contains a particularly spectacular tromp l'oeil frontispiece in volume one by Girolamo da Cremona and his assistants. Girolamo was a manuscript illuminator who worked first in the North Italian courts of Ferrara and Mantua, then in Siena and Florence. By the 1470s he worked in Venice, primarily illuminating frontispieces for deluxe copies of printed books. These miniatures are known for their playful and extravagant trompe-l'oeil conceits. In Girolamo's frontispiece for volume one the vellum of the page appears to have been torn away to reveal Aristotle conversing with a turbaned figure, possibly the commentator Averroes. A Latin inscription beneath the text on this opening page states "Ulmer Aristotilem Petrus produxeat orbi" (Petrus Ulmer brought this Aristotle to the world.)  Some scholars have identified Ulmer as Peter Ugelheimer, a Frankfurt merchant resident in Venice who owned some shares in Nicolas Jenson's printing shop, and sold Jenson's fonts to Torresani. Other magnificent vellum copies of books printed by Jenson and illustrated for Ugelheimer are preserved in Gotha.

"It is unsurprising that one of the most illusionistically complex images of the late fifteenth century, the frontispiece for an edition of Aristotle’s Works probably owned by Peter Ugelheimer and painted by Girolamo da Cremona, should accompany a written discussion of cognition.  Framing the beginning of the first chapter of Aristotle’s Physics, the miniaturist has constructed a remarkably multilayered image, incorporating the text block itself into an elaborate illusionistic game. Similar to Aristotle’s text, the image invokes several orders of observation interacting within a cohesive whole. On a primary level, the surface of the folio acts as an unframed two-dimensional support, explicitly emphasizing the terms of the illusion while challenging the notion, first codified by Leon Battista Alberti about half a century earlier, of the pictorial field as a finite, unified space within a framed window. Inside the three-dimensional world of the painted page, mounted clusters of jewels, pearls, and antique cameos hanging by red strings before the surface of the parchment, casting an ethereal blue shadow upon it. These objects are nearest to the viewer, their weight and precarious placement made apparent by the tears in the parchment they seem to have produced. Receding further back, the parchment itself constitutes a second visual layer. Girolamo’s skillful shading has given it the appearance of an extensively torn sheet of vellum that curls toward the viewer. Significantly, the physical corners of the page, too, are integrated into the illusion; the central text block does not simply float in three-dimensional space but is connected to the seemingly dog-eared edges of the page. This aspect further problematizes the convention of the pictureplane as an unruptured space and is perhaps the most original device employed by the illuminator. Visible through the lacerations in the vellum, an entirely separate scene takes place; in an antiquizing border-like space, the confines of which are hard to judge, playful satyrs and fawns jostle in front of what appears to be an ornately sculpted antique monument. Finally, in the upper area of the page yet another seemingly unconnected andspatially ambiguous event is depicted — Aristotle’s disputation with Averroës. 

"These pictorial layers, their distance relative to the viewer, and their progression from literal presence (the clusters of jewels) to imaginary presence (the temporally impossible encounter between Aristotle and Averroës) parallel themes present in the introductory chapter of the Physics. According to Aristotle’s text, the study of nature must proceed along a path that moves from ‘concrete and particular’ things immediately cognizable to more ‘abstract and general’ ideas that can be derived from analysis of the former. Likewise, the beholder of this particular frontispiece must move from the immediate sensory tactility of precious stones and metalwork, through the semantic understanding of the text itself, toward a visualization of the text’s argumentative content, in this case represented by a conversation between its author and chief commentator. The frontispiece thus provides a visually appealing, accessible, and conceptually apt ‘concrete whole,’ a prolegomenon for a dense and difficult Aristotelian text that proceeds by the very method the philosopher recommends. Although the variety of visual and epistemological themes that condense in this frontispiece is unprecedented, its imagery does not simply constitute a unique pictorial gloss of Aristotle’s text by means of a particularly erudite miniature painter. Girolamo, who at this point had already been active for three decades, was making use of a visual device that had been employed by other book illuminators numerous times before and in a variety of circumstances. Namely, he undertook to reconcile the visual role of the patently two-dimensional text block (which in practice was nearly always written or printed before any illustration occurred) with a lavishly painted, illusionistically convincing scene. Responding to the inquisitive nature of the text he was asked to illustrate, Girolamo pushed several of the solutions derived by his predecessors to the point of rupture, where the illusionism of the composition collapses in on itself and raises more questions about the nature of representation than it answers" (Herman, "Excavating the page: virtuosity and illusionism in Italian book illumination, 1460-1520", Word & Image, 27:2, 190-211, quoting from p. 190).

The frontispiece for volume two of the Morgan Library copy of the Torresani Aristotle was also illuminated by Girolamo da Cremona together with Antonio Maria da Villafora, and Benedetto Bardon. An excellent reproduction of this and the frontispiece for volume one appear in Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts (2005) 386-7. 

This splendid set was formerly in the library of Bertram Ashburnham, 4th Earl of Ashburnham, after which it was acquired by Henry Yates Thompson, who sold it in 1919 to J. P. "Jack" Morgan, Jr.

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue reference for this edition is ISTC No. ia0096200.  The only copies printed on vellum mentioned in the census published there seem to be those at the Morgan and at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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The First Edition of Plato's Opera, Printed by the First Press to Employ Women 1484 – 1485

Surprisingly, the collected works of Plato, the Opera, was not published in print until quite late in the 15th century, in an undated edition of the translation by humanist and Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino issued in Florence by Laurentius (Francisci) de Alopa, Venetus (Lorenzo di Franciescho da Vinegia, Lorenzo de Alopa) from 1484-86. (ISTC No. ip00771000.). In July 2014 a digital facsimile of this edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

The printing of the first edition was done in Florence at the press of the monastery of San Jacopo di Ripoli, the first press to employ women— in this case nuns from its convent who worked as compositors setting type. Remarkably the Diario of this press survived, recording its day-to-day operation and the production of 100 books from 1476 till the death of its founder Fra Domenico in 1484. This manuscript remains the earliest record from which the day-to-day operation of any fifteenth century press can be reconstructed. It was edited with an introduction by Melissa Conway and published as The Diario of the Printing Press of San Jacopo di Ripoli 1476-1484: Commentary and Transcription (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1999). "The Diario documents 37 different print runs that were produced either on commission or as independent commercial ventures, and provides a unique contemporary record of the printing shop’s paper supplies, presswork, expenses, and prices, as well as 294 entries for the consignment of more than 3,500 copies of books and broadsides with local stationers, booksellers, and illuminators" (Eric White, A Census of Print Runs for Fifteenth-Century Books [2012-13], accessed 07-07-2014).

From the Conway edition (p. 17 ff) we learn that on January 25, 1484 the San Jacopo di Ripoli monastery press signed a contract for 1025 copies of Plato's Opera. The edition was funded by Francesco Berlinghieri and Filippo Valori, and was to be printed by Fra Domenico and his chief worker Lorenzo. Printing began on February 8, and by the end of September parts two to five of the five part work were completed. During this period, probably sometime in August, Fra Domenico died, and the responsibility for the project passed to Lorenzo, who had worked his way up from apprentice to to full partnership in the press. Because Lorenzo issued the completed work under his name alone, and he went on to become an important printer of humanistic and Greek texts in Florence, the fundamental role of the monastic press of San Jacopo di Ripoli— the first press to employ women— in this project, is often forgotten.

The first collected edition of Plato's Dialogues was justifiably a bestseller. Copies were also probably very heavily used, as a high percentage of the roughly 100 extant copies are incomplete. On August 13, 1491 a second edition of Ficino's translation was issued in Venice by Bernardinus de Choris, de Cremona and Simon de Luere, for Andreas Torresanus, de Asula. According to the ISTC No. ip00772000, probably even more copies of this edition are preserved than the first edition, and notably fewer copies of the 1491 edition are incomplete. In July 2014 a digital facsimile of the 1491 edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

The editio princeps of Plato's works in Greek was published by Aldus Manutius of Venice in 1513.

(This entry was last revised on 07-07-2014.

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An Early Depiction of a Child Crumpling the Pages of a Book Circa 1485

The panel painting in tempera, oil and gold by the Florentine painter Filippino Lippi of the Madonna and Child preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is of interest for book history in its depiction of the infant Christ crumpling the pages of a book. Considering the whiteness of the paper, and the clarity of text depicted in the painting, it is possible that this is meant to represent a printed book, though it also could be a manuscript.  Whether the book was manuscript or printed, the image is an early depiction of the playful approaches to books taken by infants.

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The Nuremberg Chronicle June 12 – December 23, 1493

June 12, 1493 printer Anton Koberger of Nuremberg completed the printing and issued the Liber chronicarum written by physician Hartmann Schedel. A large-folio compendium of history, geography and natural wonders, the Liber chronicarum contained 298 printed leaves, including 1,809 illustrations from 645 woodcuts by or after painter and woodengraver Michael Wohlgemut (Wohlgemuth), his stepson Wilhelm Plydenwurff, and possibly some by Koberger's godson, the young Albrecht Dürer, who was apprenticed to Wohlgemut until 1490. Certain woodcuts were reproduced more than once, sometimes for the depiction of different people or cities. The images included a full-sheet map of Europe, a Ptolemaean world map, large and small city views, biblical and historical scenes, and portraits.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the Latin edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link

"From the outset, however, a German-language version had been planned. Translated by Georg Alt (c. 1450-1510), the city treasurer of Nuremberg, who assisted Schedel in compiling the Latin edition, the German edition was published on December 23, 1493. In addition to cosmetic differences (e.g., the Latin edition was printed using a typeface known as Antiqua Rotunda, while the German employed Bastarda Schwabacher), the German edition is very slightly abridged, with omissions that include certain abstruse thoughts as well as seeming repetitions. Occasionally, however, the German Chronicle includes minor but telling expansions on the Latin text. For example, in the Latin version one is told that a certain idea "can be found in Ovid" (folio IIr); the German version, however, informs its readers that this same idea "was elegantly expressed by Ovid, a poet." Such differences point to slightly different readerships: the Latin was aimed at the imperial, theological, and academic markets; the German at the upper middle class who did not possess a university education. Scholars estimate that approximately 1400-1500 Latin copies and 700-1000 German ones were printed. " (http://www.beloit.edu/nuremberg/inside/about/editions.htm, accessed 11-06-2012). 

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the German translation was available from the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Weimar, at this link.

Though the information in the Nuremberg Chronicle was rapidly superceded, it remained famous for its extraordinary graphic design, its printing, its woodcuts and descriptions of cities. One of the woodcuts depicted the paper mill established in Nuremberg by Ulman Stromer in 1390. Probably because it was such a large and impressive volume, the work was a great commercial success, with unusually large printings for a fifteenth century book:

"The Latin edition was printed in at least 1400 copies, of which more than 1200 still exist today" (Wagner, Als die Lettern laufen lernten. Medienwandel im 15. Jahrhundert [2009] no. 11 (describing the annotated copy of the author, Hartmann Schedel, which is preserved at the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek, Munich).

Most probably fewer copies of the German edition were printed, as it remains rarer on the market. Between roughly 1980 and 2009 there were 188 auction sales recorded for the Latin edition and 35 sales of the German edition, some sales presumably representing the same copies being resold.

In order to print and sell so many copies of an expensive book in the fifteenth century the printer Anton Koberger had to employ a geographically wide network of partners and sales agents.

"A revealing indication of the extent of Koberger's business is provided by a document of 1509, drawn up as a final settlement of the contract between partners involved in the production and sale of the Nuremberg Chronicle. This accounting reveals a network of outlets spread far and wide throughout Europe. We know that the Nuremberg Chronicle sold well, because there are at least 1,200 surviving copies logged in libraries today. But in 1509 there were still 600 copies unsold. For copies previously supplied debts were logged against the accounts of booksellers spread through the Germanic world: at Lübeck and Danzig, Passau and Vienna, Ingoldstadt, Augsburg and Munich. Linhard Tascher still had to settle for just over a hundred copies sent to him at Posen and Breslau (presumably for sale in Silesia); eighty-three Latin and twenty-eight German. A separate consignment of mostly Latin copies had been dispatched to Cracow. The Koberger agency in Lyon had to account for forty-one copies, and several hundred had been dispatched to agents in Italy, at Bologna, Florence and Genoa. Peter Vischer, the agent at Milan, had received the largest consignment for distribution in the peninsula, of which almost 200 remained unsold. The Venice agent, Anthoni Kolb, had just thirty-four left. Bearing in mind that these represent the unsold residue of what had been a very large edition, the geographical reach of Koberger's enterprise was every bit as impressive as the Venetian network of the previous decades. The bold confidence with which Koberger had taken on the Italian market was especially striking, even if transalpine demand for this masterpiece of German typography had ultimately not matched expectations" (Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance [2010] 77-78).

Remarkably, the original manuscript exemplars showing the exact arrangement of the text and illustrations for both the Latin and German editions, as well has other original documents pertaining to the publication of these works, were preserved. The exemplar for the Latin edition is in the Stadbibliothek Nürnberg. The exemplar for the German edition is in the Nuremberg City Library. Adrian Wilson, a book designer and historian of book design from San Francisco, issued an outstanding book in which he showed the relationship between these manuscript exemplars and the printed editions: The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1976).

Perhaps in 1941 an English translation of the Nuremberg Chronicle was prepared by Walter W. Schmauch of Chicago. This existed as a typescript for many years, preserved in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  The title page of the translation, of which I obtained a complete xerographic copy decades ago, reads: First English Edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Being the Liber Chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel, A. D. 1493. Translated from the First German Edition by Walter W. Schmauch of Chicago with Text Annotations and Woodcut Elucidations in Six Volumes.  The translation extends to at least 2000 pages of typescript. In 2003 Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin collaborated on publishing Schmauch's entire translation online; in November 2014 it was available at this link.

ISTC no. is00307000 (Latin). ISTC no. is00309000 (German). Both of these entries provide censuses of the many institutions which hold copies of the respective editions.

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The Aldine Aristotle, One of the Most Significant Publishing Ventures of the Fifteenth Century 1495 – 1498

Between November 1495 and June 1498 scholar printer Aldus Manutius (Teobaldo Mannucci) of Venice issued the first edition in the original Greek of Aristotle's Opera omnia. The set appeared in five thick quarto or small folio volumes, often bound in six. Assembling all of the texts was a major challenge for Aldus and his associates, requiring the help of scholars in different countries, and yet during the publication process Greek texts of both the Poetics and On Rhetoric, remained elusive. The editio princeps of Aristotle appeared at the close of a century that had witnessed a strong revival in Greek and humanistic studies; it was the first major Greek prose text, or collection of texts, to be reintroduced to the Western world in its original language by means of the printing press, and its success launched Aldus's efforts to produce further editiones principes of other Greek authors. In addition to the Aristotelian works, the five volumes contained works by Aristotle's successor Theophrastus, the commentator on Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias, the neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyrius, and Philo of Alexandria (Philo Judaeus) along with the spurious De historia philosophia attributed to Galen.

" 'The Aldine Aristotle' remains, in terms of the labour involved and the magnificence of the result, the greatest publishing venture of the fifteenth century. The centrality of Aristotle in intellectual life of the time can hardly be overstressed. In Latin dress he lay at the heart of any university course in philosophy, as dominant at the end of the Quattrocento as in the preceding three hundred years. The humanist return ad fontes, to the original unobscured by imprecise translation and the encrustations of scholastic commentary, was the indispenable background to the edition. . . .

"Certain important Aristotelian works were as yet unfindable, notably the Rhetoric and the Poetics—Aldus was later to print the first Greek editions of both. The second volume is largely taken up with the works of Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle in the Athenian Lyceum. . . . (Davies, Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice (1999) 20-22).

ISTC No.: ia00959000. In March 2014 digital facsimiles of all five volumes were available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Volume 1 was available at this link.

Dibner, Heralds of Science, no. 73.  Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 38. Renouard, Aldus Manutius, pp. 7-9. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 70. 

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The Aldine Theocritus: Scholarly Compromises in Running a Publishing House February 1495 – 1496

Between February 1495 and 1496 Aldus Manutius issued the Idyllia of Theocritus in Greek along with other works in Greek and Latin, including the writings of Hesiod. (ISTC no. it00144000).

"We must not ask of Aldine editions what they cannot give, a balanced critical recension which even in our own day has hardly been achieved for many Greek authors. The aims of textual purity and correctness were often trumpeted in early editions, long before Aldus, indeed, but with special emphasis in his prefaces. But these aims, no doubt genuinely held, all too frequently succumbed to the messy pressures of the printing house, as the number of errata pages attached to his editions attest. Something is better than nothing, Aldus says in the preface to Theocritus in 1496, and a text once printed can at least find many correctors where a manuscript can only receive occasional emendation. This of course is true in the long run, but sidesteps the whole problem of corrupt texts being fixed in hundreds of copies by the printing press" (Davies, Aldus Manutius, Printer and Publisher of Renaissance Venice [1999] 23).

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1500 – 1550

The Transition from Latin to the Vernacular in the 16th Century Circa 1500 – 1600

"The well defined traditional groups of readers knew Latin, and many read it with ease and better than their own mother tongue. Books in the vernacular languages were for 'every man, as well rude as learned,' and the student of literacy and literary taste must be as much concerned with the 'rude' as with the learned. Latin, the language of the educated, was the international language throughout the Middle Ages; this fact is reflected by the book production. Slightly more than three-fourths of surviving incunables are in Latin, the rest in different verancular languages. Throughout the XVIth century the percentage of books in the verancular increased, caused in part by the mounting concern of authors, printers and publishers with the 'rude' (men, women and children who were able or willing to read books in their own tongue, but not in Latin). It is also true that the importance of Latin as the language of communication among the learned declined, in spite of the revival of learning and increased concern with the classics and their style. Already during the first half of the XVIth century books in Latin and those in the vernacular languages were much more evenly distributed, and by the end of the XVIth century the latter accounted probably for more than half of the total production. Latin had lost its international character except among the clergy (of the Catholic Church), a coterie of Neo-Latin writers, and limited groups of scholars and professionals. National languages had won the battle. The favorable reception of books in the mother tongue was only one of several causes. Political and religious ferment of this period involved an ever increasing number of persons. In order to reach the largest possible number, the leaders and the propagandists turned more and more to the vernacular. A third factor was the changing attitude of the educated towards their own native language" (Hirsch, Printing, Selling, Reading 1450-1550 [1967] 132). 

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The Growth of Literacy from 1100 to 1500 Circa 1500

"it was a commonplace of medieval schoolroom practice that legere (meaning 'reading' in the sense of proncouncing the text correctly) preceded intellegere (meaning 'understanding' the text through grammar and vocabulary). Children might learn 'reading' at home from their parents using a primer, but they could only achieve 'understanding' in a grammar school– and these schools were restricted to boys. Because women got no schooling in grammar (which meant Latin), they missed out on learning to write as well, since writing was taught by copying out the alphabet and Latin vocabulary. Even though signatures (instead of seals) were increasingly being required from women as men to authenticate legal documents, the numbers of women who could write in 1500 may have been as low as 1 percent of the population.

"Inability to write contrasts with the large numbers who might have been able to read, at least in the restricted medieval sense of legere. Derek Brewer estimates that in England 'probably more than half the population could read, though not necessarily also write, by 1500.' . . . This estimate depends on the number who might have been instructed–in the home rather than at school–in the basics of the reading primer. Certainly by 1500, and probably as early as 1200, writing had become familiar to the whole medieval population: as noted above, 'everyone knew someone who could read.". . . Book-learning had been integrated into the life of the male clerical elite of monks and priests by the beginning of our period in 1100. The achievement of the years 1100 to 1500 was to extend the book-learning from monasteries and churches into the domestic sphere of the family. The reading primer, which reinforced the link between religion and learning as strongly as the clergy did, had the potential to make everyone a literate and a book-owner. Shortly after 1500, booksellers' catalogues were selling primers, described as 'abcs's', for a penny each. These were printed booklets, but their form was the same as it had been for centuries" (Clanchy, "Parchment and Paper: Manuscript Culture 1100-1500," Eliot & Rose (eds) A Companion to the History of the Book [2007] 205).

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Aldus's "Rules of the Modern Academy" Known From a Single Surviving Copy Circa 1500

About 1500 Humanist printer Aldus Manutius described on a single printed sheet preserved in the Vatican Library (Stamp. Barb. AAAIV 13) the Rules of the Modern Academy, indicating that his publishing house was also a center of learning:

“He calls for those concerned with preparing and correcting editions of the Greek classics in his shop in Venice (many of whom were émigrés from Greece or Crete) to speak only classical Greek. Those who fail to do so must pay fines, and when these have sufficiently accumulated, they are to be used to pay for a ’symposium’—a lavish common meal (the rule states that it must be better than the food given printers, which was legendarily meager.) The Renaissance idea of the publishing house as a center of learning emerges vividly” (Anthony Grafton, "The Vatican and its Library," Grafton (ed.) Rome Reborn [1993] 15, plate 11).

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Pope Alexander VI Confirms & Expands Censorship 1501

 Pope Alexander VI issued a bull granting cesorial powers over book printing to Archbishops and local authorities serving under them. (View Larger)

In 1501 highly controversial Pope Alexander VI (Roderic Llançol, later Roderic de Borja i Borja, Italian: Rodrigo Borgia) published his bull, Inter Multiplices. In this bull Alexander confirmed that an ecclesiastical imprimatur was necessary before print publication would be allowed. Archbishops, especially those of Cologne, Magdeburg, Trier, and Mainz were to prohibit, under pain of excommunication (latae sententiae), the printing of books in their provinces without their imprimatur, which was to be granted gratis. Secondly, the censorial powers of the Archbishops could be delegated to local authorities. Thirdly, the scope of the censorship was confined to questions of what is orthodoxae fidei contrarium; questions of public or private morality were apparently not included. The jurisdiction extended over corporations, universities and colleges. If necessary the civil powers could be invoked, and in order to motivate the local authorities, they were to receive half of the monetary penalties collected.  

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Marcellus Silber Issues the First Book Printed in the Ancient Ethiopian Language of Ge'ez and the First Book Printed in Rome in Oriental Type 1513

The first book printed in the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge'ez, and the first book printed in an Oriental type face in Rome, was issued by printer Marcellus Silber in 1513. Entitled the Psalterium David et cantica aliqua in lingua Chaldea, this book was the result of a remarkable collaboration between the Ethiopian Christian community in Rome and Johannes Potken, a German churchman, papal notary, and scholar/printer who became fascinated with Ethiopian liturgy, language and culture. The book, which was printed in red and black, and began with a striking woodcut portrait of David printed in red, contained the Psalter, certain Biblical hymns and prayers, and the Song of Solomon.

Potken commissioned the Ethiopian typeface and published the volume. He based his text on Vat. etiop. 20, a manuscript Ge’ez Psalter in the Vatican Library, as well as other Ge'ez Psalters in the Vatican. "Oddly, despite his long study of the Ge’ez language and evident erudition, Potken made the fundamental mistake of believing that Ge’ez was a version of the Aramaic or Chaldean language, and he never swerved from this belief, referring consistently to the language of the Psalter as Chaldean." When he left Rome in 1515-16 Potken took his Ethiopian type font with him, and in 1518 in Cologne he published, with the help of a relative, Johannes Soter, a Psalter with parallel texts in Hebrew, Greek, Ge'ez, and Latin entitled Psalterium in quatuor linguis hebrea graeca chaldea latina.

In December 2014 a digital facsimile of Psalterium David et cantica aliqua in lingua Chaldea was available from Kings College London at this link.

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Painter Quentin Matsys Uses a Book of Hours as a Prop for Satire 1514

A panel painting in oil from 1514 by the Flemish painter Quentin Matsys of Antwerp, entitled The Moneylender and his Wife contains satirical undertones. It depicts the moneylender handling his scale and numerous gold coins. His wife, sitting at his left, is handling a beautiful illuminated manuscript, probably a book of hours. Her eyes are on the coins rather than on the book. The luxurious book is clearly a symbol of her prosperity, and presumed literacy, but her fixation on the gold coins suggests that she may be more interested in money than in piety.

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Cuthbert Tunstall Issues the First Book Published in England Devoted Exclusively to Mathematics October 14, 1522

English Scholastic, church leader, diplomat, administrator and royal adviser, then Bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall (Tonstall, Tonstal) published De arte supputandi libri quattuor in London at the press of Richard Pynson. Based on the Summa de arithmetica of Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli, this was the first printed work published in England that was devoted exclusively to mathematics. Its woodcut title was engraved by Hans Holbein the Younger.

"In the dedicatory epistle Tonstall states that in his dealing with certain goldsmiths he suspected that their accounts were incorrect, and he therefore renewed his study of arithmetic so as to check their figures. On his appointment to the See of London he bade farewell to the sciences by printing this book in order that others might have the benefit of work which he had prepared for his own use. The treatise is in Latin, and, although it was written for the purpose of supplying a practical handbook, is very prolix and was not suited to the needs of the mercantile class. It is confessedly based upon Italian models, and it is apparent that Tonstall must have known, from his reidence in Padua and his various visits to Italy, the works of the leading Italian writers. The book includes many business applications of the day, such as partnership, profit and loss, and exchange. It also includes the rule of false, the rule of three, and numerous applications of these and other rules. It is, however, the work of a scholar and a classicist rather than a business man.

"The word 'supputandi,' in the title, was not uncommon at that time. Indeed there was some tendency to use the 'supputation' for arithmetic and to speak of calculations as 'supputations.'

"Tonstall dedicates the work to his friend Sir Thomas More, whose talented daughter Erasmus addressed as 'Margareta Ropera Britanniae tuae decus,' —ornament of thine England. More speaks of Tonstall in the opening lines of his Utopia: 'I was colleague and companion to that incomparable man Cuthbert Tonstal, whom the king with such universal applause latelly made Master of the Rolls; but of whom I will say nothing; not because I fear that the testimony of a friend will be suspected, but rather because his learning and virtues are too great forme to do them justice, and so well known, that they need not by commendation unless I would, according to the prover, 'Show the sun with a lanthorn.' . . . ." (Smith, Rara Arithmetica I [1908] 132-34).

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Johannes Herwagen Issues the First Printed Edition of the Greek Text of Euclid September 1533

In September 1533 Printer Johannes Herwagen (Hervagius) of Basel published Eukleidou Stoicheion biblon . . . , the first printed edition of the Greek text of Euclid's Elements. Herwagen's edition was an international project. The Greek text was edited by the German theologian and philologist Simon Grynaeus (Grynäus), using the first Latin translation made directly from the Greek by Bartolomeo Zamberti published in print in 1505, and two Greek manuscripts supplied by Lazarus Bayfius and Joannes Ruellius  (Jean Ruel). To this volume Grynaeus appended the first publication of the four books of Proclus's Commentary on the first book of Euclid's Elements, taken from a manuscript provided by John Claymond, the first President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. In a long introduction Grynaeus dedicated his translation to Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, England, and author of the first arithmetic book printed in English (London, 1522).

In the history of the very numerous editions of Euclid, the most widely-used of all textbooks for 500 years, Herwagen's edition stands out in the history of graphic design as the first edition to print the geometrical diagrams within the text.

The commentary on Euclid's first book of the Elements by the fifth century Greek neoplatonist philosopher Proclus is one of the most valuable sources for the history of Greek mathematics, and is considered the earliest contribution to the philosophy of mathematics.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 730.

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Bronzino Paints a Portrait of an Elegant Young Man Mishandling a Book Circa 1535

Portrait of a Young Man by Bronzino, preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is considered one of the artist's "most arresting" paintings. It is also notable for the sitter's mishandling a book by wedging his finger in the volume while holding it tightly closed. Of course, this simply adds realism to the portrait. 

"The sitter is not known, but he must have belonged to Bronzino's close circle of literary friends, which included the historian Benedetto Varchi and the poet Laura Battiferri, both of whom sat for the artist. Bronzino himself composed verses in the style of Petrarch, and some of the fanciful and witty conceits in this picture—the grotesque heads on the table and chair and the masklike face formed by the youth's breeches—would have been much appreciated in literary circles. The book is doubtless a collection of poems" (http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/110000235?img=0, accessed 10-25-2011).

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Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza Establishes the First European School of Higher Learning in the Americas January 6, 1536

On January 6, 1536 the Real Colegio de Santa Cruz, the first European school of higher learning in the Americas, was founded in Tlatelolco, Mexico. The school was built by the Franciscan order on the initiative of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and Bishop Juan de Zumárraga on the site of an Aztec school for the children of nobles (in Nahuatl: Calmecac). The school also included the first academic library in the Americas.

"The original purpose of the colegio was to educate an indigenous priesthood, and so pupils were selected from the most prestigious families of the Aztec ruling class. They were taught in Nahuatl, Spanish and Latin and also learned the basics of Greek as well as crafts such as illumination, bookbinding and European art. Among the teachers were notable scholars and grammarians such as Andrés de OlmosAlonso de Molina and Bernardino de Sahagún, all of whom made important contributions to the study of both the Classical Nahuatl language and the ethnography and anthropology of Mesoamerica. Also Fray Juan de Torquemada served as a teacher and administrator at the Colegio. When recollecting historical and ethnographical information for the elaboration of the Florentine Codex, Sahagún used his trilingual students to elicit information from the Aztec elders and to transcribe it in Spanish and Nahuatl and to illuminate the manuscripts. The Nahua botanist Martín de la Cruz who wrote the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis was also educated at the Colegio" (Wikipedia article on Colegio de Sata Cruz de Tlatelolco, accessed 10-18-2013).

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Henry VIII Restricts the Reading of the Bible May 12, 1543

Under Henry VIII the Parliament of England passed (34 & 35 Henry VIII, c. 1) The Act for the Advancement of True Religion, which restricted the reading of the Bible to clerics, noblemen, the gentry and richer merchants. Women of the gentry and nobility were only allowed to read the Bible in private. 

The Act  forbid the reading of the Bible in English by "women, artificers, apprentices, journeymen, serving-men of the rank of yeoman and under, husbandmen and laborers".

"The Act allowed moral plays to be performed if they promoted virtue and condemned vice but such plays were forbidden to contradict the interpretation of Scripture as set forth by the King.

"The Act claims that 'malicious minds have, intending to subvert the true exposition of Scripture, have taken upon them, by printed ballads, rhymes, etc., subtilly and craftily to instruct His Highness' people, and specially the youth of this his realm, untruly. For reformation whereof, His Majesty considereth it most requisite to purge his realm of all such books, ballads, rhymes, and songs, as be pestiferous and noisome'. However, the Act also commanded that 'all books printed before the year 1540, entituled Statutes, Chronicles, Canterbury Tales, Chaucer's books, Gower's books, and stories of men's lives, shall not be comprehended in the prohibition of this Act' (Wikipedia article on Act for the Advancement of True Religion, accessed 12-27-2009).

That there was need for such an act indicates that reading was relatively widespread in England at the time.

Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading 1450-1550 (1967) 94.

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1550 – 1600

The "Wide" Distribution of "Popular" Broadsides and Pamphlets by the Mid-16th Century Circa 1550

One of the ironies of book collecting experience is that sometimes the most widely distributed ephemeral material is the most difficult to collect today This is certainly true of early broadsides and song sheets, which rarely appear on the market. Yet according to the scholarship quoted below, these were the most widely printed and distributed of early printed material. The first quote discusses the cost of early printed material and the limits on its affordability by the relatively small percentages of society that were literate. The second quote argues that popular short works such as broadsides and small pamphlets were remarkably widely distributed.

"What does 'popular' mean? Print was a luxury commodity. Print was not produced by the people; for the most part it was produced by particular interest groups with the people. Even if the compositors and press-operators, the hawkers and street-pedlars who sold small books, and a handful of authors from humble backgrounds—even if these participants in the production of cheap print can be said to come from the people, printing was a capital-intensive business, and few early modern books can be said in this sense to represent a popular voice.

"Print was expensive. A pamphlet or an early newsbook or a chapbook would cost a penny or two. A labourer might earn as much as a shilling for a day's work in the seventeenth century, but the century saw periods of wage stagnation, economic pressures, and rising food prices. Few could realsitcally have afford such an outlay on anything like a regular basis.... Moreover, the most effective form of social exclusion or censorship is mass illiteracy. Around 1500 perhaps about 90 percent of men and 98 per cent of women were illiterate; by 1600 this had fallen to about 70 per cent of men and 90 per cent of women, and by 1700 about 50 percent of men and 70 per cent of women were illiterate. The numbers were proably higher in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. These are maximum figures, however, and it is likely that forms of rudimentary reading literacy were signifcantly higher. And, of course, there were other ways of accesing the contents of books that did not involve buying or reading them, including religious and political communities where texts were read aloud" (Joad Raymond, Editor, The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture. Volume 1, Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660 [2011] 4).


"Strong arguments have been made for both sermons and playbooks as the most popular printed texts in early modern Britain. Yet while sermons and plays were firmly rooted in oral cultural and both were clearly printed and consumed in large numbers, the kinds of printed texts most immediately identified with both orality and popularity...were also those that were the mostly cheaply printed: ballads (single-sheet songs in verse set to music), broadsheets or broadsides (single-sheet texts), pamphlets (small texts usually printed in quarto), and chapbooks (slightly longer longer texts, usually printed in quarto or octavo). Scholars estimate that there were 600,000 to several million ballads circulating in the second half of the sixteenth-century, and while the term pamphlet embraced a wide range of texts—social, political, ecclesiastical, and topical in nature—the format was uniformly affordable (the price for unbound books in 1600 was around a halfpenny a sheet, and small pamphlet or chapbook was within reach of a day labourer.

"According to Margaret Spufford, the publisher Charles Tyus, who had no monopoly on the trade, had 90,000 octavo and quarto chapbooks in 1664, one for every fifteen families. In addition to being cheap, these formats were used for both the circulation of oft-told tales and the introduction of new and topical ones, widely disseminated in London and the other publishing centres, and by itinerant pedlars, throughout Britain; and frequently discussed (and often excoriated) by early modern men and women precisely because of their popularity" (Julie Crawford, "Oral Culture and Popular Print" IN The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture. Volume 1, Cheap Print in britain and Ireland to 1660, Edited by Joad Raymond [2011] 114-115).

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Brother Juan Diaz Publishes the First Treatise on Mathematics Published in the Western Hemisphere and the First Textbook on Any Subject Besides Religion Printed Outside of Europe 1556

Engraved portrait of Hernan Cortes by W. Holl and published by Charles Knight.

A page from the Sumario Compendioso.

In 1556 Brother Juan Diez, a companion of Hernando Cortès (Hernán) in the conquest of New Spain, published the Sumario Compendioso in Mexico City at the press of Juan Pablos. The Sumario Compendioso was the earliest treatise on mathematics published in the western hemisphere, and also the first textbook on any non-religious subject to be printed outside of Europe.

In his introduction to The Sumario Compendioso of Brother Juan Diez, the Earliest Mathematical Work of the New World (1921), a facsimile and translation, David Eugene Smith wrote of the existence of possibly four copies including one (incomplete) in the Biblioteca Nacional at Madrid, which he used for his edition, and a copy in the British Library.

"Not again in the sixteenth century did the Mexican printers publish any work on mathematics, except for a brief Instrucción Nautica which appeared in 1587. The press was generally true to its early purpose to issue only books relating to the conversion of the native inhabitants to the way of the cross" (Smith, introduction cited above, 6).

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Robert Granjon Issues the First Book Printed in Civilité Types 1557

In 1557 typographer Robert Granjon published Dialogue de la vie et de la mort by Innocenzo Ringhieri, translated by Jean Louveau, in Lyon, France.  This was the first book set in a new script type cut by Granjon to which he gave the name Lettre françoise.  The type, based upon French cursive gothic letters of the 16th century, became known as civilité from the titles of early books in which it was used: La civilité puerile by Erasmus, published by Jean Bellère in Antwerp, 1559, and various adaptations.

The type seems to have been applied to books on civilité (manners) for the education of children since it was believed that children should learn to read from a book printed in type that resembled current handwriting.

Between 1557 and 1562 Granjon printed twenty books in what came to be known as civilité type, and other printers had typefaces cut that were similar. The type continued to be used, primarily for these purposes, to the mid-19th century.  Using the type was problematic because many ligatures were required and some letters had more than one variant.

Clair, A Chronology of Printing (1969) 55. Carter & Vervliet, Civilité Types (1966).

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Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, Founds the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 1558

A portrait of Albreccht V, Duke of Bavaria by Hans Mielich, 16th century.

A painting of Orlando di Lasso directing a chamber ensemble by Hans Mielich, 16th century.

In 1558 Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria acquired the library of the humanist, orientalist, philologist, and theologian, Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter. This was the origin of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München.

"Albert was a patron of the arts and a collector whose personal accumulations are the basis of the Wittelsbach antique collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, the coin collection and the Wittelsbach treasury in the Munich Residenz; some of his Egyptian antiquities remain in the collection of Egyptian art. His personal library has come to the Bavarian State Library in Munich, inheritor of the Wittelsbach court library.

"Like an American millionaire of the Gilded Age, he bought whole collections in Rome and Venice; in Venice, after tiresome drawn-out negotiations with the aged Andrea Loredan, he purchased the Loredan collection virtually in its entirety: 120 bronzes, 2480 medals and coins, 91 marble heads, 43 marble statues, 33 reliefs and 14 various curiosities, for the sum of 7000 ducats; 'they were all exported from Venice secretly at night in large chests'. At the same time, squabbles among the heirs of Gabriele Vendramin thwarted him in his attempt to purchase the single most important collection in Venice and paintings and antiquities, drawings by the masters and ancient coins. To house his antiquities he commissioned the Antiquarium in the Munich Residenz, the largest Renaissance hall north of the Alps.

"He appointed Orlando di Lasso to a court post and patronized many other artists; this led to a huge burden of debts (½ Mio. Fl.)" (Wikipedia article on Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, accessed 01-03-2010).

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Christophe Plantin Publishes the Earliest Description of the Printing Process 1567

In 1567 Belgian printer Christophe Plantin (Christoffel Plantijn) issued from Antwerp La première, et la seconde partie des dialogues françois, pour les jeunes enfans, with texts in French and Flemish on facing pages. The technical nature of the writing of this work suggests that it was intended to be read by parents, who might pass the information onto their children, rather than necessarily intended to be read by children, themselves. Though 1500 copies were printed, the work is exceptionally rare.

Dialogue IX (pp. 218-255) concerns writing and printing. It is thought that the physician and dramatist Jacques Grevin was the general editor of the Dialogues, but that Plantin, who signed the Preface, was the author, or at least the editor, of the section on writing and printing.

"The chief interest, hwoever, of the Dialogue lies in the later section, which is introducted with a reference to 'the marvellous art of printing.' Here follows an elementary account of typefounding, including a detailed description of the mould and a list of the names of the several sizes of type cast. The compositing furniture, the frames, the form and the chase are all specifically mentioned. The most important portion of the whole is doubtless the section which describes the press. It is a careful description, which, while not comparable with Moxon from the point of view of detail, is very precious as giving us a clear picture of the press nearly one hundred and twenty years earlier than that of the 'Mechanick Exercises' " (Stanley Morison, Forward to Calligraphy & Printing in the sixteenth century.  Dialogue attribributed to Christopher Plantin in French and Flemish facsimile. Edited with English translation and notes by Ray Nash [1964] 13-14).

Nash's edition was first published in an edition of 250 copies in 1940. The slightly revised version in my library is one of 500 copies issued in 1964. The translation is given on rectos with a running commentary and illustrations on versos, followed by a facsimile of the original printing. Barber, French Letterpress Printing (1969) 1.

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Lord Mayor of London Henry Billingsley Issues One of the Earliest Pop-Up Books 1570

In 1570 English merchant, and later Lord Mayor of London Henry Billingsley issued in London The Elements of Geometrie of the Most Ancient Philosopher Euclide of MegaraBillingsley's work was the first English translation of Euclid. The title confused Euclid of Alexandria with the Greek Socratic philosopher, Euclid of Megara; the two were frequently confused during the Renaissance. Billingsley's translation included a lengthy preface by the mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee, which surveyed all the branches of pure and applied mathematics of the time. Dee also provided copious notes and other supplementary material.

Billingsley's translation, renowned for its clarity and accuracy, was made from the Greek rather than from the well-known Latin translation by Adelard of Bath and Campanus of Novara.  In the nineteenth century victorian mathematician, bibliographer and historian of mathematics Augustus De Morgan suggested that the translation was solely the work of Dee, but in his correspondence Dee stated specifically that only the introduction and the supplementary material were his. Proof that Billingsley made the translation himself is available in Billingsley's copy of the 1533 Greek editio princeps of Euclid, preserved at Princeton University Library.  Billingsley's copy is bound with the 1558 Basel edition printed by Hervagius, which reprints the Adelard-Companus Latin translation from the Arabic first printed in 1482 and the Zamberti Latin translation from the Greek first printed in 1505. 

"On the title-page is the autograph signature 'Henricus Billingsley,' in a most beautiful antique hand. Throughout the volume are very numerous corrections, additions and marginal notes, all in Billingsley's peculiar and beautiful writing. I dare hazard that no Lord Mayor, since his time, has ever written so charming a hand. By reading what he has done, it immediately appears that though he had the Adelard-Campanus Latin before him, yet he gave his special work to a careful comparison of Zamberti's Translation with the original Greek, and the corrections he has actually made sufficiently prove his scholarship and render entirely unnecessary De Morgan's suppositious aid from Dr. Dee, while, on the other hand, they establish the conclusion about the translation to which De Morgan's sagacity had led him, that 'It was certainly made from the Greek, and not from any of the Arabico-Latin versions' (Halsted, "Note on the First English Euclid," American Journal of Mathematics II [1879] 46-48).

♦ A special feature of Billingsley's English translation of Euclid are pasted flaps of paper that can be folded up to produce three dimensional models of the propositions in Book XI, making it one of the oldest "pop-up" books.

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Agostini Ramelli Describes a Renaissance Information Retrieval Device and Other Machines 1588

In Le diverse et artificose machine, elegantly published from his home in Paris in 1588, Agostino Ramelli described and illustrated, among numerous remarkable inventions, a revolving book wheel. Ramelli's book wheel was one of the earliest "information retrieval" devices. He wrote:

"This is a beautiful and ingenious machine, very useful and convenient for anyone who takes pleasure in study, especially those who are indisposed and tormented by gout. For with this machine a man can see and turn through a large number of books without moving from one spot. Moveover, it has another fine convenience in that it occupies very little space in the place where it is set, as anyone of intelligence can clearly see from the drawing.

"This wheel is made in the manner shown, that is, it is contructed so that when the books are laid on its lecturns they never fall or move from the place where they are laid even as the wheel is turned and revolved all the way around. Indeed, they will always remain in the same position and will be displayed to the reader in the same way as they were laid on their small lecturns, without any need to tie or hold them with anything. This wheel may be made as large or small as desired, provided the master craftsman who constructs it observes the proportions of each part of its components. He can do this very easily if he studies carefully all the parts of these small wheels of ours and the other devices in this machine. These parts are made in sizes proportionate to each other. To give fuller understanding and comprehension to anyone who wishes to make and operate this machine, I have shown here separately and uncovered all the devices needed for it, so that anyone may understand them better and make use of them for his needs." (Ramelli, The Various Ingenious Machines of Agostino Ramelli. A classic Sixteenth-Century Illustrated Treatise on Technology. Translated from the Italian and French with a biographical study of the author by Martha Teach Gnudi. Techical annotations and a pictorial glossary by Eugene S. Ferguson [1987] 508-9)

Historian Anthony Grafton, whom many would call a Renaissance man, had one of Ramelli's book wheels constructed, and uses it in his office. In December 2010 you could view an image of Grafton with the book wheel at the Princeton website at this link.

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1600 – 1650

Erasable Paper from 1609 1609

The Companie of Stationers in London published Robert Triplet's Writing Tables with a Kalendar for XXXIII Yeeres.

In May 2011 it was my pleasure to see the unique recorded copy of this ephemeral publication at an exhibit on diaries at the Morgan Library & Museum. Their exhibition note card read as follows:

"This rare copy of a renaissance portable calendar—a precursor to the pocket diary—includes blank pages that were specially treated with a coating of gesso and glue. Notes could be made on the go with a simple silverpoint stylus (no clunky pen and ink required!) and later wiped away. On the printed page shown, instructions are provided for erasing and rewriting: 'Take a little peece of spunge on a Linnecloath, being cleane without any soyle: wet it in water' and 'wipe that you have written very lightly and it will out, and within one quarter of a hower you may write in the same place againe.' "

ESTC System No. 006200615; ESTC Citation No. S95932. STC (2nd ed) 26050.8.  

ESTC System No. 006200616 cites a unique recorded copy of one presumably earlier, but undated edition of this, at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for which the estimated date is 1602.

Curiously, when I wrote this note in May 2011 the ESTC missed the point of the gesso and glued blank pages describing them in both records as "Includes chalked and sized pieces of board the size of the book’s leaves, apparently intended to offer a firm surface upon which to write. Not included in pagination or signatures."

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Graphic Depiction of Leiden University Library in 1610 1610

In 1610 bookseller and publisher Andries Cloucq published a series of four large prints depicting the main buildings and halls of Leiden University: the anatomy theatre, the library, the botanical garden and the fencing school. The prints were engraved by Willem van Swanenburg after drawings by the Leiden artist Jan Cornelis van't Woudt (Woudanus)

Most relevant to this database is the famous print of the interior of the library, of which the Wikipedia reproduces a hand-colored copy from a version published in Stedboeck der Nederlanden (Amsterdam: Willem Blaeu, 1649). 

As Clark writes in The Care of Books (1902) 164:

"The bookcases were evidently contrived with the view of getting the largest number possible into the room. Each contained a single row of books, chained to a bar in front of the shelf; and, also for the purpose of saving the space usually occupied by a seat, readers were obliged to consult them standing. There are eleven bookcases on each sie of the room, each containing from 40 to 48 volumes. At the end of the room are two cupboards, probably for manuscripts; and to the right of the spectator is a third press marked Legatum Josephi Scaligeri. He died in January, 1609. Further, as an illustration of the usual appliances for study found in libraries at this period, and often mentioned in catalogues and account-books, I should draw attention to the globes and maps."

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Minsheu's "Ductor in Linguas," The First Book Sold by Subscription and the First Book to Include a List of Subscribers 1617

English linguist and lexicographer John Minsheu's (Minshew) Ηγημων εις τας γλωσσας. Ductor in linguas, The Guide into Tongues  (London, 1617) was the first book published by advance subscription using a printed prospectus, and the first book to include a list of subscribers. The unusually elaborate blingual Latin and English title page of this dictionary into eleven languages states that it was "By the Industrie, Studie, Labour, and at the Charges of John Minsheu Published and Printed."

Though the STC records no less than ten variant editions of the broadsheet list of subscribers found in some copies, each with increasing numbers of names, scholars have disputed whether Minsheu actually sold the first edition of his book by subscription. For example, in the authoritative Cambridge History of the Book in Britain Volume IV 1557 to 1695 (2002) the editor of the volume John Barnard states on p. 9:

"John Minsheu's multilingual dictionary, Ductor in linguas (made up of 726 folio pages using Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew characters as well as roman, black lettter and italic) on which he began work in 1599, was given a royal patent in 1611. Minsheu, however, was unable to raise the capital to publish the book until 1617; in so doing so he sought the support of the two universities, the Inns of Court, and 'divers Honorable and Right Worshipfull Personages, Bishops, and others', including merchants and London citizens; even so money ran out in the course of printing and the work was done at different times by two different printers. It was this difficulty which led to the publication of the second edition in 1625 by subscription, the first English example of this practice, one revived in the 1650s and taken up by the trade in the 1670s and 1680s."

Later in the volume, the co-editor of the same volume of The History of the Book in Britain, D. F. McKenzie, makes a similar assertion on p. 565, footnote 33. However, neither scholar seems to be aware of the unique prospectus for Minsheu's book preserved in the John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library. The working title given for the book on the prospectus is Glosson-Etymologicon. (Id est.) the Etymologie of Tongues. It is nevertheless clear that the prospectus is for the work later published as Ductor in linguas in 1617 as the 4-page folio-size prospectus (2 conjugate leaves) describes a dictionary in eleven languages with typography and format identical to the 1617 edition. The unique copy of the prospectus, which contains an internal date of 8 December 1610, was reproduced in facsimile by John Feather in English Book Prospectuses, An Illustrated History (Newtown: Bird & Bull Press, 1984). Feather, who believed that the prospectus was issued in 1611, stated on p. 28:

"The only earlier prospectus known to Pollard and Ehrman [The Distribution of Books by Catalogue to AD 1800 (1965)] cannot have been known to Minsheu. This was a manuscript proposal issued by Botel and Hurus in Savagona, Spain, in 1476, which solicits support for a new printed edition of the statutes of the Kingdom of Aragon. Stow's failure and the lack of any credible precedent lead me to regard Minsheu's Guide into tongues as the first subscription book, and John Minsheu himself as the pioneer, and for all practical purposes the inventor, of the book prospectus.

Minsheu's campaign was, in the end successful. The 417 subscribers in the final list represent a remarkable market for such a book in early seventeenth-century England. The figure, superficially small, has to be seen in the context of edition sizes limited by law to 1,250 and rarely reaching even that number. Indeed, in view of the trade's attitude in 1610 Minsheu had every reason to feel pleased with himself. Ironically, only five years after publication, the bookseller John Haviland issued an unauthorized reprint which infringed Minsheu's rights under his Letters Patent: Haviland was duly fined forty shillings by the Court of Assistants of the Stationers' Company on 5 April 1624."

My copy of Minsheu's book is bound in a contemporary binding of calf stamped with the Royal Arms in the center of the upper and lower covers. Several recorded copies of the first edition seem to be bound identically, but this fact remains unexplained.

Almost nothing is known about Minsheu. He was probably born in 1559 or 1560. The ODNB says he was of "unknown parentage," and provides what little information about his family. Minsheu refers to a cousin living in Oxfordshire, John Vesey, who was a self-made man of dubious probity. Minsheu may have resembled him in these two respects: he was educated by extensive travels rather than in a university, and he was described as a rogue by Ben Jonson. Minsheu apparently learned much of his Spanish while he was imprisoned in Spain. Nevertheless, the immense amount of information in Ductor in Linguas requires it to be taken seriously. In "John Minsheu: Scholar or Charlatan," Renaissance Quarterly 26, No. 1 (1973) 23-35 Jürgen Schäfer writes, on pp. 23-24:

"More than any other English work of the period the Ductor in Linguas reflects linguistic research and speculation at home and abroad and represents an important link in the beginnings of modern English lexicography. On the basis of this work Minsheu has been praised as a scholar, antiquarian, and etymologist of note. Closer inspection reveals, however, that such a blank judgment is seriously misleading and in need of revision. The following essay seeks to show in contrast to some of his contemporaries, Minsheu was an amateur of linguistic theory, an eclectic who incorporated linguistic material as he found it without subjecting it to any rigorous intellectual analysis. His etymologies, especially those which seem to qualify him as a leading student of the history of the vernacular, provide the cornerstone of his scholarly reputation, yet most of these are not original but have been drawn, often verbatim, from John Cowell's Interpreter (1607) — a dependence which has not yet been pointed out. From this new perspective Minsheu deserves praise as a teacher and disseminator of foreign languages. His scholarly credentials, however, are at best questionable.

"There is no doubt that the Ductor in Linguas is a monumental work. No less impressive than the title are the size and the contents of this volume. On more than 500 closely printed folio pages English lemmata are followed by their etymologies and their equivalents in ten other languages, 'British or Welsh, Low Dutch, High Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguez, Latine, Greeke, Hebrew.' In addition to Roman, black letter, and italics, the favorite triad around 1600, the compositors were also required to use Greek, Hebrew, and Anglo-Saxon letters. Long and learned prefaces in Latin and in English introduce the work, and there are two commendatory certificates, one by the University of Oxford and another by some of the leading scholars of the day. Both of these certificates are dated from the end of 1610 when the work had apparently been in progress for several years. In addition, a list of purchasers contains illustrious names from the court, as well as the study. Througout his introductions Minsehu stresses the number of collaborators and the amount of time and money invested in the enterprise, and the extent of his labor seems stupendous. Learned etymologies, definitions, multilingual equivalents, illustrative quotations, and precise bibliographic references crowd the pages, and the fact that the work was published at all may be more noteworthy than the many years of preparation." 

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Foundation of Harvard College, the First Institution of Higher Learning in the U.S. 1636

Harvard College, the first institution of higher learning in the United States, was established in 1636 at Cambridge, Massachusetts by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and named for its first benefactor, John Harvard. Harvard was a minister who left a few hundred books and half his estate to the new institution.

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Stephen Daye Issues the First Book Written & Printed in North America, North of Mexico 1640

The the first book printed in North America, north of Mexico, was the Whole Booke of Psalmes, edited by Richard Mather, John Eliot and others. Known as the Bay Psalm Book, it was also the first book printed in English in the New World. The book was printed in 1640 by Stephen Daye, a locksmith in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Because the Bay Psalm Book published a new translation of the psalms made in North America, it was also the first book written in North America, north of Mexico. One hundred and one years earlier Juan Pablos, in Mexico, had issued the first book printed in North America, and also the first book printed in the Western Hemisphere.

Of the original edition of 1700 copies, eleven copies remain extant. The finest copy, preserved in its original calf binding, is in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

"The first printing press to come to British America arrived in the winter of 1638/39. During 1639 an almanac and the 'Oath of a Freeman' were printed, although no genuine examples of either have been found. The ministers of the small colony were eager to produce their own version of the Psalms, one that did not sacrifice accuracy of translation to regulating of meter. Richard Mather, John Eliot, and several others made translations from the original Hebrew. Thus this first product of the American press represented a distinct break from Old England, both in production and translation" (Reese, The Printers' First Fruits. An Exhibition of American Imprints 1640-1742, from the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society [1989] no. 1).

On November 26, 2013 Sotheby's in New York auctioned a copy of the Bay Psalm Book. This was the first copy sold since 1947, when it realized $151,000. The presale estimate was $15,000,000-$30,000,000. The copy was a duplicate from the Old South Church in Boston, which, remarkably, owned two copies. In preparation for this auction Sotheby's published an extensive catalogue that researched all aspects of the physical book and its content. This information was available from the Sotheby's website at this link.

Prior to the auction on November 16, 2013 The New York Times published an article about the forthcoming sale from which I quote:

"David N. Redden recited the opening of the 23rd Psalm the way he had memorized it as a child: 'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.

"Then he opened a weathered little book and read the version it contained: 'The Lord to mee a shepheard is, want therefore shall not I. Hee in the folds of tender-grasse, doth cause mee downe to lie.'....

"Mr. Redden, who is the chairman of Sotheby’s books department and has auctioned copies of Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, among other historic and valuable documents, will sell that copy on Nov. 26. Sotheby’s expects it to go for $15 million to $30 million, which would make it the most expensive book ever sold at auction — more expensive than a copy of John James Audubon’s 'The Birds of America' that sold in December 2010 for $11.54 million (equivalent to $12.39 million in 2013 dollars), the current record. That beat the $7.5 million ($10.77 million today) paid for a copy of Chaucer’s 'Canterbury Tales' at Christie’s in London in 1998, and the $6.16 million ($8.14 million today) paid for Shakespeare’s First Folio at Christie’s in New York in 2001."

The price realized on November 26, 2013 was $12,500,000 plus the buyer's premium, or $14,165,000. While substantially below the low estimate, and probably just meeting the reserve, the price set a new record for the sale of a printed book.
In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the incomplete copy of the first edition in the Library of Congress was available at this link.
(This entry was last revised on 12-23-2016.)
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1650 – 1700

John Dury Writes the First Book on Librarianship in English 1650

The first English book on “library economy,” or library management, was a series of letters that Scottish minister and writer, John Dury, Keeper of the Royal Library from the death of Charles I until the Restoration, wrote on library and educational reform to his friend, the German-British polymath and educational reformer Samuel Hartlib. Hartlib published them in London as The Reformed Librarie Keeper in 1650. 

"One of the ways in which both Dury and Hartlib wished to promote educational reform and further knowledge was by exploiting the facilities of public libraries in London, Oxford, and Cambridge more efficiently. Dury expressed the hope that the work of the librarian might be as ‘a factor and trader for helpes to learning, a treasurer to keep them and a dispenser to apply them to use, or to see them well used, or at least not abused’ (Turnbull, p.257). The Reformed Librarie-Keeper printed various proposals for the organization and use of libraries, which Dury had originally advanced in 1646. It was published together with Dury’s plans for a reformed school in 1650. In that year, Dury was appointed keeper of the library of St James’s Palace (formerly the King’s Library), which was in a state of disorder. He installed new bookcases and urged that the trustees for the selling of the late king’s goods should draw up an inventory of the books and medals, both measures being intended to make the library usable to the public. A few years later, Dury and Henry Langley unsuccessfully proposed Hartlib for the post of Bodley’s Librarian.  

"As storehouses of learning, in which great strides had already been made to establish accurate classifications, libraries had the potential to be ideal embodiments of the Ark. But the poorly-funded libraries of interregnum England were too chaotic in organization and too inaccessible for ordinary readers to be able to fulfil the role in which Dury and Hartlib had cast them" (Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, "Hartlib Circle," http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/gatt/catalog.php?num=67, accessed 01-30-2012).

"In Dury's first letter we learn that the library keeper's only responsibility was to safeguard the collection. To do this, a man (note: not a woman) did not need to be particularly well educated. The pay was low, commensurate with the skill-level required for the job. Dury describes the service provided by "factors and traders," educated men who profited by traveling throughout Europe searching for books suitable for various collections. Dury faults that system because he believed that the "factors and traders" were more interested in profit-making than in learning. (He then kindly defends these men by pointing out that, after all, they have to make a living.) His idea was to enhance the job of the library-keeper to include the role of the trader. In order to do this, the position of library-keeper would have to provide enough pay to attract educated men. If the library wanted men who were broadly educated and interested in the advancement of learning, Dury suggested the pay scale, which then ranged between 50 and 100 Pounds a year, be raised to 200 Pounds. He recommended that potential employees be tested in order to prove they are familiar enough with the various disciplines of the day to accurately maintain the library catalog.  

"Dury felt that having trained library keepers was essential if libraries were to be made open to the public. The library-keeper's job would be extended to include recommending and annually defending additions to the collection before the faculty of the University. The library-keeper was to correspond with experts in every science throughout Europe (expenses to be paid by the University). The library keeper was also to be the reference person regarding the collection, in order to assist scholars. In addition he was to continue the role of safeguarding the collection, which, in a public library, meant overseeing collection use and maintaining the library catalog.  

"Dury notes that the catalog would need to be created first, however. He suggested that the catalog be arranged by subject matter, then divided by language. The catalog he had in mind would also contain a pointer to the physical position of the book within the library. That system would be designed well enough to allow for the growth of the collection. Moreover, an annual list of additions to the collection would be printed. The entire catalog would be printed and circulated to other libraries in Europe every three years (or more often if the library grows faster than expected). He also proposed that the University keep books that the library has acquired, by gifts or purchase, even if the faculty couldn't use them, as; "there is seldom any book that does not contain something useful." He suggested keeping them in a separate collection and creating a list that was indexed by subject and arranged alphabetically by author.

"Dury's second letter offers an argument to be used in defending the cost of establishing his proposed library before the British Parliament, which he thought should supply the necessary funding. He bases his argument on Christian moral grounds, reminding us that in his day the separation of church and state was not a popular idea. Dury saw the library as a place that would nourish the spirits of men. He criticizes private libraries as serving those that "pride themselves in the possession of that which others have not," men who "covetously obstruct the fountains of life and comfort." He complains that this "dilates the light of knowledge and the love of the grace and goodness in the hearts of all men." He argues that library should be "communicating all good things freely to others." He goes on to argue that the university library, by proving useful to scholars in other nations, would encourage them to adopt similar policies for their own libraries, thus bringing honor to England. Finally, he warns that if the library is administered without relation to Christ's teachings, the endeavor is likely to lead to strife, confusion, and pride"(http://people.lis.illinois.edu/~chip/projects/timeline/1651robins.html, accessed 01-30-2012).

(This entry was last revised on 03-16-2014.)

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The First Treatise on Chemistry Written by a Woman 1666

La chymie charitable et facile, en faveur des dames, a book on practical chemistry, pharmacology and medicine written for the common reader, written by French autodidact Marie Meurdrac (?1610-1680) and first published in Paris in 1666, was the first treatise on chemistry written by a woman. Clearly a work that found a wide market, it underwent five editions in French, the last of which was published in 1711, six editions in German, and one in Italian.

Little is known about Meurdrac except that she was born into an aristocratic French family in north-central France, and that in 1625 she married Henri de Vibrac, commander of the guard unit of Charles de Valois, Duke of Angoulême. Valois was the illegitimate son of Charles IX of France and Marie Touchet.  As part of the Duke's retinue, Meurdrac lived in the château de Grosbois in Boissy-Saint-Léger, Val-de-Marne.

"In the lengthy foreword, Meurdrac candidly reveals her hesitation about publishing the treatise that had been intended solely as a permanent record of her research. Further, she questions the larger issue of a woman's right to publish and its ensuing consequences. 'I remained irresolute in this inner struggle fro two years,' she writes. 'I objected to myself that it was not the profession of a lady to teach, that she should remain silent, listen and learn, without displaying her own knowledge. . . that a reputation gained thereby is not ordinarily to her advantage since mean always scorn and blame the products of a woman's mind.' Meurdrac ultimately decided to go public as Damoiselle [sic] M. M., declaring that 'minds have no sex and that if the minds of women were cultivated like those of men and if enough time and expense were spent to instruct them, they would be equal to those of men.

"Her decision to publish was rooted in her unwavering belief that her practical book was useful remedying women's illnesses as well as a guide to the presevation of their health. Unquestionably an early feminist who broke ground in an area where few women dared to tread, Meurdract felt that not sharing knowledge that should ameliorate the lives of others would be a betrayal of the Catholic principle of charity as well as incompatible with her inquistive temperament. A true seventeenth-century femme savante, Meurdrac, along with other learned women, who were later ridculed in Molière's comedy Les Femmes Savantes (1672), would not be deterred in the quest to investigate, comprehend, and contribute to the advancement of scholarship" (Smeltzer, Ruben & Rose, Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine, New York: The Grolier Club, 2013, No. 85, p. 94).

A few copies of this work bear the date of 1656 on their title pages, leading to the impression that the first edition was published in 1656. However, those copies bear the imprimatur dated 1666 like the rest of the edition, showing that the 1655 date was a typographical error, corrected in most copies. 

(This entry was last revised on 06-15-2014.)

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The First Doctoral Degree is Awarded to a Woman June 25, 1678

On June 25, 1678 Venetian philosopher, linguist, musician, and mathematician Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Padua. This was the first doctorate awarded to a woman.

Piscopia originally applied for a doctorate in theology; however, church officials refused, eventually allowing award of the doctorate in theology instead. 

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The First Hieroglyphic Bible for Children 1684 – 1692

Melchior Mattsperger compiled Die Geistliche Herzens-Einbildungen in zweihundert und fünffzig biblischen Figur-Sprüchen vorgestellet. This work, first published in 2 volumes in Augsburg, Germany in 1684 and 1692, was the first hieroglyphic bible, combining brief complete biblical passages and a combination of text and images to represent words or parts of words, in rebus form. 

The first English language edition of this work, A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, was printed in London in 1783. The first American edition followed in 1788. Introducing children to brief biblical passages with an intriguing combination of text and image, numerous editions with a variety of biblical selections and illustrations were issued through the first half of the nineteenth century.

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The First Book Review Journal: an Early Long-Distance Intellectual Community and Social Network 1684 – 1718

In 1684 French philosopher Pierre Bayle initiated publication of Nouvelles de la république des lettres (News from the Republic of Letters). This journal, edited and largely written by Bayle from March 1684 through February 1687, was the first known book review journal. Though written in French, the work was published in Amsterdam to avoid censorship. After Bayle stepped down as editor the journal was continued 

". . . by Daniel de LarroqueJean Barrin and Jean Le Clerc through April 1689. Publication was suspended from then until January 1699 when it was resumed under the editorship of Jacques Bernard. He continued it through December 1710; it was then suspended until January 1716, when he resumed and continued until the final issue in June 1718" (Wikipedia article on Nouvelles de la république des lettres, accessed 11-06-2013).

Bayle's Nouvelles de la république des lettres is considered the first work to translate the Latin expression Respublica literaria into a modern language. The periodical had an association with the "Republic of Letters", a long-distance intellectual community and social network in the late 17th and 18th century in Europe and America.

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Locke's Method of Indexing Commonplace Books 1685 – 1706

In 1685 English physician and philosopher John Locke published "Méthode nouvelle de dresser des recueils" in Le Clerc's Bibliothèque universelle II (1685). This was translated into English in Le Clerc's Observations (London, 1697).  It was first published separately as A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books ; written by the late Learned Mr. John Lock, Author of the Essay concerning Humane Understanding. Translated from the French. To which is added Something from Monsieur Le Clerc, relating to the same Subject. A treatise necessary for all Gentlemen, especially Students of Divinity, Physick, and Law. There are also added two Letters, concerning a most useful method for instructing Persons that are Deaf and Dumb, or that Labour under an Impediments of Speech, to speak distinctly; written by the late Learned Dr. John Wallis. (London, 1706.) 

Locke began keeping commonplace books during his first year at Oxford in 1652.  On pp. [vi] and [1] of the 1706 edition we find a chart printed in red and black showing how he was able to create an expandable index of topics on two pages in each commonplace book. The index contained a line for every letter of the alphabet and for each letter there were sub-divisions based on the vowels a, e, i, o, and u. He described his method as follows:  

"When I meet with any thing worth putting into my Common-Place-Book, I presently look for a proper Head. Suppose for Example, the Head were Epistle;  I look in the Index the First Letter which the Vowel that follows, which in this Case E I. If there is found any Number in the Space marked E I, that shows me the space designed for Words which begin with E, and whose Vowel that immediately follows is I, I must refer to the Word Epistle in the Page what I have to take notice of, I write the Head in pretty large Letters, so that the principal Word is found in the Margin, and I continue the Line in writing on what I have to remark. I constantly observe this Method, that nought but the Head  appear in the Margin, and on on without carrying the Line again into the Margin. When one has thus preserv'd the margin clear, the Heads, present themselves at First Sight" (1706 edition p. 6).

Locke's method of indexing his notes was reflective of styles of reading and note-taking characteristic of his time.  According to a very widely quoted passage by Robert Darnton:

“Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end (unless they are digital natives and click through texts on machines), early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your own personality. . . By selecting and arranging snippets from a limitless stock of literature, early modern Englishmen gave free play to a semi-conscious process of ordering experience. The elective affinities that bound their selection into patterns reveal an epistemology — a process of knowing — at work below the surface" (Darnton, “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” New York Review of Books 47 (20)[December 21, 2000] 82, 86).

Locke's method of indexing commonplace books remained widely used for at least one hundred years. Toward the end of the 18th century English publisher John Bell published notebooks entitled Bell’s Common-Place Book, Formed generally upon the Principles Recommended and Practised by Mr Locke.” These included eight pages of instructions on Locke’s indexing method, a system which not only made it easier to find passages, but also served the higher purpose of “facilitat[ing] reflexive thought.”

♦ Reflecting upon Robert Darnton's comment, perhaps my personal reading and writing style is more representative of the seventeenth century than the twentieth or twenty-first.  Throughout my career in the antiquarian book trade, which began in the 1960s, I found myself moving between subjects in the course of a day as I catalogued various books in stock, read about other books for sale, or discussed the different interests of clients.  With access to the Internet in the 1990s it was, of course, possible to follow-up more efficiently on diverse topics with Internet searches and hyperlinks.  The way that From Cave Paintings to the Internet is written, as a series of reading and research notes connected by links and indexed in a database, may be viewed to a certain extent as analogous to the method of maintaining and indexing commonplace books described by Locke. ♦

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The First Reading Primer Designed for the American Colonies 1687 – 1690

The first reading primer designed for the American colonies was The New- England Primer first issued in Boston, Massachusetts between 1687 and 1690 by English printer and publisher Benjamin Harris, who came to Boston, Massachusetts in 1687 to escape the brief Catholic ascendancy under James II. Harris based The New England Primer on a textbook which he had previously printed in England called The Protestant Tutor.  His New England Primer, with its heavily religious orientation, became the most successful textbook published in 18th century America, and the foundation of most early American schooling until it was replaced by Noah Webster's textbooks toward the end of the eighteenth century.

Schoolbooks were often read to death.  Remarkably the earliest surviving edition of Harris's New-England Primer was published in Boston by T. Kneeland & T. Green in 1727. This is known from a copy in the New York Public Library. Harris's supposed first edition of 1687-1690 is known from an advertisement for a second Harris edition of 1691 in Henry Newman's News from the Stars published in Boston, 1691, leaving the assumption that an edition had preceded it.  However, no copy of either edition survived.

Heartman, The New-England Primer Issued Prior to 1830. A Bibliographical Check-List. . . . (1934).

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The First Licensed Woman Printer in North America Was Illiterate May 13, 1696

In 1685 printer William Nuthead set up the first press south of Massachusetts, in St. Mary's City, Maryland. There he printed forms for the government. After William's death in 1695 his widow, Dinah, continued the printing business, and when the capital of Maryland moved to Annapolis that year Dinah also moved her press.

"Dinah Nuthead, the widow of William, was a woman of admirable courage. . . . Entirely without education, not well provided with money, she yet made plans to carry on a business in which some knowledge of letters and a certain amount of capital is usually regarded as indispensable. She was shrewd enough to realize, however, that if she were successful in finding a journeyman printer to conduct her establishment, the possession of that rare article, a printing press, would surely provide a decent maintenance for herself and her two children. Boldly she made the venture" (Wroth, A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland 1686-1776 [1922], 12-13).

On May 5, 1696 Dinah Nuthead petitioned to be licensed to print forms for the government, and eight days later her petition was granted: 

" 'Dinah Nuthead of Ann Arundell County Widow, Robert Carvile, and William Taylard of St. Maries County Gentn' gave bond to the Governor to the amount of 100 pounds for the good behavior of Dinah Nuthead in the operation of her press. The Instrument continues as follows:

" 'Now the Condition of this Obligation is such that if the said Dinah Nuthead shall exercise and Imploy her printing press and letters to noe other use than for the printing of blank bills bonds writts warrants of Attorney Letters of Admrcon and other like blanks as above - sd nor Suffer any other person to make use thereof any otherwise than aforesd Unless by a particular Lycense from his Exncy the Governor first had and obtained And further shall save harmless and indempnifye his sd Exncy the Governor from any Damage that may hereafter Ensue by the said Dinah Nuthead misapplying or Suffering to be misapplyed the aforesd Printing press or letters otherwise than to the true intent & meaning before expressed, Then this Obligation to be Voyd or else to Remain in full force and Virtue.'

"This fearsome instrument for the protection of the Province against the evils of indiscriminate printing was signed by certain witnesses, by the two bondsmen and by the principal, who, as one observes, was compelled to make her mark instead of signing her name to the document, a disability under which she labored to the end of her days. Clearly Dinah Nuthead herself could not have intended to act as the compositor in the establishment which she had brought up from St. Mary's to the new seat of government at Annapolis" (Wroth, op. cit. 13).

Wroth, The Colonial Printer (1938) 154-55.

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The First Country-Wide Printed Union Catalogue of Manuscripts 1697

In 1697, the year of the death of English astronomer and scholar Edward BernardCatalogi librorum manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae in unum collecti cum indice alphabeticum was issued from Oxford at the Sheldonian Theatre, in two folio volumes. Listing around 30,000 manuscripts, this was the first printed attempt at a union catalogue of manuscripts for a country—England, including Ireland, the conquest of which had been completed by the British in 1691.  Centuries earlier in the Middle Ages union catalogues of manuscripts had been compiled in England. About 1320 Oxford Franciscans had compiled, on the basis of on-site surveys, the Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum ueterum — a manuscript union catalogue of some 1400 manuscript books in England, Scotland and Wales, and around 1350 the Benedictine monk Henry of Kirkestede, prior of the royal abbey of St. Edmund at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk—traditionally known as Boston Burienis, compiled a union catalogue of manuscripts in English libraries entitled Catalogus de libris autenticis et aposcrifis

Bernard had worked on the catalogue for years when in 1692

"a movement started in Oxford to follow up the catalogue of printed books in Bodley with a catalogue of the manuscripts there and in college libraries. Dr. Edwards, Principal of Jesus, approached the curators of the Clarendon Press, who accepted the proposal. The scheme was enlarged to include the collections in Cambridge and in cathedral libraries and finally in private libraries. Cambridge kept aloof; only four colleges sent their catalogues, and the University Library and the remaining colleges were represented only by a reprint of the lists made by Thomas James in 1600. Bernard was in ill health and died on 12 January, 1697, while the book was still in the press" (Simpson, Proof-Reading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries [1970] 189, see also 190-94).

Though the printed catalogue identified Edward Bernard as the only author, it was actually a cooperative venture compiled by several scholars. Arthur Charlette, Master of University College, Oxford, seems to have been in charge of gathering information for the catalogue. However, the most significant contributor other than Bernard was probably the Harleian librarian, palaeographer and scholar of Old English Humpfrey Wanley. Wanley researched holdings of collectors in England whose libraries needed to be included, and was the author of four catalogues of holdings within the union catalogue: (1) the Free School at Coventry, (2) Basil Fielding, 4th Earl of Denbigh (3) St. Mary's Church, Warwick, and (4) John Ayres. Wanley also compiled the index to the entire work, wrote the Preface and corrected some of the proofs. References to Wanley's work on the catalogue appear in his letters. See Letters of Humfrey Wanley, Palaeographer, Anglo-Saxonist, Librarian, 1672-1726, Edited by P. L. Heyworth (1989). 

The catalogue is notable for containing the holdings of numerous significant private collectors as well as institutional libraries. Among the better-remembered collectors whose manuscripts are recorded are Samuel Pepys, John EveynWilliam Laud, Thomas Bodley, John Leland, Roger Dodsworth, Richard James, Robert Huntington, and Antony Wood. The crucial holdings of Sir Robert Cotton were not included in Bernard's catalogue because just one year earlier Thomas Smith's Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Cottonianae had been issued in identical format by the same printer. My copy of Bernard's catalogue was bound at the time with Smith's catalogue of the Cottonian library at the back of its second volume. It would appear that the two works were intended to supplement one another. 

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1700 – 1750

Johann Joseph Fux Describes Baroque Counterpoint 1725

In1725 Austrian composer, music theorist and pedagogue Johann Joseph Fux published in Vienna Gradus ad Parnassum, a treatise on counterpoint in the Palestrina style of Renaissance polyphony.

Fux divided Gradus ad Parnassum into two parts:

"In the first part, Fux presents a summary of the theory on Musica Speculativa, or the analysis of intervals as proportions between numbers. This section is in a simple lecture style, and looks at music from a purely mathematical angle, in a theoretical tradition that goes back, through the works of Renaissance theoreticians, to the Ancient Greeks. The words of Mersenne, Cicero and Aristotle are among the references quoted by Fux in this section.

"The second part, on Musica Pratica [or practical performance], is the section of this treatise where the author presents his instruction on counterpoint, fugue, double counterpoint, a brief essay on musical taste, and his ideas on composing Sacred music, writing in the Style A Cappella and in the Recitativo Style. This part is in the form of a dialog, between a master (Aloysius, Latin for Luigi, who is meant to represent Palestrina's ideas) and a student, Josephus, who represents Fux himself, a self-admitted admirer of Palestrina. At the outset Fux states his purpose: "to invent a simple method by which a student can progress, step by step, to the heights of compositional mastery..." and he gives his opinion of contemporary practice: "I will not be deterred by the most passionate haters of study, nor by the depravity of the present time." He also states that theory without practice is useless, thus his book stresses practice over theory" (Wikipedia article on Johann Fux, accessed 09-04-2010).

Leopold Mozart is said to have taught his son Wolfgang from Gradus ad Parnassum. JS Bach and Beethoven both held it in great esteem, and Haydn meticulously worked out each of its exercises. Translated into the vernacular, Fux's work remains useful for the study of counterpoint. See The Study of Counterpoint from Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum. Translated and edited by Alfred Mann (1943, 1965). (The paperback copy that I consulted was from its 34th printing.)

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Isaac Greenwood Issues the First American Textbook on Mathematics 1729

In 1729 Isaac Greenwood, first Hollisian Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard, anonymously published Arithmetick Vulgar and Decimal: with the Application Thereof, to a Variety of Cases in Trade, and Commerce.  The book was first issued by "T. Hancock at the Sign of the Bible and Three Crowns in Annstreet" in Boston. This was the first textbook on arithmetic written in English by a native American.  

The Hollisian Professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy was the first professorship on a "profane" topic established at Harvard, which was then a theological college.  Unfortunately, Greenwood was an alcoholic, and was removed from his position in 1737 on the grounds of "intemperance."

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John Newberry Issues the First Printed Book Specifically for the Amusement of Children: No Copies of the First Edition Survive June 18, 1744

In 1744 printer and publisher John Newbery of London announced the availability of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly with Two Letters from Jack the Giant Killer by M. F. Thwaite and John Newbery. The first edition appears to be known only from an advertisement in the Penny London Morning Advertiser published on June 18, 1744. If copies were issued at that time they appear to have been read out of existence.

This small book, of which very few copies of early editions survived, is generally considered the first book for children in the modern sense. It consists of simple rhymes for each of the letters of the alphabet. To market the book to the children of the day the book could be purchased alone for 6d., or with a ball (for boys) or a pincushion (for girls) at a cost of 8d. 

The book includes a woodcut of stoolball and a rhyme entitled "Base-Ball." This is the first known instance of the word baseball in print. In the book "Base-Ball" refers to the game Rounders, which had been played in England since Tudor times.

The book was very popular in England, and was first published in Colonial America in 1762. 

♦ A facsimile of the edition printed in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1787 by Isaiah Thomas is available the Library of Congress website. In 1966 Oxford University Press issued a facsimile of the earliest known complete copy of an edition— that of London, 1767, preserved in the British Library. The facsimile included an introductory essay and biibliography by M. F. Thwaite, and an index to the introduction and bibliography. Thwaite wrote in his introduction, p. 3:

"The world of the day probably had little idea that this small work was in any way notable, or that it marked a new era in literature for the young. But there was one word in the advertisement which might have struck them an unusual. It was a word which was to open up new realms to young minds. To avow 'amusement' as a principal end in a book for boys and girls indicated that a revolution had taken place. In the past children's books had been reluctant to admit this feature, but in this new century of reason it was to be demonstrated that pleasure should be an important element, even though still firmly leashed to the old purposes of morality and instuction. Newbery was therefore only expressing the new spirit abroad. Before 1700 books for the young had been dominated by religious teaching, moral lessons or scholastic purpose. Now amusement was to be an equally desirable aim. And no one in those formative years of children's book-making was to follow it so well or to carry it so far as John Newbery."

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1750 – 1800

Astronomer Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande Writes the First Comprehensive Treatise on Papermaking 1761

Astronomer and writer Joseph Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande published l'Art de faire le papier in volume 4 of the series Descriptions des arts et métiers published by the Académie royale des Sciences in 1761. Papermaking, a craft which had arrived in Europe earlier than printing, and had been passed down as trade secrets through apprenticeship for even longer, was later than printing in having a comprehensive manual published. The first comprehensive printing and typesetting manual had been published by printer Joseph Moxon roughly eighty years before de Lalande's, in 1683-84. By the mid-eighteenth century several other printing manuals— most notably that of Fertel— had been published. However, since literacy was not required for tasks in papermaking it is probable that some papermakers were illiterate, in contrast to printers, who had to be literate. Thus it may not be entirely inappropriate that this first detailed treatise was written not by a professional papermaker but by a scientist and astronomer. Its publication in a handsomely and expensively printed scientific series would suggest that it was intended not necessarily for papermakers themselves, but for students of technology, or entrepreneurs who might enter the papermaking industry.

De Lalande's work comprised 150 folio pages illustrated with 14 large engravings, describing the process of papermaking. Fundamental elements of the process were (1) Selection of raw material, i.e. rags. High quality white paper depended on using high quality white rags. (2) Conversion of rags into pulp (or "stuff"). When de Lalande published this process was done by a washer/beater "engine" propelled by water power. (3) Sheet-making and consolidation. (4) Sizing. (5) Sorting, Finishing and Packing.  According to Cohen and Wakeman (reference cited below) the 14 plates reproduced by de Lalande "date from 1698 and were originally prepared for a text, now lost by Giles Filleau des Billetes completed in 1706."

When de Lalande published, other than the conversion of rags into pulp, papermaking remained a manual process. It would begin to be mechanized roughly fifty years later, in the early nineteenth century.  A very careful and accurate observer, de Lalande consulted with numerous professional papermakers in different regions of France in order to write his treatise. The work covers all aspects of the trade, including the design and construction of buildings, the design of machinery and equipment, and the economics of the business, plus a glossary of terms of the trade.

de LaLande's work was translated into German along with the rest of the Descriptions des arts et métiers series, from 1762-75. An Italian translation of de LaLande's work appeared in 1762, an edition in Spanish in 1778, and a Dutch translation in 1792. In 2014 I was surprised to learn that an anonymous English translation of roughly one-quarter of de LaLande's text, credited as "from a late Treatise, in French" was serialized in London in The Universal Magazine issues for March, May and June of 1762 and February and April, 1763, with reproductions of 5 of the plates. These portions were reprinted with an introduction by Colin Cohen and Geoffrey Wakeman and issued in an edition limited to 200 copies by the Plough Press, Loughborough in Leicestershire, England, 1978. The complete work work was first translated into English by Richard MacIntrye Atkinson more than 200 years after its original publication, in a splendid full-size edition limited to 405 leatherbound copies in 1976. This new English translation, published by The Ashling Press, Mountcashel Castle, Kilmurry, Sixmilebridge, Co. Clare, Ireland, included all the plates printed on blue hand-made paper made by Ashling Papermakers.

Hunter, The Literature of Papermaking 1390-1800 (1925) 33.

(This entry was last revised on 12-02-2014.)

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Joseph Priestley Issues the First Biographical Timeline Chart 1765

British theologian, dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, educator, and political theorist Joseph Priestley published A Chart of Biography in London with text entitled A Description of a Chart of Biography in 1765. Priestley's work was the first biographical timeline chart, in which individual bars were used to visualize the life span of a person, allowing the comparison of the lifespans of many people.

"The Chart of Biography covers a vast timespan, from 1200 BC to 1800 AD, and includes two thousand names. Priestley organized his list into six categories: Statesman and Warriors; Divines and Metaphysicians; Mathematicians and Physicians (natural philosophers were placed here); Poets and Artists; Orators and Critics (prose fiction authors were placed here); and Historians and Antiquarians (lawyers were placed here). Priestley's 'principle of selection' was fame, not merit; therefore, as he mentions, the chart is a reflection of current opinion. He also wanted to ensure that his readers would recognize the entires on the chart. Priestley had difficulty assigning all of the people listed to individual categories; he attempted to list them in the category under which their most important work had been done. Machiavelli is therefore listed as a historian rather than a statesman and Cicero is listed as a statesman instead of an orator. The chart was also arranged in order of importance; 'statesmen are placed on the lower margin, where they are easier to see, because they are the names most familiar to readers' " (Wikipedia article on A Chart of Biography, accessed 03-16-2010).

Rosenberg & Grafton, Cartographies of Time (2010) 116-17, plate 19.

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The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe 1769 – 1794

The Société typographique de Neuchâtel, a Swiss publisher and bookseller, published about 220 works during its 25 years of operation, the majority of which were counterfeit or pirated editions. Using the extensive archives of the Société, which are held at the Bibliothèque publique and the Université de Neuchâtel, and database technology, The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe Project tracks the movement of around 400,000 copies of 4,000 books across Europe.  "It details, where possible, the exact editions of these works, the routes by which they travelled and the locations of the clients that bought or sold them."

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Joseph Priestley Issues the Most Influential Historical Timeline of the Eighteenth Century 1769 – 1770

In 1769 and 1770 British theologian, dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, educator, and political theorist Joseph Priestley published A New Chart of History with A Description of a New Chart of History.

"Together with his Chart of Biography (1765), which he dedicated to his friend Benjamin Franklin, Priestley believed these charts would allow students to 'trace out distinctly the dependence of events to distribute them into such periods and divisions as shall lay the whole claim of past transactions in a just and orderly manner.'

"The Chart of History lists events in 106 separate locations; it illustrates Priestley's belief that the entire world's history was significant, a relatively new development in the 18th century, which had begun with Voltaire and William Robertson. The world's history is divided up into the following geographical categories: Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Turkey in Europe, Turkey in Asia, Germany, Persia, India, China, Africa and America. Priestley aimed to show the history of empires and the passing of power; the subtitle of the Description that accompanied the chart was 'A View of the Principal Revolutions of Empire that have taken place in the World' and he wrote that:

"The capital use [of the Charts was as] a most excellent mechanical help to the knowledge of history, impressing the imagination indelibly with a just image of the rise, progress, extent, duration, and contemporary state of all the considerable empires that have ever existed in the world.

" As Arthur Sheps in his article about the Charts explains, 'the horizontal line conveys an idea of the duration of fame, influence, power and domination. A vertical reading conveys an impression of the contemporaneity of ideas, events and people. The number or density of entries . . . tells us about the vitality of any age.' Voids in the chart indicated intellectual Dark Ages, for example" (Wikipedia article on A New Chart of History, accessed 07-10-2011).

Rosenberg & Grafton, Cartographies of Time (2010) 116-17, plate 20.

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"Kaitai Shinsho" : The First Book on Western Medicine and Science Published in Japanese 1774

In 1774 Sugita Genpaku and colleagues published Kaitai Shinsho (解体新書 Kyūjitai解體新書; Anatomical Tables) in Tokyo. This translation into Japanese of Johann Adam Kulmus's Dutch text on anatomy, Ontleedkundige Tafelen, was the first work on Western medicine or science published in Japanese.

As the first translation into Japanese of a Western medical text,

"Kaitai Shinsho represented the beginning of two epoch-making developments. First and most directly Gempaku's work set in motion the modern transformation of Japanese medicine, revealing not only many anatomical structures hitherto unknown in traditional [Japanese] medicine, but also and more fundamentally introducing the very notion of an anatomical approach to the body--the idea of visual inspection in dissection as the primary and most essential way of understanding the nature of the human body. Second and more generally, Kaitai Shinsho inspired the rise of Dutch studies (Rangaku) in Japan, thus giving birth to one of the most decisive influences shaping modern Japanese history, namely the study of Western languages and science" (S. Kuriyama, " Between Mind and Eye: Japanese Anatomy in the Eighteenth Century," IN: Leslie & Young [eds.] Paths to Asian Medical Knowledge [1992] 21).

Kaitai Shinsho was drawn largely from Gerard Dieten's 1773 Dutch translation of Johann Adam Kulmus's Anatomische Tabellen (1731) although its Western-style title-age was copied from Valverde's Vivae imagines partium porporis (1566), and the last four anatomical woodcuts were taken from the 1690 Dutch edition of Bidloo's anatomy. According to Genpaku, the instigator and primary editor of the book, the inspiration for Kaitai Shinsho came in 1771 when he and two other students of Dutch medicine bribed an executioner to let them see the dismembered body of a criminal. The three compared what they saw to the anatomical illustrations in Kulmus's book, and, struck by the accuracy of the European representations, determined to prepare a Japanese edition of Kulmus's anatomy. Completed in just two years, the book was a sensation on publication, selling out almost immediately and going through numerous editions in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

After publication of Kaitai Shinsho Genpaku continued to help advance Western knowledge in Japan. In 1815 he published a chronicle of these advances entitled Rangaku Kotohajime (The Dawn of Western Science in Japan).

♦ In February 2014 the images from Kaitai Shinsho were available from the website of the National Library of Medicine at this link

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 1196. 

J. Norman, Anatomy as Art: The Dean Edell Collection, NY: Christie's, 5 October 2007, No. 106.

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Noah Webster Reforms the Teaching of English in the United States 1783 – 1785

In 1783 American  lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author Noah Webster issued from Hartford, Connecticut the first volume of A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, consisting of a speller (1783), a grammar first published in 1784, and a reader first published in 1785. 

"The Speller was arranged so that it could be easily taught to students, and it progressed by age. From his own experiences as a teacher, Webster thought the Speller should be simple and gave an orderly presentation of words and the rules of spelling and pronunciation. He believed students learned most readily when he broke a complex problem into its component parts and had each pupil master one part before moving to the next. Ellis argues that Webster anticipated some of the insights currently associated with Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Webster said that children pass through distinctive learning phases in which they master increasingly complex or abstract tasks. Therefore, teachers must not try to teach a three-year-old how to read; they could not do it until age five. He organized his speller accordingly, beginning with the alphabet and moving systematically through the different sounds of vowels and consonants, then syllables, then simple words, then more complex words, then sentences.

"The speller was originally titled The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language. Over the course of 385 editions in his lifetime, the title was changed in 1786 to The American Spelling Book, and again in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. Most people called it the "Blue-Backed Speller" because of its blue cover, and for the next one hundred years, Webster's book taught children how to read, spell, and pronounce words. It was the most popular American book of its time; by 1837 it had sold 15 million copies, and some 60 million by 1890—reaching the majority of young students in the nation's first century. Its royalty of a half-cent per copy was enough to sustain Webster in his other endeavors. It also helped create the popular contests known as spelling bees.

"Slowly, edition by edition, Webster changed the spelling of words, making them "Americanized." He chose s over c in words like defense, he changed the re to er in words like center, and he dropped one of the Ls in traveler. At first he kept the u in words like colour or favour but dropped it in later editions. . . .

"Webster's Speller was entirely secular. It ended with two pages of important dates in American history, beginning with Columbus's in 1492 and ending with the battle of Yorktown in 1781. There was no mention of God, the Bible, or sacred events. 'Let sacred things be appropriated for sacred purposes,' wrote Webster. As Ellis explains, 'Webster began to construct a secular catechism to the nation-state. Here was the first appearance of 'civics' in American schoolbooks. In this sense, Webster's speller becoming what was to be the secular successor to The New England Primer with its explicitly biblical injunctions' " (Wikipedia article on Noah Webster, accessed 06-05-2012).

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1800 – 1850

Noah Webster Compiles the First Dictionary of American English 1806 – 1828

In 1806 American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, and writer Noah Webster published from Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. In which Five Thousand Words are added to the number found in the Best English Compends; The Orthography, in some instances, corrected; the Pronunciation marked by an Accent or other suitable Direction; and the Definitions of many Words amended and improved. This small octavo volume was the first dictionary of American English. It was innovative in several ways: through the reform of spelling, through its guides to pronunciation, through its inclusion of etymologies, and through the modernity of its word selection and its definitions.  The work was designed to be both brief and portable. Its 400 pages were mostly divided into two columns and definitions were printed in small type, across one column each, and margins on each page were minimal.

Almost as soon as his first dictionary was published Webster began composition of an expanded and fully comprehensive dictionary, which took him 18 years to complete.  In 1828 when Webster was 70 years old his An American Dictionary of the English Language was finally published in 2 thick quarto volumes containing 70,000 entries. 2500 copies were printed at the high cost of $20 each. Copies sold slowly, and were not all bound at the same time, resulting in binding variants.

"To evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), German, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Arabic, and Sanskrit. Webster hoped to standardize American speech, since Americans in different parts of the country used different languages. They also spelled, pronounced, and used English words differently.

"Webster completed his dictionary during his year abroad in 1825 in Paris, France, and at the University of Cambridge. His book contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before. As a spelling reformer, Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing "colour" with "color", substituting "wagon" for "waggon", and printing "center" instead of "centre". He also added American words, like "skunk" and "squash", that did not appear in British dictionaries . . ." (Wikipedia article on Noah Webster, accessed 06-05-2012).

Webster's original manuscript of his 1828 dictionary is preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum.

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Foundation of the First Business School December 1, 1819

Established on December 1, 1819, l'Ecole Spéciale de Commerce et d’Industrie (now ESCP Europe) was the first business school. It was founded in Paris by a group of economic scholars and businessmen, including the economist Jean-Baptiste Say, who held the first Chair of Economics, and the trader Vital Roux. The school was patterned after the École Polytechnique founded by politician, engineer and mathematician Lazare Carnot and mathematician Gaspard Monge, but was much more modest in its beginnings, mainly because it did not receive state funding. It soon was renamed Ecole Supérieure de Commerce, and gradually gained in stature and importance during the 19th century. Fifty years after its founding it was acquired by the Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Paris (CCIP), and became a government institution.

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Foundation of the Ecole nationale des chartes February 22, 1821

On February 22, 1821 the École nationale des chartes, an elite French university-level institution providing education and training for archivists and librarians, was founded by royal ordinance at the Bibliothèque royale, predecessor of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The school closed in 1823, and reopened following a new ordinance of November 11, 1829. In 1862 the school moved to a site close to the Archives nationales, and later still to the Sorbonne, to facilities intended for the suppressed theology department.

Moore, Restoring Order. The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 (2008).

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The First Indigenous Arabic Press in Egypt December 1822

In 1822 Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas'ud ibn Agha (Arabic: محمد علي باشا‎, Muḥammad ʿAlī Bāšā), self-declared Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, established a government press in Bulaq (Boulaq), Egypt, to print manuals for the military, an official manual for the administration, and textbooks for new schools.

This was the first indigenous Arabic press set up in Egypt by Muslims. It was also the first government press on the African continent, apart from the short-lived presses briefly established by Napoleon during his Egyptian campaign.

"In 1815 he [Muhammad Ali] sent Nicolas Musabiki to Rome and Milan to study type-founding and printing. Muhammad Ali also ordered three presses from Milan - along with the necessary paper and ink from Leghorn and Trieste - and, when Musabiki returned, made him manager of the Bulaq Press, working under 'Uthman Nur al-Din. The press itself, in the meantime, had been established in old Nile port of Bulaq, now a suburb of Cairo, and shortly afterwards, the second, and largest, student mission - it numbered 44 students - had returned from Paris. These men, under the leadship of Rifa'a Bey Rafi' al-Tahtawi, had studied French with a view to the translation of technical books into Arabic. The most prolific of these translators turned out to be al-Tahtawi himself. 

"Al -Tahtawi had been educated at al-Azhar University, then and now the most prestigious center for the study of the Islamic sciences in the Muslim world. There was apparently no opposition by the Shaikhs of al-Azhar to the innovation of printing. . . . Muhmmad Ali attached several professors from al-Azhar to the Bulaq Press to learn the art of printing; one became head of the foundry, another printer-in-chief, and others worked as compositors and proofreaders.

"Between 1822 and 1842, the press at Bulaq published 243 titles. . . . By far the largest number of books - 48 - were on military and naval subjects. Muhammad Ali had seen both the French and the English fleets in action, and realized how vulnerable Egypt was to invasion from the sea. He had also noted how successful the modern arms of the French had been against the antiquated weapons of the Mamluks.

"Interestingly though, the next largest category of books published by the Bulaq Press was poetry. Twenty-six works of poetry in Turkish, Persian and Arabic were published in the first 20 years of the press' operation; clearly the men associated with the Bulaq Press were as interested in traditional Islamic literature as they were in translation of European works on military tactics. After poetry comes grammar, with 21 titles, mathematics and mechanics with 16, medicine with 15 and veterinary medicine with 12. Thre rest of the books published by the press were on religion, botany, agriculture, political administration and so forth" (http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=988, accessed 06-10-2012).

In December 1822 the Bulaq Press issued its first book, an Italian-Arabic dictionary by Raphael Antoine Zakhour, an Egyptian born Roman Catholic monk from Aleppo, who had accompanied Napoleon's French expedition on its return to France as a translator:

Dizionario Italiano e Arabo che Contiene in Succinto Tutti Vocaboli che Sono Piu in Uso e Piu Necessari per Imparpar a Parlare de Due Lingue Correttamente Egli e Diviso in Due Parti. Part 1. De Dizionario Disposto Com il Solito Nell-ordine Alfabetico. Parte II. Che Contiene Una Breve Raccolta di Nomi e di Verbi li Piu Neccesari, e Piu Utili all Studio Dell Due Lingue. Bolacco: Dall Stamperio Reale, M.D.CCC.XXII.

Conforming with the idea of Muhammad Ali of "openness toward Europe to achieve development," Italian delegations were sent to Italy, and Italian became the first foreign language taught in Egyptian schools.

By 1851 the Bulaq press issued 570 works.

Cheng-Hsiang Hsu, "A Survey of Arabic-character Publications Printed in Egypt during the Period of 1238-1267 (1822-1851)," Sadgrove (ed) History of Printing and Publishing in the Languages and Countries of the Middle East (2005) 1-16.

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The English Church Missionary Society Establishes a Press in Malta to Print Books in Arabic & Turkish 1825 – 1842

In 1825 the English Church Missionary Society established a press in Malta to publish books in Arabic and Turkish. These included Christian texts and also secular educational texts intended for Muslim, Christian and Jewish pupils in the new missionary schools and colleges of the Middle East. They also issued a periodical in the style of a newspaper.

Through 1842 this press issued over 150,000 books for distribution throughout the Middle East and Turkey.

"The role of the Malta press in standardising layouts and methods of presentation of printed Arabic texts had a significant impact. Some of the new features which it introduced correspond with several which Elizabeth Eisenstein mentioned, in her seminal work on the printing press as an agent of change, as significant in the systematisation of thought-processes in the formative era of European print culture. The use of title-pages engendered 'new habits of placing and dating' as well as helping the later development of new standards of cataloguing and enumerative bibliography. The use of footnotes, running heads and abbreviations, as well as Shidyaq's experiment's with punctuation, all served to 'reorder the thought of readers and to create a new 'esprit de système.'

"The plates and engravings in some of the Malta books also broke new ground. The views and story illustrations incorporated perspective, which was still a very new convention in Arab pictorial representation, and one which, as McLuhan and others have pointed out, implied a new reordering of concsciousness by the adoption of a fixed point of view. The lithographed diagrams, which accompanied an astronomical work published in Malta in 1833, were another important new feature of the Arabic book. Technical illustrations were sometimes found in Arabic manuscripts; but, as David James has aptly observed, 'in the absence of the printing press, transmission of technical data depends upon the accuracy of the scribe. The problem becomes doubly difficult when information has also to be communicated in the form of diagrams. . . . [which] were regarded by the copyists as little more than an exotic appendage, frequently misplaced and sometimes omitted.' With the introduction of standard, repeatable, engraved diagrams incorproated into printed books, the presentation of such information became transformed.

"In this the Malta press shared with the Bulaq press [founded in 1822] a pioneering role in the Arab world, and what was true of diagrams was equally true of printed maps, in which field the Malta atlas of 1835 also broke new gound. In Tunisia the first atlas was printed in 1860, in Egypt regular Arabic map printing did not begin until 1870, although copies of the Malta atlas itself were made there at an earlier date. . . ." (Roper 118-119).

Roper, "Arabic Books Printed in Malta 1826-42:Some Physical Characteristics," Sadgrove (ed) History of Printing and Publishing the the Languages and Countries of the Middle East (2005) 111-130, with illustrations.

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The Braille System of Printing and Reading for the Blind 1829

In 1829, at the age of 20, Louis Braille, a student at l'Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, who had been blind since the age of 5, published Procede pour écrire les Paroles, la Musique et le Plain-chant au moyen de points, a l’usage des aveugles et dispose pour eux. This large quarto volume of 4 preliminary leaves and 32 pages included the first presentation of the Braille system of printing and reading for the blind, which represents letters and numbers by combinations of six dots.

Though Braille introduced his six dot system briefly in his 1829 work, most of the Procede pour écrire was published through the traditional system of printing for the blind using raised letters that was invented by the founder of l'Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles, Valentin Haüy.

In 1837 Braille added symbols for mathematics and music to his six dot system.

“The Braille system was not given an immediate welcome; it was only in 1854 that it was officially accepted by the Institute itself. But at an international congress in Paris in 1878 it was adopted throughout Europe. It is now in use virtually throughout the literate world” (Carter & Muir, Printing & the Mind of Man [1967] no. 292.

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Janos Bolyai Independently Invents Non-Euclidean Geometry 1832 – 1833

In 1833 Hungarian mathematician János Bolyai published "Appendix scientiam spatii absolute veram exhibens: a veritate aut falsitate axiomatis xi Euclidei (a priori haud unquam decidenda) independentem. . . ." appended to a textbook by his mathematician father Farkas Bolyai, entitled Tentamen juventutem studiosam in elementa matheseos purae I pp. [2] [1]-26 [2] pp. (second series). The two volumes appeared in Maros Vasarhelyini, Hungary (now Romania) printed by Joseph and Simon Kali, at the press of the Reform College.

Although the idea of a non-Euclidean geometry had occurred independently to several nineteenth-century mathematicians, János Bolyai was one of the first to publish an organized, deductive and logically based system that was avowedly non-Euclidean. He was preceded only by Lobachevskii (Lobachevsky), whose "O nachalakh geometrii" (On the Foundations of Geometry) had been published in the obscure periodical, Kazanskii vestnik, izdavaemyi pri Imperatorskom Kazamskom Universitete in Kazan, Russia, in 1829-30, but Bolyai remained unaware of the Russian's work until 1848, when he came across the German translation Lobachevskii's Geometrische Untersuchungen (1840). Bolyai and Lobachevskii are generally given equal credit for the invention of non-Euclidean geometry.

János Bolyai began developing his new geometry in 1820, and completed it five years later. He undertook this task despite the warnings of his father, who discouraged his son in the strongest terms from trying to prove or refute Euclid's parallel axiom; in a letter written in 1820, Farkas told his son not to "tempt the parallels" and to "shy away from it as from lewd intercourse, it can deprive you of all your leisure, your health, your peace of mind and your entire happiness." The elder Bolyai found his son's new geometry of "absolute space" unacceptable, but finally, in the summer of 1831, decided to send János's manuscript to his old friend Carl Friedrich Gauss. Neither of the Bolyais knew that Gauss had been working for thirty years on developing his own non-Euclidean geometry, so János was dreadfully shocked to read in Gauss's reply that he [Gauss] could not praise János's system since to do so would be to praise himself! Despite this blow, János agreed to let his paper be published as an appendix to his father's obscure mathematics textbook printed in a small edition by an equally obscure Hungarian school publisher.

Unsurprisingly, Bolyai's paper failed to attract the attention of contemporary mathematicians, and his new geometry remained almost completely unknown until 1867, when German mathematician Heinrich Richard Baltzer publicized the achievements of Bolyai and Lobachevskii in his Elemente der Mathematik.

Bibliographical Comments

The Tentamen was very crudely or amateurishly printed at a school press; copies exhibit the earmarks of non-professional or inexperienced publishing, particularly in the clumsy typography and numerous errata and corrigenda leaves, which must have made the Tentamen extremely difficult to use. These leaves were printed on different paper stocks and were obviously added after the original printing. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 259 included a collation and discussion of tentative issue points. The subscribers' lists in Vol. i (1r+v) and Vol. ii (266v) indicate that 156 copies were subscribed for, and the edition was probably not much larger than this. 

In January 2016 antiquarian bookseller William P. Watson of London published preliminary results of his bibliographical researches on Bolyai's work in his Catalogue 21, Science, Medicine, Natural History, item No. 14, from which I quote:

"... Apart from the Appendix, hardly any two copies of the Tentamen agree in collation, and the great variation amongst them, including cancel leaves and gatherings, indicates that the publishing history of this work was confused, and remains confusing.

"Bolyai illustrates his textbook with 14 folding plates, five of which are inventively augmented with numerous small flaps. These plates contain as many as 10 slips, often concealed one behind the other; plate 10 also displays a single volvelle, which has gone unrecorded in most bibliographies to date; although not described in the printed or on-line catalogue entries, it is present in most copies. One point of bibliographic confusion has been clarified: the Horblit/Grolier Catalogue (based on the Smithsonian copy) lists an overslip on plate 6 that is not recorded in any other copy. Upon investigation it appears that an integral part of the plate (the lower portion of the diagram labelled T.144) was inadvertently detached during rebinding and subsequently reattached on a stub, leading to the conclusion that this was a required flap.

"Fewer than 25 copies are known: Stanford University: Haskell Norman collection (sold 29 October 1998 Christie's New York); Yale (Cushing copy, the first volume with Appendix only); Smithsonian Institution (Dibner copy, which was also the copy described in Horblit); Huntington (formerly the Burndy Library; the copy owned by Bolyai's translaor into English, George Bruce Halsted); Boston Public Library; University of Kentrucky (Louisville), and four in private collections. In Europe there are copies recorded at the Royal Society London; University College London; Austrian National Library; Hungarian National Library (Budapest); Leipzig, Göttingen (two, one Gauss's copy) Bordeaux (Jules Hoüel, translator of the Appendix 1867) and Trento (vol 1 only, and that seriously defective, lacking text and all the plates). There are two copies in private collections, one comprising vol. 1 only. There was one in Berlin (lost or destroyed in WWII). The copy sometimes described at Kanazawa Institute of Technology appears to be a ghost.

"There are numerous variations in collation etc. amongst these copies. We are compiling a detailed census and concordance which should be available shortly...."

Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972) 873-880.

(This entry was last revised on 01-04-2016.)

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The First Lithographed Books Printed in Persia are Issued 1832 – 1837

The first book printed in Persia (Iran) by means of lithography was a copy of the Koran published in Tabriz, dated either 1248/1832 or 1250/1834.  The first illustrated book printed by lithography in Persia was a copy of Maktabi's Leili va Majnun published in 1259/1843. 

"Illustrating lithographic books became a current practice in Iran as of 1263/1847.

"Shortly after the year 1270/1854, printing in movable type ceased altogether [in Iran]. For about two decades, all books published in Iran were produced by way of lithographic printing" (Marzolph, "A Projected Thesaurus Universalis Lbiri Lithographici Illustrati Persorum," Sadgrove (ed) History of Printing and Publishing in the Languages and Countries of the Middle East [2004] 27).

"The first lithographic printing press was brought to Persia in 1821 from Tiflis (Tbilisi), on the orders of the Crown Prince, ʿAbbās Mirzā. The Persian painter Allāhverdi who had studied lithography there, returned to Tabriz in March 1821 with a complete set of lithographic equipment (Akty, sobrannye kavkazskoyu arkheograficheskoyu komissieyu VI/2, pp. 238-39). The four volumes mentioned by Moḥammad-ʿAli Khan Tarbiyat (1934, p. 662), namely the two-volume of Majlesi's Ḥayāt al-qolub (I, pub. in 1240/1824-25; II, in 1241/1825-26), the Bustān of Saʿdi (1247/1831-32), and the Maḵāreq al-qolub of Nerāqi (1248/1832-33), were probably printed in Tabriz by this press.  

"What is certain is that in 1248/1832-33 a lithographic printing press began to operate in Tabriz. It was established through the efforts of Mirzā Ṣāleḥ Širāzi. In 1829, the equipment for the lithography and a printing specialist were presented as a gift to the Embassy of Ḵosrow Mirzā to Russia of which Mirzā Ṣāleḥ was a member (Rozanov, p. 225; Shcheglova, 1979, p. 31). The first books lithographed were the Qur’ān in 1248/1832-33 and the Zād al-maʿād of Majlesi in 1251/1836. The lithographer was Āqā-ʿAli b. Ḥājji Moḥammad-Ḥosayn al-Šarʿ Tabrizi (Tarbiyat, 1931, p. 450).  

"In Tehran, the first lithographed item was, the newspaper called Kāḡaḏ-e aḵbār (lit. newspaper) published by Mirzā Ṣāleḥ in 1837. There were only three issues, and these came out in Moḥarram-Jomādā I 1253/May-August 1837 (Ṣadr-Hāšemi I, no. 37). As far as printing of books is concerned, the first publications are datable to 1838. These were the Noḵba of Moḥammad-Ebrāhim Eṣfahāni (Mošār, col. 1571), the Soʾāl o javāb of Majlesi (Ibid, col. 909), and the kolliyāt of Hafez (Tarbiyat, 1931, p. 453). It is possible, however, that the first lithographed book was the Qur’ān, as reported by Il’ya Berezin (1819-96) who visited Tehran in 1843 and met Mirzā Ṣāleḥ there (Berezin, p. 248). Berezin also noted that the lithographic press remained mainly idle.  

"The first lithographic editions, as well as those typeset, were the work of printing enthusiasts who enjoyed the financial backing and patronage of such princely notables as ʿAbbās Mirzā in Tabriz and Manučehr Khan Moʿtamed-al-Dawla in Tehran. The number of published books remained therefore insignificant until the middle of the 1840s, when businessmen and booksellers began to realize the potential profits of the book printing trade. By late 1840s, there were already at least six lithographic printing houses at work in Tehran, and dozens of books were published (Shcheglova, 1979, pp. 33-34). From this time on, one can speak of regular lithographic book printing in Persia. The reasons for the success of the lithographic method of printing are obvious and well-known: simpler and cheaper equipment in comparison to that required for the typographic printing, availability of a large number of professional copyists, and the traditional culture of calligraphy. Although considerably less expensive than manuscripts, lithographed books retained the usual format of the handwritten codex in a sturdy binding. . . ." (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/lithography-i-in-persia, accessed 05-26-2012).

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Exploiting the New Technology of Mechanized Printing, Charles Knight Publishes "The Penny Magazine," Britain's First Low Priced Mass-Circulation Magazine 1832 – 1845

English writer, publisher, printer, and social reformer Charles Knight published The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge every Saturday from March 31, 1832 to October 31, 1845. The magazine, of which each issue consisted of 8 pages liberally illustrated with woodcuts, was marketed to the English working classes, and the developing middle class. The images allowed even the semi-literate to derive enjoyment from its pages. As its title indicated, the magazine sold for only a penny per issue, the price being the same anywhere within the United Kingdom, making the magazine affordable to virtually anyone. In the April 7, 1832 issue Knight published an essay by the American writer, educator and politician Edward Everett entitled "Advantages of the Diffusion of Knowledge" about the value of education in improving the mass of society, a view which Knight, and other members of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, which sponsored the magazine, undoubtedly shared. Besides literary and historical books, Knight, sometimes in cooperation with the SDUK, published many works oriented toward social and economic reform, including all four editions of Charles' Babbage's On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactureswhich coincidentally was first published the same year that Knight began publication of The Penny Magazine.

An aspect of the magazine was that Knight, as publisher and frequent writer, sometimes communicated with his readers by writing articles for the magazine himself. At the end of the first year of publication, on December 18, 1832 he wrote a preface to the first volume. In that he stated that the magazine was very successful, with circulation reaching 160,000 by the end of the first month after publication, and reaching 200,000 the first year. From this he assumed that the magazine was being read each week by a million people. Only forty years earlier, he wrote, Edmund Burke had written that there were only 80,000 readers in all of England.

To print and distribute 200,000 copies weekly required large quantities of machine-made paper, and pushed the limit of printing technology at the time, using stereotype plates on mechanized presses invented by Augustus Applegath, which were in operation at the printing house of William Clowes in London. Obviously proud of the technical aspects which made the magazine affordable and widely available, in the magazine's second year of publication Knight wrote and published a memorable series of articles in four "Monthly Supplements" to the regular issues under the general title "The Commercial History of a Penny Magazine." "No. 1--Introduction & Paper-Making"  appeared in Issue 96, August 31 to September 30, 1833, pp. 377-84. "No. 2. Wood-cutting and Type-founding" appeared in Issue 101, September 39 to October 31, 1833, pp. 417-24. "No. 3. Compositors' Work and Sterotyping" appeared in issue 107, October 31 to November 30, 1833, pp. 465-72, and "No. 4. Printing Presses and Machinery—Bookbinding" appeared in issue 112, November 30 to December 31, 1833, pp. 505-11. These articles represent the one of the best illustrated introductions to the history and technology of printing, woodcut illustration and binding as practiced during the first third of the nineteenth century. They also appear to be the earliest widely circulated general description of the new processes of machine paper manufacturing and high speed printing technology. In Issue 96, p. 381 there is a full-page woodcut of a papermaking machine--undoubtedly the first image of a device of this type seen by a wide number of people. Incidentally the paper on which my copy of the first three volumes was printed is of very good quality. In issue 112, p. 509 there is a full-page woodcut of an Applegath steam-powered press as used in Clowes' pressroom, with detailed explanatory captions. This was undoubtedly the first widely seen image of a high speed cylinder press.

Regarding the advantages of the high speed steam rotary press developed by Koenig and Applegath, Knight first explained how two men, using the fastest iron handpress, such as that invented by Earl Stanhope, could produce 250 impressions per hour. He then compared this output to that of the new printing machinery: 

"Before the invention of stereotyping it was necessary to print off considerable impressions of the few books in general demand such as bibles and prayer-books, that the cost of composition might be so far divided as to allow the book to be sold cheap: with several school-books, also, it was not uncommon to go to press with an edition of 10,000 copies. Two men, working eight hours a day each, would produce 1000 perfect impressions (impressions on each side) of a sheet per day; adn thus if a book consisted of twenty sheets, (the size of an ordinary school-book,) one press would produce the twenty sheets in 200 days. If a printer therefore, were engaged in the production of such a school-book, who could only devote one press to the operation, it wouldrequire nearly three quarters of a year to complete 10,000 copies of that work. . . . 

"But take a case which would allow no time for this long preparation. Take a daily newspaper, for instance, of which great part of the news must be collected, and written, and printed within twenty four hours. Before the application of machinery to the printing of newspapers, in 1814, there were as many daily London newspapers as at present; but their average size was much smaller than those now published. The number of each paper printed was less than at present; and the later news was much more incompletely given. The mechanical difficulties of printing a large number within a limited time required to be overcome by arrangements which involved considerable expense; and thus less capital was to be expended upon that branch of the outlay by which the excellence of a newspaper is mainly determined,--namely, the novelty, the completeness, and the accuracy of its intelligence. Let us take, for example, the 'Times' newspaper for some years prior to 1814, when it began to be printed by machinery. When that was originally established, somewhere about forty years ago, the present system of reporting speeches in parliament on the same night that they were spoken was scarcely ever attempted. A few lines mentioning the subject of the debate, and the names of principal speakers, were sometimes given, but anything like a sektch of the general debate or a report of any remarkable speech, was deferred to a future day, if it were published at all. . . . .

"The printing press, as we have mentioned, will, at the ordinary rate, enable two men to take off two hundred and fifty impressions in an hour. By the most violent exertions the pressmen of a daily newspaper were enabled, with relays, to work off about five hundred copies in an hour. One press would therefore produce ten thousand copies in about twenty hours. It is manifest that such a rate of speed, if such a quantity were demanded, would be incompatible with the production of a daily paper, the condition of whose existence is that it must be wholly printed and issued in four and twenty hours. Let us double the speed by printing in duplicate; and we find that ten thousand copies can be produced in about ten hours. But even this rate carries the publication of several thousands of the ten thousand printed into the next afternoon. We may, therefore, assume that without triplicates, which we believe were never resorted to, no daily paper previous to 1814 could aim at the sale of a greater number of copies than could be printed off even with duplicates in six hours--of which number the publication would often not be complete till after mid-day. The number printed of the most popular daily paper, would therefore be limited to five thousand; and this number could not be produced in time without the most perfect division of labour aiding the most intense exertion, provided that paper were printed by hand. The 'Times' newspaper now produces ten thousand copies in two hours and a half, from one set of types.

"If the difficulties that existed in producing any considerable number of newspapers before the invention of the printing machine were almost insurmountable, equally striking will the advantages of that invention appear when we consider its application to such a work as the 'Penny Magazine.' Let us suppose that the instruction of the people had gone on uninterruptedly in the schools of mutual instruction, and that the mechanical means for supplying the demand for knowledge thus created had sustained no improvement. In this series of papers we have endeavoured constantly to show that the price at which a book can be sold depends in great part upon the number printed of that book. But at the same time it must be borne in mind, that the number of any particular work thus produced must be limited by the mechanical means of production. If the demand for knowledge had led to the establishment of the 'Penny Magazine' before the invention of the printing machine, it is probable that the sale of twenty thousand copies would have been considered the utmost that could have been calculated upon. This invention has forced on other departments of printing, and larger presses have therefore been constructed to compete in some degree with the capacity of the machine for printing a large form of types. Twenty years ago there probably was no press in England large enough to work off a double number of the 'Penny Magazine.' One thousand perfect copies, therefore, could only have been daily produced at one press by the labour of two men. The machine produces sixteen thousand copies. If the demand for the 'Penny Magazine,' printed thus slowly by the press, had reached twenty thousand, it would have required two presses to produce that twenty thousand in the same time, namely ten days, in which we now produce one hundred and sixty thousand by the machine; and it would have required one press to be at work one hundred and sixty days, or sixteen presses for ten days, to effect the same results as the machine now effects in ten days. But, in point of fact, such a sale could never have been reached under the old system of press-work. The hand-labour, as compared with the machine, would have added at least forty per cent. to the cost of production, even if the sixteen presses could have been set in motion. Without stereotyping, no attempt would have been made to set them in motion; for the cost of re-engraving wood-cuts, and of re-composing the types, would have put a natural commercial limit to the operation. With stereotypes, the numbers printed would have been limited by the time required for the production of the stereotype-plates; in the same way as the number of a newspaper worked by hand is limited, as we have seen, by certain natural obstacles, which could not be passed with profit to those concerned in the production. At any rate the difference in the cost of printing by machinery and printing by hand would either have doubled the price of the 'Penny Magazine,' or in the same proportion diminished its size and its quality. Under those circumstances a sale at twenty thousand would have been a large sale. The saving of labour and the saving of time by the printing machine enable, in a great degree, this little work to be published at its present cost, and to be delivered, without any limitation to its supply, at regular periodical intervals throughout the United Kingdom. Without this invention a demand beyond the power of a press or two to meet would have become embarrassing. The work would have been perpetually out of print, as a failure in the supply of a book is termed. If extraordinary efforts had been made to prevent this, great expenses would have been created by the irregular exertion. The commercial difficulties of attempting a supply beyond the ordinary power of the mechanical means employed would have been insurmountable--the demand could not have been met.

"Having thus explained the general advantages of the printing machine for meeting the demand which now exists for books of large numbers, we will conduct our readers to Mr. Clowes's printing establishment, where there are more printing machines at work than at any other office in the world. It may be convenient, how ever, first to refer to the engraving of the sort of printing machine there principally employed, with the description of its several parts. The visitor to Mr. Clowes's office will be conducted into a room in which there are ten machines generally in full work. In an opposite room are six similar machines. The power which sets these in motion is supplied by two steam-engines. Upon entering the machine-room the stranger will naturally feel distracted by the din of so many wheels and cylinders in action; and if his imagination should present to him a picture of the effects which such instruments are producing and will produce, upon the condition of mankind, it may require some effort of the mind to understand the mode in which any particular machine does its work. Let us begin with one on which the 'Penny Magazine' is preparing to be printed off. One man, and sometimes two men, are engaged in what is technically called making ready; and this with stereotype plates is a tedious and delicate operation. The plates are secured upon wooden blocks by which they are raised to the height of moveable types; but then, with every care in casting, and in the subsequent turning operation, these plates, unlike moveable types, do not present a perfectly plane surface. There are hollow parts which must be brought up by careful adjustment; and this is effected by placing pieces of this paper under any point where the impression is faint. This process often occupies six or seven hours, particularly where there are casts from wood-cuts. Let us suppose it completed. Upon the solid steel table at each end of the machine lie the eight pages which print one side of the sheet. At the top of the machine, where the laying on boy stands, is a heap of wet paper. The visitor will have seen the process of wetting previously to entering the machine-room. Each quire of paper is dipped two or three times, according to its thickness, in a trough of water; and being opened is subjected, first to moderate pressure, and afterwards to the action of a powerful press, till the moisture is equally diffused through the whole heap. If the paper were not wetted, the ink, which is a composition of oil and lamp-black, would lie upon the surface and smear. To return to the machine. The signal being given by the director of the work, the 'laying-on boy turns a small handle, and the moving power of the strap connected with the engine is immediately communicated. Some ten or twenty spoiled sheets are first passed over the types to remove any dirt or moisture. If the director is satisfied, the boy begins to lay on the white paper. He places the sheet upon a flat table before him, with its edge ready to be seized by the apparatus for conveying it upon the drum. At the first movement of the great wheels the inking apparatus at each end has been set in motion. The steel cylinder attached to the reservoir of ink has begun slowly to move,--the 'doctor' has risen to touch that cylinder for an instant, and thus receive its supply of ink,--the inking-table has passed under the 'doctor' and carried off that supply--and the distributing-rollers have spread it equally over the surface of the table. This surface having passed under the inking-rollers, communicates the supply to them; and they in turn impart it to the form which is to be printed. All these beautiful operations are accomplished in the fifteenth part of a minute, by the travelling backward and forward of the carriage or table upon which the form tests. Each roller revolves upon an axis which is fixed. At the moment when the form at the back of the machine is passing under the inking-roller, the sheet, which the boy has carefully laid upon the table before him, is caught in the web-roller and conveyed to the endless bands of tapes which pass it over the first impression cylinder. It is here seized tightly by the bands, which fall between the pages and on the outer margins. The moment after the sheet is seized upon the first cylinder, the form passes under that cylinder, and the paper being brought in contact with it receives an impression on one side. To give the impression on the other side the sheet is to be turned over; and this is effected by the two drums in the centre of the machine. The endless tapes never lose their grasp of the sheet, although they allow it to be reversed. When the impression has been given by the first cylinder, the second form of tapes at the other end of the table has been inked. The drums have conveyed the sheet during this inking upon the second cylinder; it is brought into contact with the types; and the operation is complete.

"The machine which we have thus imperfectly described is a most important improvement of Koenig's original invention. That, like most first attempts, was extremely complicated. It possessed sixty wheels. Applegath and Cowper's machine has sixteen only. The inking apparatus of this machine is by far the most complete and economical that ever was invented. Nothing can be more perfect than the distribution of the ink and its application to the types. It has therefore entirely superseded Koenig's machine: and as the patent has expired, its use is rapidly extending, not only in England, but throughout Europe. Our limits will not permit us to attempt any description of the other machines which are employed in London. The most remarkable are the two now used by the 'Times' newspaper; each of which produces four thousand impressions per hour on one side of a sheet. These machines are modifications of Applegath's and Cowper's; and the additional speed is gained by having the sheets laid on at four different points instead of at one, and by employing four printing cylinders to press in succession upon one form. . . . " 

According to the title pages of volumes 1-3 in my collection, after these volumes were completed the issues of volume 1 were available for 4s. 6d. in nine monthly parts or 6s. bound in cloth, and issues of volume 2 were available for 6s in twelve monthly parts and 7s. 6d. bound in cloth, the same low price maintained for volume 3. Besides his own series on printing and book manufacturing, from 1841 to 1843 Knight commissioned from George Dodd a series of 44 illustrated articles on various manufacturing industries in England for The Penny Magazine. These he reissued in book form in 1843 as Days at the Factories; or, the Manufacturing Industry of Great Britain Described and Illustrated by Numerous Enravings of Machines and ProcessesThis included expanded versions of Knight's articles on book production.

In February 2015 I was surprised to find a copy of the American issue of Volumes 1 & 2 of Knight's Penny Magazine. This was characterized on its title page as "American Re-Issue, From the English Plates." It was printed on different, inferior paper, from the original stereotype plates, its main publisher being J. S. Redfield in New York in 1845. Copies were also distributed by various other named publishers in different cities as well as "The Cheap Publication Offices Generally Throughout the United States." This version did not include Knight's introduction to the first volume. Whether this reissue was a result of Knight's termination of the magazine in London in 1845, or just a coincidence, was unknown to me.

(This entry was last revised on 02-21-2015.)

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Pitman Shorthand, & The First "Correspondence Course" 1837

In 1837 Isaac Pitman published Stenographic Sound-Hand in London at the press of Samuel Bagster, introducing Pitman shorthand, a shorthand system for the English language.

Pitman's first pamphlet on the system, issued in London by Samuel Bagster, a publisher of bibles and related books on religion, consisted of only 11 pages and two lithographed plates.

In contrast to previous shorthand writing systems, which were mostly orthographic, or based on short-cuts in spelling, Pitman's system was mostly phonetic. 

In the 1840s Pitman offered instruction in his shorthand system by correspondence course. This was the first widely adopted practice of distance education, responsible, to a large extent, for the successful dissemination of Pitman's system.

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"The News of the World", a Newspaper for the Newly Literate Working Classes, Begins Publication October 1, 1843

On October 1, 1843 John Browne Bell began publication in London of The News of the World. 

"Priced at just three pence (equal to £1.04 today), even before the repeal of the Stamp Act (1855) or paper duty (1861), it was the cheapest newspaper of its time and was aimed directly at the newly literate working classes. It quickly established itself as a purveyor of titillation, shock and criminal news. Much of the source material came from coverage of vice prosecutions, including transcripts of police descriptions of alleged brothels, streetwalkers, and 'immoral' women" (Wikipedia article on News of the World, accessed 07-07-2011).

(This entry was last revised on March 28, 2014.)

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Foundation of Microphotography; Landmark in Hematology, Oncology, and Pathology 1844 – 1845

In 1844 and 1845 French physician Alfred François Donné published Cours de microscopie compémentaire des études médicales in Paris. The folio atlas of plates, which appeared one year after the text, included twenty plates showing engraved images of 86 microdaguerreotypes taken by medical student, later physicist Léon Foucault. Because daguerreotypes were unique images they could not be duplicated by a photographic process like prints from photographic negatives, and had to be engraved for reproduction by printing.

Donné, a French public health physician, began teaching his pioneering course on medical microscopy in 1837, a time when the medical establishment remained largely unconvinced of the microscope’s usefulness as a diagnostic and investigative tool. In July 1839 Louis Daguerre, one of the inventors of photography, announced to the Académie des Sciences his “daguerreotype” process for creating finely detailed photographic images on specially prepared glass plates. Donné immediately embraced this new art, and within a few months had created not only the first documented photographic portrait in Europe, but also the earliest method of preparing etched plates from daguerreotypes. Donné resolved to incorporate photography into his microscopy course, and in February 1840 he presented to the Académie his first photographic pictures of natural objects as seen through the microscope. “It was Alfred Donné who foresaw the helpful role that projections of microscopic pictures could play during lectures on micrography” (Dreyfus, p. 38).

Over the next few years Donné continued to refine his photomicrography methods with the help of his assistant, Léon Foucault (who would go on to have a distinguished career as a physicist).  Donne's and Foucault's work was the first biomedical textbook to be illustrated with images made from photomicrographs. Among its noteworthy images are the first microphotographs of human blood cells and platelets, and the first photographic illustration of Trichomonas vaginalis, the protozoon responsible for vaginal infections, which Donné had discovered in 1836. The text volume of the Cours contains the first description of the microscopic appearance of leukemia, which Donné had observed in blood taken from both an autopsy and a living patient. His observations mark the first time that leukemia was linked with abnormal blood pathology:

"There are conditions in which white cells seem to be in excess in the blood. I found this fact so many times, it is so evident in certain patients, that I cannot conceive the slightest doubt in this regard. One can find in some patients such a great number of these cells that even the least experienced observer is greatly impressed. I had an opportunity of seeing these in a patient under Dr. Rayer at the Hôpital de la Charité. . . . The blood of this patient showed such a number of white cells that I thought his blood was mixed with pus, but in the end, I was able to observe a clear-cut difference between these cells, and the white cells . . . "(p. 135; translation from Thorburn, pp. 379-80).

The following year this abnormal blood condition was recognized as a new disease by both John Hughes Bennett (a former student of Donné’s) and Rudolf Virchow.

Norman, Morton's Medical Bibliography (1991) nos.  267.1, 3060.1. Dreyfus, Some Milestones in the History of Hematology, pp. 38-40, 54-56, 76-78. Frizot, A New History of Photography, p. 275. Gernsheim & Gernsheim, The History of Photography 1685-1914, pp. 116, 539. Hannavy, Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. 1, p. 1120. Wintrobe, Hematology: The Blossoming of a Science, p. 12. Bernard, Histoire illustrée de l’hématologie, passim. Thorburn, “Alfred François Donné, 1801-1878, discoverer of Trichomonas vaginalis and of leukaemia,” British Journal of Venereal Disease 50 (1974) 377-380.

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Spencerian Script Begins 1848

Believing that America needed a style of penmanship that could be written quickly, legibly and elegantly for both business correspondence and personal letter-writing, in 1848 American educator and handwriting teacher Platt Rogers Spencer published, with Victor M. Rice, Spencer and Rice's System of Business and Ladies' Penmanship.

"Spencerian Script was developed in 1840, and began soon after to be taught in the school Spencer established specifically for that purpose. He quickly turned out graduates who left his school to start replicas of it abroad, and Spencerian Script thus began to reach the common schools. Spencer never saw the great success that his penmanship style enjoyed, having died in 1864, but his sons took upon themselves the mission of bringing their late father's dream to fruition.

"This they did by publishing and distributing Spencer's unpublished book, Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship, in 1866. Spencerian Script became the standard across the United States and remained so until the 1920s when the spreading popularity of the typewriter rendered its use as a prime method of business communication obsolete" (Wikipedia article on Spencerian Script, accessed 09-19-2010).

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Report on Select Committee on Public Libraries July 23, 1849

On July 23, 1849 the British House of Commons published Report from the Select Committee on Public Libraries; Together with Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, and AppendixThis proceedings was largely motivated by the report of librarian Edward Edwards entitled Approximate Statistical View of the Principal Public Libraries of Europe and of the United States of America, which was published as an Appendix  on pp. 255-305. The validity of much of these statistics has been criticized, but their publication had a beneficial effect on library development.

As a result of this report, which contained extensive testimony by Edward EdwardsFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotGuglielmo (William) Libri, and Samuel Smiles, politician William Ewart sponsored the 1850 Public Libraries Act, and because of his contributions Edward Edwards was appointed the first librarian of the first major library opened under the Public Libraries Act, the Manchester Free Library.

Edwards resigned from this post in 1858; the following year he issued the first comprehensive account of the development of libraries

(This entry was last revised on 06-16-2014.)

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1850 – 1875

Incunabula of the Zulu Language, and a Zulu Beadwork Love Letter 1850 – 1937

On March 1, 2014 Claudia Funke, Curator of Rare Books at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, drew my attention to a non-written Zulu beadwork love letter preserved in the "Curosities Cabinet" at the UNC rare book collection. Zulu, the language of about 10 million people, 95% of whom live in South Africa, was not a written language until contact with missionaries from Europe, who documented the language using Latin script. The first grammar book of the Zulu language was published in Norway, rather than in South Africa, by the Norwegian missionary Hans Schreuder, founder of the first Christian mission in Zululand: Grammatike for Zulu-sproget, forfattet af H.P.S. Schreuder (Christiania [Oslo], 1850). According to the Wikipedia, the first published book printed in Zulu was a Bible translation: Ibaible eli ingcwele; eli Netestamente Elidala, Nelitya, kukitywa kuzo izilimi zokuqala, ku lotywa ngokwesizulu. The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, translated out of the original tongues, into the Zulu language (New York: American Bible Society, 1883). Considering how late reading and writing came to the Zulus, we can well understand how non-written communication evolved in this culture in interesting ways.

According to Claudia Funke,

"In 1937, Daniel M. Malcolm, Chief Inspector of Native Education in Natal, South Africa, brought the letter to UNC-Chapel Hill as a visual aid for a lecture he gave at that year’s “Conference on Education of American Negroes and African Natives.” Malcolm explained that the letter was written by a girl to her beloved. The white beads indicate the purity of her heart, and the red beads show that her heart is broken and bleeding for her beloved. The four black squares represent four questions about their relationship that he must answer. Malcolm gave the love letter to UNC and its Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book. It subsequently became part of the RBC’s “Curiosities Cabinet,” which houses many other non-codex objects of significance for the history of the book, such as cuneiform tablets and papyrus fragments."

It may be impossible to date the Zulu beadwork love letter at UNC accurately, so I assigned the accession date at UNC as a terminal date for this entry.

Long after Zulus achieved literacy, the tradition of non-written, or at least partly non-written, Zulu love letters appears to be continuing, as reflected in the 2004 film Zulu Love Letter:

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Amir Kabir Founds the First Modern Institution of Learning in Iran 1851

In 1851 Dar al-Funun (Persian: دارالفنون‎), the first modern institution of higher learning in Persia, was established in Tehran. Conceived as a polytechnic to train upper-class Persian youth in Medicine, Engineering, Military Science, and Geology, Dar-al-Funun was founded by Amir Kabir, then the royal vizier to Nasereddin Shah, the Shah of Iran.  "It was similar in scope and purpose to American land grant colleges like Purdue and Texas A&M. Like them, it developed and expanded its mission over the next hundred years, eventually becoming the University of Tehran" (Wikipedia article on Dar al-Funun, accessed 05-24-2012).

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Richard Chenevix Trench Describes the Need for What Would Become the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) 1857

Richard Chenevix Trench, Dean of Westminster, published On some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries. Being the Substance of two Papers read before the Philological Society, Nov. 5 and November 19, 1857. Trench's speeches laid down the desiderata for a new English dictionary based on historical principles. Two months later the Philological Society resolved that A New English Dictionary, as it was first called, should be compiled, readers were called for, and the project began.

In 1860 Trench published a revised and enlarged second edition of his pamphlet, including "A Letter to the Author from Herbert Coleridge, Esq. on the Progress and Prospects of the Society's New English Dictionary."

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"The Art Treasures of Great Britain," Perhaps the Largest Art Exhibition ever Held May 5 – October 17, 1857

During 142 days, from May 5 to October 17, 1857 The Art Treasures of Great Britain exhibition held in Manchester, England, displayed over 16,000 works of art. It was the largest art exhibition ever held in the United Kingdom, and probably the largest art exhibition ever held anywhere. The exhibition attracted 1,300,000 visitors— more than the 827,000 who attended in the The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held from May 1 to October 11, 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London. One of the best published records of the exhibition was The Art-Treasures Examiner: A Pictorial, Cricial, and Historical Record of the Art-Treasures Exhibition, at Manchester in 1857. Illustrated with two dramatic full-page plates printed in color by Leighton, and about 150 wood-engravings, this small folio work was issued by Alexander Ireland in Manchester and W. H. Smith in London. 

In January 2015 a superb reproduction of a fine photograph of the main gallery of the exhibition taken by Leonida Caldesi and Mattia Montecchi was available from the John Rylands University Library at this link. This image was the first print after the contents page of the "Ancient Series" volume of the two-volume "Ancient" and "Modern" series, Photographs of the Gems of the Art Treasures Exhibition (London: Colnaghi & Agnew, 1858). This set published 200 photographs of what were considered some of the most significant items displayed.

"The exhibition was held outside the city centre. . . The site was conveniently adjacent to Manchester Botanical Garden and to the west of an existing railway line of the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway. The railway company built a new station (now Old Trafford Metrolink station) which was used by thousands of visitors from the city and from further afield on organised excursions. C.D. Young & Co, of London and Edinburgh – already engaged as builders of the new art museum in South Kensington (which later became the V [ictoria]& A[lbert]) – were appointed as contractors to build a temporary iron-and-glass structure similar to the Crystal Palace in London, 656 feet (200 m) long and 200 feet (61 m) wide, with one central barrel vault 56 feet (17 m) wide with a 24 feet (7.3 m) wide hip vault on either side roofing a 104 feet (32 m) wide central gallery running the length of the building, and narrower barrel vaults 45 feet (14 m) wide to either side, all crossed by a 104 feet (32 m) transept towards the western end.[9] The design of the main structure has been attributed to Francis Fowke,[10] who later designed the Natural History Museum in London, and an ornamental brick entrance at the eastern end was designed by local architect Edward Salomons. The materials used included 650 long tons (660 t) of cast iron, 600 long tons (610 t) of wrought iron, 65,000 square feet (6,000 m2) of glass and 1.5 million bricks.

"Internally, the building included a large hall, with corrugated iron sides and vaults supported by iron columns, with space for an orchestra at one end and a large pipe organ by Kirtland and Jardine. Each column bore the exhibition's monogram: "ATE". The hall was subdivided internally by partitions, creating separate galleries. The interior was lined with wood panels covered with calico. Most internal decoration was done by John Gregory Crace of London. A 24-foot (7.3 m) wide gallery ran around the transept at an upper level. The central third of each vault was glazed, providing ample diffuse light. In the summer, the glazing in the picture galleries was shaded with calico to prevent damage to the artworks, and firemen played water on the roof as a form of rudimentary air conditioning when the interior temperature exceeded 70 °F (21 °C). Young & Co's original quote of £24,500 proved over-optimistic, and cost overruns pushed the final bill up to £37,461" (Wikipedia article on Art Treasures Exhbition, Manchester 1857, accessed 08-25-2013).

"The exhibition comprised over 16,000 works split into 10 categories – Pictures by Ancient Masters, Pictures by Modern Masters, British Portraits and Miniatures, Water Colour Drawings, Sketches and Original Drawings (Ancient), Engravings, Illustrations of Photography, Works of Oriental Art, Varied Objects of Oriental Art, and Sculpture. The collection included 5,000 paintings and drawings by "Modern Masters" such as Hogarth, Gainsborough, Turner, Constable, and the Pre-Raphaelites, and 1,000 works by European Old Masters, including Rubens, Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt; several hundred sculptures; photographs, including Crimean War images by James Robertson and the photographic tableau Two Ways of Life by Oscar Gustave Rejlander; and other works of decorative arts, such as Wedgwood china, Sèvres and Meissen porcelain, Venetian glass, Limoges enamels, ivories, tapestries, furniture, tableware and armour. The Committee bought the collection of Jules Soulages of Toulouse, founder of the Société Archéologique du Midi de la France for £13,500 to form the core of the collection of medieval and Renaissance decorative arts. The collection had previously been exhibited at Marlborough House in London with a view to being acquired for the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), but HM Treasury refused to fund the purchase. They were later acquired by the V&A.

"The works were organised chronologically, to demonstrate the development of art, with works from northern Europe on one wall contrasted with contemporaneous works from southern Europe on the facing wall. Although the collection included works from Europe and the Orient, it had a clear emphasis on British works.

"Most public British collections were in a nascent state, so most of the works were borrowed from 700 private collections. Many had never been exhibited in public before. The exhibition included the Madonna and Child with Saint John and the Angels, which had only recently been attributed to Michelangelo. The showing of this unfinished work caused much excitement, and it is still known as the Manchester Madonna" (Wikipedia. op. cit.).

Pergam, The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. Entrepreneurs, Connoiseurs and the Public (2011).

(This entry was last revised on 01-12-2015.)

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Queen Victoria Charters the First Distance Learning Program 1858

In 1858 Queen Victoria chartered the University of London's External Programme, making it the first university to offer distance learning degrees by mail to students. Charles Dickens referred to the non-denominational University of London as the "People's University" because it provided access to higher education to students from less affluent backgrounds,

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Requiring Universal Education of Children Between the Ages of 5 and 12 in England and Wales 1870

On February 17, 1870, after campaigning by the National Education League, the Elementary Education Act 1870, drafted by liberal MP William Forster, and commonly known as Forster's Education Act, was introduced in Parliament. The Act established the framework for compulsory schooling of all children in England and Wales between ages 5 and 12 in England and Wales.

"A driving force behind the Act was a perceived need for Britain to remain competitive in the world by being at the forefront of manufacture and improvement.

"The Act was not taken up in all areas and would be more firmly enforced through later reforms. There were objections to the concept of universal education. One was because many people remained hostile to the idea of mass education. They claimed it would make labouring classes 'think' and that these classes would think of their lives as dissatisfying and possibly encourage them to revolt. Others feared that handing children to a central authority could lead to indoctrination. Another reason was the vested interests of the Church and other social groups. The churches were funded by the state with public money to provide education for the poor and these churches did not want to lose that influence on youth.

"The Act established the foundations of English elementary education. The state (Gladstonian Liberalism) became increasingly involved and after 1880 attendance was made compulsory for children until they were 12 years old.

"The Act was passed partly in response to political factors (such as the need to educate the citizens recently enfranchised by the Reform Act 1867 to vote wisely). It also came about due to demands for reform from industrialists, who feared Britain's status in world trade was being threatened by the lack of an effective education system. The spectacular military successes of the Prussian army prompted Gladstone to consider the military benefits of an Education Act; as he remarked: 'Undoubtedly, the conduct of the campaign, on the German side, has given a marked triumph to the cause of systematic popular education' " (Wikipedia article on Elementary Education Act 1870, accessed 06-07-2012).

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1875 – 1900

The Caxton Quadricentennial Celebration: Probably the Largest Exhibition on the History of Printing Ever Held; Collecting its Publications June 30 – September 1, 1877

In the summer of 1877, four hundred years after printer William Caxton published The Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres, the first book printed in England, the Caxton Celebration opened in the western International Exhibition Galleries on the Queen's road side of the Horticultural Society's Gardens at South Kensington in London. The exhibition was organized by its Chairman, typefounder and politician Sir Charles Reed, by large scale industrial printer William Clowes, by mathematician and physicist from a family of major printers, William Spottiswoode, by printer, biographer and bibliographer of Caxton and rare book collector, William Blades, and various committees. Two hundred or more people participated in some way as patrons or members of committees, representing a "who's who" of the printing industry in England and Europe at the time, along with leading scientists, scholars, librarians and collectors. A few Americans such as printing machine designer and builder Richard M. Hoe were also involved in committees. The exhibition was open for two months, from June 30 to September 1, 1877. According to David McKitterick, Old Books, New Technologies  (2013, p. 175) the exhibition "attracted a reported 23,684 visitors" —an impressive number considering the population size and literacy levels of the time.

Planning for the exhibition, of course, started many months before it opened, and publicity was extensive. The illustrated newspaper, The Pictorial World in their issue of February 24, 1877, reported on a preliminary meeting of planners, including Sir Charles Reed and W. Spottswoode, held in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey, a published an engraving showing 12 mostly bearded men sitting around a table, including a secretary taking notes. Publicity for the show eventually seems to have included marketing to children, or at least to parents who read to children. It is hard to imagine how such incentives would have any appeal to children, or their parents, in the second decade of the 21st century:

"Maclise's celebrated painting of Caxton showing the first specimen of his printing to Edward IV had been painted twenty years earlier, and when it was engraved in 1858 it was in the possession of John Forster (d. 1876). In 1877 it was on loan from its new owner, Lord Lytton, to the South Kensington Museum. The central part of the engraving was reissued in April 1877, as a contribution to the festivities. Reproductions were available at reduced prices to readers of Young Folks and Young Folk's Weekly Budget. As the original copies of the steel engraving had cost 4 guineas and upwards, the special offer price of a shilling plus vouchers from the magazines was a considerable bargain" (David McKitterick, Old Books, New Technologies [2013] 170-71.)

In their issue of June 30, 1877, the opening day of the exhibition, the British illustrated weekly newspaper, The Graphic, published a double-page image captioned "The Caxton Celebration. William Caxton Showing Specimens of His Printing to King Edward IV and His Queen." In their issue of July 1, 1877 The Illustrated London News published a collection of images related to the exhibition called "Caxtoniana." The same newspaper in their issue of July 7 (p. 18) published an article on the opening of exhibition and on p. 17 a large image captioned, "Mr. Gladstone at the Caxton Memorial Exhibition, South Kensington, on Saturday Last." The image showed Prime Minister Gladstone watching printing done on a "Gutenberg-style" hand-press. The Illustrated London News described the opening ceremony of the exhibition as follows:

"The opening ceremony was brief and simple. The leading part was borne by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone. He was met by Sir Charles Reed, chairman of the committee; Mr. W. Blades, the biographer of Caxton; and the other gentlemen we have named, with the Archbishop of York. A large assembly of ladies and gentlemen filled the rooms assigned for this ceremony, as well as the adjacent galleries. After a special dedicatory prayer offered by the Archbishop, Sir Charles Reed read a short statement of the occasion and the objects of the Exhibition. Mr. Hodson, secetary to the Printers' Pension Corporation, handed to Mr. Gladstone a copy of the Exhibition Catalogue. The right hon. gentleman then declared the Exhibition to be opened. This formal declaration was immediately hailed by a flourish of trumpets from the band of the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Mr. Gladstone was conducted through the exhibition, which he examined with attentive interest. Our Illustration shows him looking at the working of an old press. There was a luncheon provided by the Conservatory of the Horticultural Society's Gardens. The chair was occupied by Mr. Gladstone, at whose right hand sat his Majesty the Emperor of Brazil, but the Emperor left the table before the toasts were proposed. His Majesty's health was, of course, duly honoured next to that of our Queen and Royal family. In his principal speech, giving the memory of William Caxton for the chief toast, Mr. Gladstone commented upon the invention of printing, with his usual copiousness of thought and knowledge, and expressed his admiration of the results now attained. The other speakers were the Bishop of Bath and Wells; Dr. Joseph Parker; Mr. Hall, of the Oxford University Press; M. Chaix, of Paris; Herr Fröbel, of Stuttgart; Sir C. Reed, and Mr. G. Spottiswoode. Subscriptions and donations to the Printers' Pension Corporation fund were announced, amounting to £2000, besides which there will be the receipts from the Exhibition." 

The Tablet, The International Catholic News Weekly, took an interest in the exhibition, reviewing it on pp. 7-8 of its issue dated July 28, 1877. An Irish novelist, Catherine Mary MacSorley, commemorated the anniversary by publishing an historical novel for young people about Caxton entitled The Earl-Printer. A Tale of the Time of Caxton (London, 1877).

As a record of the exhibition, a catalogue was edited by George Bullen (1816-94) Keeper of the Printed Books at the British Museum, entitled Caxton Celebration, 1877. Catalogue of the Loan Collection of Antiquities, Curiosities, and Appliances Connected with the Art of Printing. In its final form this 472 page book listed, sometimes with descriptive bibliographical notes, a total of 4734 items exhibited, making this probably the largest exhibition of rare books, prints, and printing equipment ever held. It encompassed works from the Gutenberg Bible and the Mainz Psalter up to 1877, including about 190 Caxtons, classics illustrating the spread of printing, landmarks of book illustration, examples of music printing, books on papermaking, notable achievements in color printing, examples of historic, unusual or new technologies in printing, as well as printing presses and typesetting and typefounding equipment. Notably, the catalogue contained no images. Presumably it was a sufficient challenge just to publish a non-illustrated bibliographical record of such an enormous exhibition, crediting the numerous lenders to the show.

I first learned about this exhibition when, out of curiosity, I happened to order a copy of the catalogue online, probably in 2010. When I skimmed through the catalogue, the size and extent of the exhibition amazed me. Then I noticed that there seemed to be different versions of the catalogue available, so I began to collect as many different ones as I could. Collecting about and around this exhibition in 2011 and 2012 allowed me to reconstruct some of the history of the exhibition, and the strangely complex publication of this exhibition catalogue. By June 2012 I identified 8 editions or states:

(1) During the early days of the exhibition a small number of preliminary "Rough Proof" copies of the catalogue were available. (This version I have not seen.) Also available for one shilling was a 32-page pamphlet written by William Blades entitled A Guide to the Objects of Chief Interest in the Loan Collection of the Caxton Celebration, Queen's Gate, South Kensington. (This I have not seen.)

(2) A bit later during the exhibition a "Preliminary Issue" with 404pp. and 10 leaves of advertisements was issued in pale blue printed wrappers for sale at 1s. This version, which was called "Preliminary Issue" on both its printed wrapper and title page, listed 4633 entries. In it Class C was entitled "The Comparative Development of the Art of Printing in England and Foreign Countries Illustrated by Specimens of the Holy Scriptures and Liturgies." The number of entries in Class C ended at 1351, leaving a gap of 100 items between the next entry in the catalogue, No. 1451 beginning "Class D, Specimens Noticeable for Rarity or for Beauty and Excellence of Typography." This indicates that the cataloguing of Class C was incomplete at the time the Preliminary Issue was printed.

(3) Later during the exhibition a version with 456pp and 11 leaves of advertisements was issued. My copy of this is bound in original brown cloth, edges untrimmed. It lists 4734 entries. In this version pp. xiv-xviii were reset to allow the addition of several names to various committees. Also the entire Class C was substantially rewritten and expanded, which required resetting numerous pages. In this version Class C is headed "The History of Printing Illustrated by the Printed Bible, 1450-1877, By Henry Stevens." A new gathering  M*was inserted, between gatherings M and N, its pages numbered 176a to 176q, bringing the Bibles catalogued up to No. 1450, and the Liturgies numbered 1450a-1450θ. Since  Henry Stevens's introduction to Class C is dated July 25, 1877 we may presume that this version came out either very late in July or during August. 

(4) Virtually at the end of the exhibition a "Revised Edition" of the catalogue was issued in tan printed wrappers, containing 472 pages and 11 leaves of advertisements at the back. The designation "Revised Edition" appeared only on the upper printed wrapper, and not the title page. This was priced 2s. 6d. My copy of this version bears the inscription of George William Reid, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, who, according to Bullen's Introduction (p. xi), catalogued the various woodcuts, copper-plates and other engravings in Class G of the exhibition. Reid's inscription is dated September 1877. Without the printed wrappers the different versions can be determined by the number of pages. It is evident that many or all gatherings were reprinted for this edition in which the entries were renumbered in one series with continuous pagination.

(5) After the exhibition 157 hand-numbered large-paper copies of the revised edition with 472pp. were available on "superfine toned hand-made paper," edges untrimmed in a special original brown cloth binding for 1 guinea, and

(6) 12 hand-numbered copies were available on extra large, thick hand-made paper at the cost of 5 guineas, likewise in an original brown cloth binding, edges untrimmed. No copies of  (5) or (6) that I have seen had wrappers or ads. (Remarkably, I was able to acquire two of the twelve extra large paper copies issued.)

(7)  After the exhibition some of the copies of the catalogue printed on regular paper were bound in cloth for sale. I have a copy bound in original green cloth, edges trimmed, without ads.

(8) I also have a copy bound in original red cloth, edges trimmed, stamped "PRESENTATION COPY" on the upper cover with an inscription to British Museum Librarian, G. W. Porter, from J. S. Hodson, Honorary Secretary of the Executive Committee dated November 17, 1877. This copy contains 2 leaves of ads at the back. In his introduction to the catalogue George Bullen credits Hodson, who was Secretary of the "Printers' Pension, Almshouse and Orphan Asylum Corporation," for "having originated this celebration," the proceeds of which went to support the Printers charities that Hodson managed.

The most extensive section in the exhibition, and also the most extensively annotated portion of the catalogue, was "Class C, The History of Printing Illustrated by the Printed Bible, 1450-1877" by the American bibliographer and antiquarian bookseller Henry Stevens who lived in London. Stevens ran into conflicts with the organizers of the exhibition, who were concerned that Stevens's extensive exhibition and detailed cataloguing was unduly prominent. They may also have been irritated that some of Stevens's extensive cataloguing was not finished until the middle of show. At the end of his introduction to Class C Stevens, whose extensive bibliography proves that he clearly enjoyed writing, indicated that he would publish a revised edition of his portion of the catalogue after the show. This he duly published as an unillustrated 151 page book in 1878 under the following verbose title:

The Bibles in the Caxton Exhibition MDCCCLXXVII or a bibliographical description of nearly one thousand representative Bibles in various languages chronologically arranged from the first Bible printed by Gutenberg in 1450-1456 to the last Bible printed at the Oxford University Press the 30th June 1877. With an Introduction on the History of Printing as Illustrated by the printed Bible from 1450 to 1877 in which is told for the first time the true history and mystery of the Coverdale Bible of 1535 Together with bibliographical notes and collations of many rare Bibles in various languages and divers versions printed during the last four centuries.  

This book Stevens issued both as an octavo trade edition on ordinary paper and clothbound, and on large paper printed on Whatman hand-made paper. Large paper copies were advertised for 15s in a half-roan binding or in red morocco extra by Bedford for £4.4s.  My copy of the large paper edition is in an original green cloth binding matching the binding of the trade edition, and comes from the library of Henry Frowde of Oxford University Press, who became Publisher of the press in 1880. In his book Stevens explained that his efforts were the culmination of 30 years of work on Bible bibliography. Stevens began his book with an essay entitled "The Flavour." This was largely in response to a review of his Bible exhibition published in The Saturday Review on August 17, 1877—the last of five reviews of the Caxton exhibition published in that journal. Stevens evidently felt so highly his essay that he had it published separately as a pamphlet in printed wrappers.[ This I did learn about until I found a copy in February 2016.]  For the exhibition Stevens borrowed Bibles from sources including the British Museum, the Bodleian, Queen Victoria, Earl Spencer, the Earl of Leicester, Francis Fry, the Signet Library and its librarian, David Laing of Edinburgh, and Henry J. Atkinson of Gunnersbury House in Middlesex.

The Caxton Memorial Bible as a Demonstration of Progress in Book Production Since Caxton's Time

At the instigation of Henry Stevens, Henry Frowde of Oxford University Press undertook the publication of a Bible that would demonstrate the advances in printing technology since its introduction in England by Caxton. By Stevens's account this was a last minute idea of Stevens undertaken by the press only a few days before opening of the exhibition. The Bible was printed on machine presses at Oxford by Oxford University Press, and bound by Oxford University Press in London in an edition of 100 numbered copies, with the printing and binding occurring in only twelve hours on the opening day of the exhibition, June 30, 1877. Printing began at 2:00 AM on June 30, and the first bound copies were delivered at the opening of the exhibition at 2:00 PM on the same day. Copy No.2 was presented to Gladstone when he opened the show, copy No. 1 having been reserved for Her Majesty the Queen. In March 1878 Stevens published a small 30-page book (page size 115 x 85 mm) entitled The History of the Caxton Memorial Bible printed and bound in twelve consecutive hours on June 30, 1877. In this book Stevens told the story of this remarkable achievement in which copies of the 1052-page volume were printed from standing type on paper specially made for the edition by Oxford University Press only a few days before printing. The printed sheets were artificially dried and hand-bound in turkey morocco by 101 binders assigned to the task. Stevens calculated that had type composition been necessary it would have taken "2000 compositors and 200 readers to set up and properly read the Bible in these same twelve hours." (In 1877, about a decade before the invention of the Linotype and Monotype, there was no widely used method of machine composition.) It was agreed that all copies of the Memorial Bible would be presented and none would be sold, and that copy No. 1, and every third number, would be allotted by Oxford University Press, that copy No. 2 and every third number thereafter would be allotted by Henry Stevens, and that every third number thereafter would be allotted by the Delegates of the University Press and the Dons of Oxford.

In October 2014 I was able to purchase a copy of the Caxton Memorial Bible—certainly the highlight of my Caxton Celebration collection. The page size of the volume is 160 x 110 mm. It is bound in full black crushed morocco, raised bands on the spine and tooled in gold on the spine "The Caxton Memorial Bible. Oxford, June 30th 1877." The edges are gilt. On the upper cover is stamped the arms of Oxford University. On the turn-in below the front pastedown endpaper is stamped in gold "Bound at the Oxford University Binding Establishment in London on this 30th day of June 1877." Facing the title page is printed "Wholly printed and bound in twelve hours, on this 30th day of June, 1877, for the Caxton Celebration. Only 100 copies were printed, of which this is No. 20." Beneath this is handwritten "Allotted to William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst Esq. M. P. by Henry N. Stevens 24 May 1889." Lord Amherst was a distinguished collector of books, manuscripts and Egyptian antiquities. As the allotment to Amherst occurred twelve years after publication it is evident that Stevens held onto at least one copy for more than a decade after the exhibition. Stevens crossed out the printed word "Presented" and replaced it with "alloted." The title page of the Bible states at its head "[In Memoriam Gul. Caxton.] and at its foot "Minion 16mo. June 30, 1877. Cum Privilegio." At the foot of the first page of each of the 32 gatherings that comprise the book is printed "The Oxford Caxton Celebration Edition, 1877." My copy is enclosed in a full black straight-grained morocco pull-off case labeled in the same typeface as is stamped on the spine of the Bible. Inside the slipcase "No 20" is stamped in gold. All the copies were bound identically and presented in this way. 

In comparison with the speed of papermaking, printing and binding in Caxton's time the speed of production of the Caxton Memorial Bible represented an enormous advance, so great that it would be difficult to quantify, and it is evident that the producers of the Caxton Memorial Bible were very proud of these advances. What would have taken perhaps a year or more in Caxton's time for the paper to be made by hand, for the typesetting to be done by hand, for the printing to be done on a handpress, and for the binding to be done by hand, was accomplished in less than a day. Particularly in the 15th century type was a scarce and very expensive commodity so no printer could have kept more than a few formes before they would have to be run through the press, and the type reused to print the next formes, but by the 19th century large printers such as Oxford University Press kept many standard works in standing type even though they could use stereotype plates instead.  If we compare the speed of completion of these hundred Caxton Memorial Bibles with 21st century printing technology it is probable that the papermaking and printing could be done as rapidly or perhaps even faster than what was achieved on June 30, 1877. However, I doubt if in the 21st century 101 hand binders capable of binding the volumes as rapidly and enclosing them in the elaborate pull-off slipcase could be found and organized to do the task without exceptionally elaborate and time-consuming preparation-maybe years of training. To achieve anywhere near this speed of production of such an elaborate binding and slipcase the work would have to be done by machine.

For enclosure with the Bible Stevens had a special version of his History of the Caxton Memorial Bible produced on very thin paper and bound in brown moire silk over very thin boards. In this Stevens repeated the autograph inscription that he wrote in the Bible, and he added Lord Amherst's name to the list of recipients of copies printed at the back of his small book. The edition is so thin that it fits in the slipcase with the Bible. My copy of the regular edition is printed on relatively thick laid paper, and in its binding of blind-stamped and gilt calf over boards is roughly five times as thick as the thin paper version.

The Roles of William Blades and Talbot Baines Reed

The remarkable exhibition of rare books on the history of printing and typography described in the exhibition catalogue for the Caxton Celebration was loaned in its entirety by William Blades, who also catalogued all the Caxtons and other early English printed books in the exhibition. Blades was also a collector of medals relating to the history of printing and hoped to have a medal struck commemorating the 1877 celebration. For the purpose he issued a prospectus with a reproduction of the proposed design; however, there were insufficient subscribers, and the medal is known only from the prospectus, the design from which was reproduced by Henry Morris in his introduction to the 2001 facsimile reprint of Bigmore & Wyman.

The superb exhibition of type specimens in the show was curated by writer, typefounder, historian of type foundries, and son of Sir Charles Reed, Talbot Baines Reed

♦ One of the more unusual Caxton Celebration items I collected is an 8-page 4to pamphlet entitled Caxton Celebration June 1877. A Biographical Notice of William Caxton The First English Printer Reprinted from the "Leisure Hour" for May, 1877 in Phonetic Spelling with a Specimen page of Caxton's Type and Woodcuts. This pamphlet, with an introduction by Isaac Pitman dated May 29, 1877, was issued by Fred. Pitman in London and offered for sale at the price of one penny, presumably at the exhibition. In his lengthy introduction Issac Pitman referred to the Elementary Education Act of 1870, requiring education of children in England and Wales, and took the opportunity to promote phonetic spelling as a way of simplifying British education and improving national literacy. In a footnote he wrote: "The Educational Blue Book for 1875-6 gives the following statistics:- 2,221,745 children were presented for examination. Of this number, 19,349 (or less than one per cent.) reached Standard VI :- and 53,587 (3 1/2 per cent, including the previous number) reached Standard V, which a pupil must pass before he is permited to leave school under 13 years of age."

Other publications issued in connection with the exhibition were a new edition of William Blades's The Biography and Typography of William Caxton England's First Printer (1877; first published 1861), William Caxton, the First English Printer. A Biography by printer and publisher Charles Knight (1877). This was a new edition of a work previously issued in 1844; on its upper printed wrapper the printers stated that it was "Printed and Presented to the Caxton Celebration by William Clowes and Sons." Also published in 1877 was a 47-page pamphlet entitled, Who Was William Caxton? by "R[owland] H [ill] B[lades]", brother of William Blades. This was intended to fill a need for an inexpensive, relatively brief account of Caxton. In March 2016 I came across a reference to still another publication produced for the exhibition: A Short History of the Art of Printing in England by Arthur. C. J. Powell. Issued as a Supplement to the Printers' Register, in commoration of the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the Introduction of Printing into England. London: Joseph M. Powell, "Printers' Register" Office, 1877. This was a well-illustrated 66-page article.  An unusual aspect was the advertisment facing the title page in which the publisher, Joseph M. Powell, Type Broker, and Manufacturer of Printing Materials, offered to supply a "Small Printing Office complete for £115."

There were two elaborate publications associated with the exhibition:

1. A facsimile of Caxton's The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers. A Facsimile Reproduction of the First Book Printed in England by William Caxton in 1477. This facsimile, printed in two-color photolithography, included an introduction by William Blades printed by letterpress. The volume was offered for sale by the London publisher Elliot Stock in 1877 at the price of one guinea bound in a heavy coated paper binding over boards, and blindstamped very effectively to resemble a blind-stamped calf binding of the 15th century.

2. A facsimile limited to 257 signed copies, with woodcuts printed from the "original woodblocks" entitled New Biblia Pauperum Being Thirty-Eight Woodcuts Illustrating the Life, Parables & Miracles of Our Blessed Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ, with the Proper Descriptions thereof, extracted from the Translation of the New Testament, by John Wiclif, Sometime Rector of Lutterworth. This was issued from London, "Printed at the Sign of The Grasshopper," by Unwin Brothers, The Gresham Press, 1877. The edition was bound in blind-stamped drab boards, copying a design taken from an early block book in the British Museum, with two brass catches and clasps. The work seems to have been a kind of hodge-podge in that the original woodblocks, which dated sometime between 1470-1540, were purchased by the Unwin brothers, and used to illustrate the facsimile text of John Wycliffe's New Testament of 1525, which was printed in Caxton Type No. 2. At the time it was unknown what work these woodblocks originally illustrated. as they were not "recognized as belonging to any printed book." The publishers intended the facsimile to supply two markets: interest in Caxton's printing stimulated by the 1877 Caxton Celebration, and the Wycliffe quincentenary of 1377, which occurred the same year. 

Thinking about this celebration in 2016, one of the most unusual elements that I found in my web researches, was a parallel Caxton celebratiion exhibition held in Montreal also in 1877, just a few days before the celebration occurred in London. That this parallel exhibition was held may be explained by the fact that Canada was a self-governing entity within the British Empire at the time. A 35-page pamphlet about that exhibition, published by La Bureau de La Revue de Montreal, was entitled Célébration du quatrième anniversaire séculaire de l'établissement de l'imprimerie en Angleterre par Caxton: revue de l'exposition de livres, manuscrits, médailles, etc., tenue sous les auspices de la Société des antiquaires et des numismates de Montréal : discours de MM. Dawson, Chauveau, White et MayThe actual catalogue of the Canadian exhibition, which remarkably included over 2000 items, was entitled Condensed Catalogue of Manuscripts, Books and Engravings on Exhibition at the Caxton Celebration, Held under the Auspices of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal, at the Mechanics' Hall on the 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th June 1877, in Commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of the Introduction of Printing into England. Montreal: Printed at the "Gazette" Printing House, 1877.

The first historical account of the exhibition was written by one of its key organizers, James Shirley Hodson, and published as Chapter X of his History of the Printing Trade Charities (London, 1883). Bigmore & Wyman, A Bibliography of Printing I (1880-84) 124-26. Twyman, Early Lithographed Books (1990) 258. 

(This entry was last revised on 03-25-2016.)

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Edison Describes Future Uses for his Phonograph June 1878

In an article published in the North American Review in June 1878 Thomas Edison described future uses for his phonograph, which he had invented on August 12, 1877:

  1. Letter writing and all kinds of dictation without the aid of a stenographer.
  2. Phonographic books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.
  3. The teaching of elocution.
  4. Reproduction of music.
  5. The "Family Record"--a registry of sayings, reminiscences, etc., by members of a family in their own voices, and of the last words of dying persons.
  6. Music-boxes and toys.
  7. Clocks that should announce in articulate speech the time for going home, going to meals, etc.
  8. The preservation of languages by exact reproduction of the manner of pronouncing.
  9. Educational purposes; such as preserving the explanations made by a teacher, so that the pupil can refer to them at any moment, and spelling or other lessons placed upon the phonograph for convenience in committing to memory.
  10. Connection with the telephone, so as to make that instrument an auxiliary in the transmission of permanent and invaluable records, instead of being the recipient of momentary and fleeting communication."
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The First Carnegie Library 1883

In 1883 Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated his first public library to his hometown of Dunfermine, Scotland. Making books more widely available through the construction of public libraries became a major philanthropic cause for the remainder of Carnegie's life.

Between 1883 and 1929 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, and Fiji. Few towns that requested a grant and agreed to Carnegie's terms were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, the year of Carnegie's death, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants funded by Carnegie.

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The American Historical Association 1884

In 1884 the American Historical Association was founded in Washington, D.C. "for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research."

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Establishment of the First Library School, the "School of Library Economy" 1887

In 1887 Melvil Dewey established the first library school at Columbia University. It was originally known as the School of Library Economy of Columbia College.  

On its 50th anniversary in 1937 the library school, by then known as the School of Library Service of Columbia University, published a volume containing reproductions of the founding documents of the school under the title of School of Library Economy of Columbia College 1887-1889. Documents for a History. This substantial quarto volume of 271 pages was issued in an edition of 400 copies. From this we learn that Dewey's first paper on the need for systematic preparation for librarianship, with suggestions on how to provide it, concerned improving the traditional method of apprenticeship training: "Apprenticeship of Librarians," Library Journal V, No. 4 (May 31, 1879) 147-48. By 1883 Dewey's ideas had advanced to sufficiently that he proposed the creation for a library school at Columbia College at a conference of the American Library Association at Buffalo, New York on August 16, 1883. In this paper, "School of Library Economy," Library Journal V, No. 8, (September-October 1883) 285-90, Dewey gave the school its original name. According to the first brief published report on school operation published in Library Notes in March 1887 the school began with a class of 20 students.

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The Palmer Method 1894

In 1894 American educator and handwriting teacher Austin Norman Palmer of Cedar Rapids, Iowa published Palmer's Guide to Business Writing, describing a uniform system of cursive writing with rhythmic motions. The 46-page pamphlet, reproducing many examples, was issued by Palmer's Western Penman Publishing Co.

"Palmer's method involved 'muscle motion' in which the more proximal muscles of the arm were used for movement, rather than allowing the fingers to move in writing. In spite of opposition from the major textbook companies, this textbook enjoyed great success: in 1912, 1,000,000 copies were sold throughout the country. The method garnered awards, including the Gold Medal at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, California, in 1915, and the Gold Medal at the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1926.

"Palmer's style fell out of popularity and was replaced by a movement to teach children manuscript before teaching them cursive, in order to provide them with a means of written expression as soon as possible and thus develop writing skills. This effectively reduced the emphasis on handwriting in elementary school . . . . " (Wikipedia article on Palmer Method, accessed 09-19-2010).

When I was taught to write c. 1950 I was taught the Palmer Method.

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1910 – 1920

The First School of Journalism is Founded at Columbia University 1912

In 1892 newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer offered Columbia University's president Seth Low $2 million to set up the world's first school of journalism. However, the university initially turned down the money. Low's successor, Nicholas Murray Butler, was more receptive to the idea, and classes began on September 30, 1912, with a student body of about 100 undergraduate and graduate students from 21 countries.

In 1935 Dean Carl Ackerman led the school's transition to become the first graduate school of journalism in the United States. Classes of 60 students dug up stories in New York City during the day and drafted articles in a single, large newsroom in the journalism school at night. In addition to graduate programs, the Journalism School administers several prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize and the DuPont-Columbia Award. It also co-sponsors the National Magazine Award and publishes the Columbia Journalism Review, essentially a trade publication for journalists.

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The Pulitzer Prize is Established by the Will of Joseph Pulitzer 1917

On June 4, 1917 the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded by Columbia University School of Journalism, funded by $250,000 left in the will of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who also gave money to launch the Columbia School of Journalism. Pulitzer specified "four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one in education, and four traveling scholarships." 

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1920 – 1930

The BBC is Founded October 18 – November 14, 1922

On October 18, 1922 the British Broadcasting Company, the first national broadcasting organization, was formed for radio broadcasting by a group of British telecommunications companies. Its first broadcast from Marconi House in London occurred on November 14, 1922.

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Virginia Woolf's "How Should One Read a Book?" 1926

In 1926 English writer Virginia Woolf wrote an essay entitled, "How Should One Read a Book?" to deliver as a lecture at a private girls' school in Kent, England. In revised form it appears to have been first published in The Yale Review, October, 1926. Along with other essays, it first appeared in book form in Woolf's The Common Reader: Second Series in 1932. 

Woolf's essay first came to my attention when Maria Popova presented intriguing quotations from it with commentary and images in her Brain Pickings weekly blog on March 6, 2013.

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1930 – 1940

Bob Brown: Visionary of New Reading Machines and Changes in the Process of Reading 1930 – 1931

In 1930 prolific American avant-garde writer Bob Brown (Robert Carlton Brown), published an essay entitled "The Readies" in the international avant-garde journal transition issued from Paris, no. 19/20, 167-73, calling for a new reading machine, and new reading material for it called "The Readies."  Brown intended these innovations as ways for literature to keep up with the advanced reading practices of a cinema-viewing public, as epitomized in the then new expression for sound films, "the talkies." The first feature film originally presented as a talkie had been The Jazz Singer, released in October 1927. 

"The word 'readies' suggests to me a moving type spectacle, reading at the speed rate of the day with the aid of a machine, a method of enjoying literature in a manner as up-to-date as the lively talkes. In selecting the "The Readies' as title for what I have to say about modern reading and writing I hope to catch the reader in a receptive progressive mood. I ask him to forget for the moment the existing medievalism of the BOOK (God bless it, it's staggering on its last leg and about to fall) as a conveyer of reading matter. I request the reader to fix his mental eye for a moment on the ever-present future and contemplate a reading machine which will revitalize this interest in the Optical Art of Wrting.

"In our aeroplane age radio is rushing in television, tomorrow it will be commonplace. All the arts are having their faces lifted, painting (the moderns), sculpture (Brancusi), music (Antheil), architecture (zoning law), drama (Strange Interlude), dancing (just look around you tonight) writing (Joyce, Stein, Cummings, Hemingway, transition). Only the reading half of Literature lags behind, stays old-fashioned, frumpish, beskirted. Present-day reading methods are as cumbersone as they were in the time of Caxton and Jimmy-the-Ink. Though we have advanced from Gutenberg's movable type through the linotype and monotype to photo-composing we still consult the book in its original form as the only oracular means we know for carrying the word mystically to the eye. Writing as been bottled up in books since the start. It is time to pull out the stopper.

"To continue reading at today's speed I must have a machine. A simple reading machine which I can carry or move around and attach to any old electric light plug and read hundred thousand word novels in ten minutes if I want to, and I want to. A machine as handy as a portable phonograph, typewriter or radio, compact, minute operated by electricity, the printing done microscopically by the new photographic process on a transparent tough tissue roll which carries the contents of a book and is no bigger than a typewriter ribbon, a roll like a minature serpentine that can be put in a pill box. This reading film unrolls beneath a narrow magnifying glass four or give inches long set in a reading slit, the glass brings up the otherwise unreadable type to comfortable reading size, and the read is rid at last of the cumbersome book, the inconvenience of holding its bulk, turning its pages, keeping them clean, jiggling hs weary eyes back and forth in the awkward pursuit of words from the upper left hand corner to the lower right, all over the vast confusing reading surface of a page. . . .

"My machine is equipped with controls so the reading record can be turned back or shot ahead, a chapter read or the happy ending anticipated. The magnifying glass is so set that it can be moved nearer to or father from the type, so the reader may browse in 6 points, 8, 10, 12, 16 or any size that suits him. Many books remain unread today owing to the unsuitable size of type in which they are printed. A number of readers cannot stand the strain of small type and other intellectual prowlers are offended by Great Primer. The reading machine allows free choice in type-point, it is not a fixed arbitrary bound object but an adaptable carrier of flexible, flowing reading matter. . . .

"The machine is equipped with all modern improvements. By pressing a button the roll slows down so an interesting part can be read lesurely, over and over again if need be, or by speeding up, a dozen books can skimmed through in an afternoon without soiling the fingers or losing a dust wrapper. . . .

"The material advantages of my reading machine are obvious, paper saving by condensation and elimination of waste margin space which alone takes up a fifth or sixth of the bulk of the present-day book. Ink saving in proportion, a much smaller surface needs to be covered. . . Binding will be unnecessary, paper pill boxes are produced at the fraction of the cost of cloth cases. Manual labor will be minimized. Reading will be cheap and independent of advertising which today carries the cost of the cheap reading matter purveyed exclusively in the interests of the advertiser" (167-69).

Brown also intended his device as one way of achieving "The Revolution of the Word," as called for in the manifesto published in issue 16/17 of transition by its editor Eugene Jolas in 1929. Later in 1930 Brown privately published a 52-page pamphlet entitled The Readies in an edition of 150 or 300 copies. The imprint of the pamphlet read Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press. (It is possible that the publishing location was a joke.) The pamphlet represented an expansion with examples given, of Brown's essay from transition, a revised version of which it republished as chapter 3.

Written before anyone imagined electronic computers, and even longer before anyone imagined a hand-held electronic computer, one goal of Brown's vision of new media for reading was saving space, paper and ink through media more compact than traditional printed books. Though he could not foresee how the changes would actually occur, he was also an extremely early predictor of changes to the traditional codex book that would occur sixty years later with electronic publishing. In the pre-electronic computer era Brown, like Emanuel Goldberg and Vannevar Bush, saw the future of of information primarily in the context of film and microfilm, and in developing more verbally compact means of communication. While Goldberg and Bush were focussed on developing more efficient means of information storage and retrieval, Brown was focussed on the creative aspects of new writing and new forms of communication with the reader:

"This important manifesto, on a par with André Breton's Surrealist manifestos or Tristan Tzara's Dadaist declarations, includes plans for an electric reading machine and strategies for preparing the eye for mechanized reading. There are instructions for preparing texts as “readies” and detailed quantitative explanations about the invention and mechanisms involved in this peculiar machine.

"In the generic spirit of avant-garde manifestos, Brown writes with enthusiastic hyperbole about the machine's breathtaking potential to change how we read and learn. In 1930, the beaming out of printed text over radio waves or in televised images had a science fiction quality—or, for the avant-garde, a fanciful art-stunt feel. Today, Brown’s research on reading seems remarkably prescient in light of text-messaging (with its abbreviated language), electronic text readers, and even online books like the digital edition of this volume. Brown's practical plans for his reading machine, and his descriptions of its meaning and implications for reading in general, were at least fifty years ahead of their time.  . . .

"Brown’s reading machine was designed to 'unroll a televistic readie film' in the style of modernist experiments; the design also followed the changes in reading practices during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Gertrude Stein understood that Brown’s machine, as well as his processed texts for it, suggested a shift toward a different way to comprehend texts. That is, the mechanism of this book, a type of book explicitly built to resemble reading mechanisms like ticker-tape machines rather than a codex, produced—at least for Stein—specific changes in reading practices.  

"In Brown’s Readie, punctuation marks become visual analogies. For movement we see em-dashes (—) that also, by definition, indicate that the sentence was interrupted or cut short. These created a 'cinemovietone' shorthand system. The old uses of punctuation, such as employment of periods to mark the end of a sentence, disappear. Reading machine-mediated text becomes more like watching a continuous series of flickering frames become a movie" (Afterward from: The Readies, edited with an Afterward by Craig Saper, Houston: Rice University Press,[2009] accessed 05-23-2010).

After Brown published The Readies authors in the transition circle sent  him pieces intended for publication on the hypothetical machine. In 1931 he self-published these as a 208-page book, Readies for Bob Brown's Machine, in an edition of 300 copies also from the Roving Eye Press, but this time from Cagnes-sur-mer. That work, which contained contributions by 42 authors including Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and Paul Bowle's first appearance in a book, contained two crude illustrations of a prototype of Brown's reading machine — a wooden contraption that hardly embodied machine-age sleekness; part of it looked a bit like a waffle iron. It is unclear whether Brown's machine ever operated; probably it did not. What matters more are Brown's futuristic ideas.


♦ Following the "all digital" policy of Rice University Press since it was re-organized in 2006, the Rice edition of The Readies was available as a free download from their website, or as print-on-demand from QOOP.com. When I clicked on the purchase button on 05-23-2010, I was given the following purchase options at QOOP.com:

"+Hard Bound Laminate for $25.85

"+Hard Bound - Dust Jacket for $32.35

"+Wire-O for $16.00

"+eBook for $7.00."

♦ When I attempted to access QOOP.com in June 2013 it appeared that the site had closed down. An electronic version of Bob Brown's The Readies was then freely available at Connexions (cnx.org).

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The First "Talking-Books" 1931

In 1931 the U. S. Congress established the talking-book program, intended to help blind adults who couldn’t read print.

This program was called "Books for the Adult Blind Project." The American Foundation for the Blind developed the first talking books in 1932. One year later the first reproduction machine began the process of mass publishing talking books.

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Picasso Depicts His Lover Reading at a Table 1934

An oil painting Pablo Picasso created in 1934 entitled Reading at a Table, preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicted Picasso's 25 year-old lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, sitting at a table reading and wearing a crown of flowers. This "chaste scene" was set at the artist's country home in Le Boisgeloup, in Gisors in the Eure about 63 km from Paris, where, in addition to painting, Picasso produced large-scale sculptures and prepared many etchings.

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Bradford's Law January 26, 1934

In a paper entitled "Sources of Information on Specific Subjects," (Engineering 137 [1934], 85-6), British mathematician, librarian and documentalist at the Science Museum in London Samuel C. Bradford published Bradford's Law, also known as  "Bradford's law of scattering" and as the "Bradford distribution," showing the "exponentially diminishing returns of extending a library search."

"In many disciplines this pattern [described by Bradford's Law] is called a Pareto distribution. As a practical example, suppose that a researcher has five core scientific journals for his or her subject. Suppose that in a month there are 12 articles of interest in those journals. Suppose further that in order to find another dozen articles of interest, the researcher would have to go to an additional 10 journals. Then that researcher's Bradford multiplier bm is 2 (i.e. 10/5). For each new dozen articles, that researcher will need to look in bm times as many journals. After looking in 5, 10, 20, 40, etc. journals, most researchers quickly realize that there is little point in looking further.

"Different researchers have different numbers of core journals, and different Bradford multipliers. But the pattern holds quite well across many subjects, and may well be a general pattern for human interactions in social systems. Like Zipf's law, to which it is related, we do not have a good explanation for why it works. But knowing that it does is very useful for librarians. What it means is that for each specialty it is sufficient to identify the core publications' for that field and only stock those. Very rarely will researchers need to go outside that set" (Wikipedia article on Bradford's Law, accessed 02-21-2012).

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Fantasies of an All-Encompassing Archive or "Universal Library" 1939

In 1939 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires published an essay entitled La bibliotheca total (The Total Library), describing his fantasy of an all-encompassing archive or universal library.
In Borges' work this universal library was created, remarkably, by an abstract device that produced a random sequence of letters and symbols, ad infinitum. In his essay Borges

"traced the infinite-monkey concept back to Aristotle's Metaphysics. Explaining the views of Leucippus, who held that the world arose through the random combination of atoms, Aristotle notes that the atoms themselves are homogeneous and their possible arrangements only differ in shape, position and ordering. In De Generatione et corruptione (On Generation and Corruption), the Greek philosopher compares this to the way that a tragedy and a comedy consist of the same "atoms", i.e., alphabetic characters. Three centuries later, Cicero's De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) argued against the atomist worldview:

" 'He who believes this may as well believe that if a great quantity of the one-and-twenty letters, composed either of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them.'

"Borges follows the history of this argument through Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Swift, then observes that in his own time, the vocabulary had changed. By 1939, the idiom was 'that a half-dozen monkeys provided with typewriters would, in a few eternities, produce all the books in the British Museum.' (To which Borges adds, 'Strictly speaking, one immortal monkey would suffice.') Borges then imagines the contents of the Total Library which this enterprise would produce if carried to its fullest extreme:

" 'Everything would be in its blind volumes. Everything: the detailed history of the future, Aeschylus' The Egyptians, the exact number of times that the waters of the Ganges have reflected the flight of a falcon, the secret and true nature of Rome, the encyclopedia Novalis would have constructed, my dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, the proof of Pierre Fermat's theorem, the unwritten chapters of Edwin Drood, those same chapters translated into the language spoken by the Garamantes, the paradoxes Berkeley invented concerning Time but didn't publish, Urizen's books of iron, the premature epiphanies of Stephen Dedalus, which would be meaningless before a cycle of a thousand years, the Gnostic Gospel of Basilides, the song the sirens sang, the complete catalog of the Library, the proof of the inaccuracy of that catalog. Everything: but for every sensible line or accurate fact there would be millions of meaningless cacophonies, verbal farragoes, and babblings. Everything: but all the generations of mankind could pass before the dizzying shelves—shelves that obliterate the day and on which chaos lies—ever reward them with a tolerable page' " (Wikipedia article on Infinite Monkey Theorem, accessed 05-25-2009).

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1950 – 1960

National Educational Television is Founded 1952

In 1952 National Educational Television (NET) was founded by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

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First International Congress on Cybernetics June 26 – June 29, 1956

From June 26-29, 1956 the First International Congress on Cybernetics was held in Namur, Belgium. Few, if any, of the computer pioneers attended. By this time the field of cybernetics was separated from those of computing and artificial intelligence to emphasize issues of control and communication in learning, automation, and biology.

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There are Forty Computers on American University Campuses 1957

". . . in 1957 there were only 40 computers on unversity campuses across the country [the United States]" (Bowles (ed.), Computers in Humanistic Research [1967] v).

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J. W. Ellison Issues the First Computerized Concordance of the Bible 1957

In Italy Roberto Busa began his experimentation with computerized indexing of the text of Thomas Aquinas using IBM punch-card tabulators in 1949-51. The first significant product of computerized indexing in the humanities in the United States, and one of the earliest large examples of humanities computing or digital humanities anywhere, was the first computerized concordance of the Bible: Nelson's Complete Concordance to the Revised Standard Version Bible edited by J. W. Ellison and published in New York and Nashville, Tennessee in 1957. The book consists of 2157 large quarto pages printed in two columns in small type. 

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible was completed in 1952, when the Univac was little-known. UNIVAC 1, serial one, was not actually delivered tihe U.S. Census Bureau until 1953, and the first UNIVAC delivered to a commercial customer was serial 8 in 1954. Using the UNIVAC to compile a concordance was highly innovative, and, of course, it substantially reduced compilation time, as Ellison wrote in his preface dated 1956. Though Ellison offered to make the program available he did not provide data concerning the actual time spent in inputting the data on punched cards and running the program: 

"An exhaustive concordance of the Bible, such as that of James Strong, takes about a quarter of a century of careful, tedious work to guarantee accuracy. Few students would want to wait a generation for a CONCORDANCE of the REVISED STANDARD VERSION of the HOLY BIBLE. To distribute the work among a group of scholars would be to run the risk of fluctuating standards of accuracy and completeness. The use of mechanical or electronic assistance was feasible and at hand. The Univac I computer at the offices of Remington Rand, Inc. was selected for the task. Every means possible, both human and mechanical, was used to guarantee accuracy in the work.

"The use of a computer imposed certain limitations upon the Concordance. Although it could be 'exhaustive,' it could not be 'analytical'; the context and location of each and every word could be listed, but not the Hebrew and Greek words from which they were translated. For students requiring that information, the concordance of the Holy Bible in its original tongues or the analytical concordances of the King James Version must be consulted. . . .

"The problem of length of context was arbitrarily solved. A computer, at least in the present stage of engineering, can perform only the operations specified for it, but it will precisely and almost unerringly perform them. In previous concordances, each context was made up on the basis of a human judgment which took in untold familiarity with the text and almost unconscious decisions in g rouping words into familiar phrases. This kind of human judgement could not be performed by the computer; it required a set of definite invariable rules for its operation. The details of the program are available for those whose interest prompts them to ask for them."

The March 1956 issue of Publishers' Weekly, pp. 1274-78, in an article entitled "Editing at the Speed of Light," reported that Ellison's concordance deliberately omited 132 frequent words- articles, most conjuctions, adverbs, prepositions and common verbs.

"From an account in the periodical Systems it appears that the text of the Bible was transferred direct to magnetic tape, using a keyboard device called the Unityper (McCulley 1956). This work took nine months (800,000 words). The accuracy of the tapes was checked by punching the text a second time, on punched cards, then transferring this material to magenetic tape using a card-to-tape converter. The two sets of tapes were then compared for divergences by the computer and discrepancies eliminated. The computer putput medium was also magnetic tape and this operated a Uniprinter which produced the manuscrpt sheets ready for typesetting" (Hymes ed., The Use of Computers in Anthropology [1965] 225).

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One of the First Computer Models of How People Learn 1959 – 1961

For his 1960 Ph.D thesis at Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon University) carried out under the supervision of Herbert A. Simon, computer scientist Edward Feigenbaum developed EPAM (Elementary Perceiver and Memorizer), a computer program designed to model elementary human symbolic learning. Feigenbaum's thesis first appeared as An Information Processing Theory of Verbal Learning, RAND Corporation Mathematics Dvisision Report P-1817, October 9, 1959. In December 2013 a digital facsimile of Feigenbaum's personal corrected copy of the thesis was available from Stanford University's online archive of Feigenbaum papers at this link.

Feigenbaum's first publication on EPAM may have been "The Simulation of Verbal Learning Behavior," Proceedings of the Western Joint Computer Conference.... May 9-11, 1961 (1961) 121-32. In December 2013 a digital facsimile of this was also available at the same link.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 598.

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Machines Can Learn from Past Errors July 1959

In July 1959 Arthur Lee Samuel published "Some Studies in Machine Learning Using the Game of Checkers," IBM Journal of Research and Development 3 (1959) no. 3, 210-29. In this work Samuel demonstrated that machines can learn from past errors — one of the earliest examples of non-numerical computation.

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 874.

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1960 – 1970

PLATO 1: The First Electronic Learning System 1960

In 1960 PLATO I (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), the first electronic learning system, developed by Donald Bitzer, operated on the ILLIAC 1 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Plato I included a television for a display, and a special system to navigate the system's menu. It serviced a single user. In 1961 PLATO II allowed two students to operate the system at one time.

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George Forsythe Coins the Term "Computer Science" 1961

In 1961 mathematician and founder of Stanford University's Computer Science department George E. Forsythe coined the term "computer science" in his paper "Engineering Students Must Learn both Computing and Mathematics", J. Eng. Educ. 52 (1961) 177-188, quotation from p. 177.

Of this Donald Knuth wrote, "In 1961 we find him using the term 'computer science' for the first time in his writing:

[Computers] are developing so rapidly that even computer scientists cannot keep up with them. It must be bewildering to most mathematicians and engineers...In spite of the diversity of the applications, the methods of attacking the difficult problems with computers show a great unity, and the name of Computer Sciences is being attached to the discipline as it emerges. It must be understood, however, that this is still a young field whose structure is still nebulous. The student will find a great many more problems than answers. 

"He [Forsythe] identified the "computer sciences" as the theory of programming, numerical analysis, data processing, and the design of computer systems, and observed that the latter three were better understood than the theory of programming, and more available in courses" (Knuth, "George Forsythe and the Development of Computer Science," Communications of the ACM, 15 (1972) 722).

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Fritz Machlup Introduces the Concept of "The Information Economy" 1962

In 1962 Austrian-American economist Fritz Machlup of Princeton published The Production and Distribution of Knowledge in the United States.

In this book Machlup introduced the concept of the knowledge industry.

"He distinguished five sectors of the knowledge sector: education, research and development, mass media, information technologies, information services. Based on this categorization he calculated that in 1959 29% per cent of the GNP in the USA had been produced in knowledge industries" (Wikipedia article on Information Society, accessed 04-25-2011).

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Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message" 1964

In 1964 Canadian educator, philosopher, and media theorist of the University of Toronto Marshall McLuhan published Undertstanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

"In it McLuhan proposed that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the focus of study — popularly quoted as the medium is the message'. McLuhan's insight was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. McLuhan pointed to the light bulb as a clear demonstration of this concept. A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that 'a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence.' More controversially, he postulated that content had little effect on society — in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children's shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example — the effect of television on society would be identical. He noted that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it.

"The book is the source of the well-known phrase 'The medium is the message'. It was a leading indicator of the upheaval of local cultures by increasingly globalized values. The book greatly influenced academics, writers, and social theorists" (Wikipedia article on Understanding Media, accessed 11-14-2009)

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The TUTOR Programming Language for Education and Games 1965 – 1969

In 1965 Paul Tenczar developed the TUTOR programming language for use in developing electronic learning programs called "lessons" for the PLATO system at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It has "powerful answer-parsing and answer-judging commands, graphics and features to stimulate handling student records and statistics by instructors." This also made it suitable for the creation of many non-educational lessons— that is, games—including flight simulators, war games, role-playing, such as Dungeons and Dragons (dnd), card games, word games, and Medical lesson games.

The first documentation of the TUTOR language, under this name, appears to be The TUTOR Manual, CERL Report X-4, by R. A. Avner and P. Tenczar, January 1969.

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Ted Nelson & Andries van Dam Develop the First Hypertext Editing System 1967

In 1967 Ted Nelson (Theodor Holm Nelson), Andries van Dam, and students at Brown University collaborated on the first hypertext editing system (HES) based on Nelson's concept of hypertext.

"HES organized data into two main types: links and branching text. The branching text could automatically be arranged into menus and a point within a given area could also have an assigned name, called a label, and be accessed later by that name from the screen. Although HES pioneered many modern hypertext concepts, its emphasis was on text formatting and printing.

"HES ran on an IBM System/360/50 mainframe computer, which was inefficient for the processing power required by the system. The program was used by NASA's Houston Manned Spacecraft Center for documentation on the Apollo space program. The project's research was funded by IBM but the program was stopped around 1969, and replaced by the FRESS (File Retrieval and Editing System) project" (Wikipedia article on Hypertext Editing System, accessed 11-08-2013).

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Ellis Batten Page Begins Automated Essay Scoring 1967

In 1964 American educational psychologist at the University of Connecticut (StorrsEllis Batten Page, inspired by developments in computational linguistics and artificial intelligence, began research on automated essay scoring. Page published his initial research in 1967 as "Statistical and linguistic strategies in the computer grading of essays," Coling 1967: Conférence Internationale sur le Traitement Automatique des Langues, Grenoble, France, August 1967.  The same year he also published "The imminence of grading essays by computer," Phi Delta Kappan, 47 (1967) 238-243. The following year he published, with Dieter H. Paulus  The analysis of essays by computer (Final report, Project No. 6-1318). Washington, D. C.: Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; Office of Education; Bureau of Research. That year he published his successful work with a program he called Project Essay Grade (PEG) in "The Use of the Computer in Analyzing Student Essays," International Review of Education, 14(3), 253-263. Page's work is considered the beginning of automated essay scoring, the development of which could not become cost effective until computing became far cheaper and more pervasive in the 1990s. 

Later at Duke University, Page renewed his development and research in automated scoring and, in 1993, formed Tru-Judge, Inc., anticipating the potential for commercial applications of the software. In 2002, and in declining health, Page sold the intellectual property assets of Tru-Judge to Measurement Incorporated, educational company that provides achievement tests and scoring services for state governments, other testing companies and various organizations and institutions.

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Andries van Dam Develops Probably the First Hypertext System Used in Education 1968

In 1968 Andries van Dam and his students at Brown University, including Bob Wallace, introduced The File Retrieval and Editing SyStem, or FRESS. FRESS was a continuation of work done on van Dam's previous hypertext system, HES, developed in 1967.

"FRESS ran on an IBM 360-series mainframe running VM/CMS. It implemented one of the first virtual-terminal interfaces, and could run on various terminals from dumb typewriters up to the Imlac PDS-1 graphical minicomputer. On the PDS-1, it supported multi-window WYSIWYG editing and graphics display. Notably, the PDS-1 used a lightpen rather than a mouse, and the lightpen could be "clicked" using a cathartic foot-pedal.

"FRESS improved on HES's capabilities in many ways. FRESS documents could be of arbitrary size, and (unlike prior systems) were not laid out in lines until the moment of display. FRESS users could insert a marker at any location within a text document and link the marked selection to any other point either in the same document or a different document.

"FRESS had two types of links: tags and "jumps". Tags were links to information such as references or footnotes, while "jumps" were links that could take the user through many separate but related documents, much like the World Wide Web of today. FRESS also had the ability to assign keywords to links or text blocks to assist with navigation. Keywords could be used to select which sections to display or print, which links would be available to the user, and so on. Multiple "spaces" were also automatically maintained, including an automatic table of contents and indexes to keywords, document structures, and so on.

"FRESS is also possibly the first computer-based system to have had an "undo" feature for quickly correcting small editing or navigational mistakes.

"FRESS was essentially a text-based system and editing links was a fairly complex task unless you had access to the PDS-1 terminal, in which case you could select each end with the lightpen and create a link with a couple of keystrokes. FRESS provided no method for knowing where the user was within a collection of documents.

"FRESS was used for instructional computing (probably being the first hypertext system used in education), particularly for teaching poetry, as well as typesetting many books, notably by philosopher Roderick Chisholm. For example, in the Preface to Person and Object Chisholm writes 'The book would not have been completed without the epoch-making File Retrieval and Editing System...'  FRESS was for many years the word processor of choice at Brown and a small number of other sites " (Wikipedia article on File Retrieval and Editing System, accessed 11-08-2013).

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1970 – 1980

The Kenback-1, the First Stored-Program "Personal Computer" 1970 – 1971

In 1970 John Blankenbaker of Kenback Corporation, Northridge, California, designed and produced the Kenbak-1.  The machines, of which only forty were ever built, were designed as educational tools and offered for sale in Scientific American and Computerworld for $750 in 1971.  The company folded in 1973.

Unlike many earlier machines and calculating engines, the Kenbak-1 was a true stored-program computer that offered 256 bytes of memory, a wide variety of operations and a speed equivalent to nearly 1MHz. It was thus the first stored-program personal computer.

"Since the Kenbak-1 was invented before the first microprocessor, the machine didn't have a one-chip CPU but instead was based purely on discrete TTL chips. The 8-bit machine offered 256 bytes of memory (=1/4096 megabyte). The instruction cycle time was 1 microsecond (equivalent to an instruction clock speed of 1 MHz), but actual execution speed averaged below 1000 instructions per second due to architectural constraints such as slow access to serial memory.

"To use the machine, one had to program it with a series of buttons and switches, using pure machine code. Output consisted of a series of lights" (Wikipedia article on Kenbak-1, accessed 09-19-2013).

In 2013 John Blankenbaker's detailed account of the design, production, and operation of the Kenbak-1 was available from his website, www.kenbak.-1.net.

Also in 2013, "Official Kenbak-1 Reproduction Kits" were available from www.kenbakkit.com.

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PBS is Founded October 5, 1970

On October 5, 1970 The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was founded as the successor to National Educational Television (NET).

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One of the First Touchscreens Appears on the Plato IV System 1972

In 1972 one of the first touchscreens in a working computer application was in the terminal of the Plato IV system at the University of Illinois.

"In 1972 a new system named PLATO IV was ready for operation. The PLATO IV terminal was a major innovation. It included Bitzer's orange plasma display invention which incorporated both memory and bitmapped graphics into one display. This plasma display included fast vector line drawing capability and ran at 1260 baud, rendering 60 lines or 180 characters per second. The display was a 512x512 bitmap, with both character and vector plotting done by hardwired logic. Users could provide their own characters to support rudimentary bitmap graphics. Compressed air powered a piston-driven microfiche image selector that permitted colored images to be projected on the back of the screen under program control. The PLATO IV display also included a 16-by-16 grid infrared touch panel allowing students to answer questions by touching anywhere on the screen" (Wikipedia article on Plato (computer system), accessed 12-30-2009).

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The Plato IV System, Probably the World's First Online Community 1973

Probably the world's first online community began to emerge in 1973 through online forums, and the message board called PLATO Notes developed by David R. Woolley, in the PLATO IV system evolving at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Raymond Kurzweil Introduces the First Omni-Font Optical Character Recognition System 1974

In 1974 Raymond Kurzweil founded Kurzweil Computer Products, Inc. and developed the first omni-font optical character recognition system— a computer program capable of recognizing text printed in any normal font.

"Before that time, scanners had only been able to read text written in a few fonts. He decided that the best application of this technology would be to create a reading machine, which would allow blind people to understand written text by having a computer read it to them aloud. However, this device required the invention of two enabling technologies—the CCD [charge-coupled device] flatbed scanner and the text-to-speech synthesizer. Development of these technologies was completed at other institutions such as Bell Labs, and on January 13, 1976, the finished product was unveiled during a news conference headed by him and the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. Called the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the device covered an entire tabletop" (Wikipedia article on Ray Kurzweil, accessed 03-08-2012).

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First Print-to-Speech Reading Machine 1976

In 1976 Raymond Kurzweil introduced the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first practical application of OCR technology. The Kurzweil Reading Machine combined omni-font OCR, a flat-bed scanner, and text-to-speech synthesis to create the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. It was the first computer to transform random text into computer-spoken words, enabling blind and visually impaired people to read any printed materials. 

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The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) is Conceived June 1976

In June 1976, at a London conference jointly sponsored by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the British Library planning began for the "Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue." The aim of the original project was to create a machine-readable union catalogue of books, pamphlets and other ephemeral material printed in English-speaking countries from 1701 to 1800.

"An ESTC team was established at the British Library in 1977, under the direction of Robin Alston, and began work on the Library's extensive holdings of in-scope material. By 1978, when Robin Alston and Mervyn Jannetta published Bibliography, Machine-Readable Cataloguing and the ESTC, there were already more than fifty contributors to the file including Göttingen State & University Library (Germany). In 1978, Henry Snyder was appointed to direct the ESTC project in North America. An American cataloguing team was established in 1979, and the North American Imprints Project (NAIP) began at the American Antiquarian Society in 1980. The International Committee of the ESTC (IESTC) was established in 1980, with a membership drawn from the UK and the USA, chaired by the British Library. The ESTC file was soon available online, from 1980 via the British Library BLAISE system and from 1981 in the US Research Libraries Group RLIN system. The file was published on microfiche in 1983, and the first CD-ROM edition appeared in 1996.

"In 1987, with the agreement of the Bibliographical Society and the Modern Language Association of America, the International Committee approved the extension of the database to cover the period from the beginning of printing in the British Isles (ca. 1472) to 1700. The file changed its name to the 'English Short Title Catalogue', thereby keeping its well-known acronym. The USA team began cataloguing pre-1701 material in 1989, joined in the mid-1990s by the British Library team, and the resulting records were made available in the RLIN file from 1994. These records were also included in the CD-ROM 2nd edition (1998) and 3rd edition (2003).

"In 1992, IESTC approved a further extension of the file to include serial publications. The USA team began work in 1994 on the cataloguing of serials within the scope of ESTC."

In November 2013 the ESTC website stated that it contained records of over 460,000 items published between 1473 and 1800, mainly, but not exclusively in English, and published mainly in the British Isles and North America, from the collections of the British Library and over 2,000 other libraries.


In October 1978, early the development of the project the British Library published Bibliography, Machine Readable Cataloguing and the ESTC. A Summary History of the Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue: Working Metthods, Cataloguing Rules, A Catalogue of the Works of Alexander Pope Printed between 1711 and 1800 in the British Library by R. C. Alston & M. J. Jannetta. My copy of this work is cloth-bound and limited to 20 copies with a printed list of the recipients bound iin.

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The "Mead & Conway Revolution" in VLSI Integrated Circuit Education 1979

In 1979 professor of electrical engineering, computer science and applied physics at Caltech Carver Mead, and electrical engineer and computer scientist Lynn Conway, Manager of LSI systems at Xerox PARC, published Introduction to VLSI Systems. This textbook, intended for all electrical engineering and computer science students, was the first VLSI design textbook for non-technologists. It was responsible for what was called the "Mead & Conway revolution" in VLSI integrated circuit education. In January 2014 documentary information on the Xerox PARC-Caltech collaboration culminating in the textbook was available at this link.

"Until recently the design of integrated circuitry has been the province of circuit and logic designers working within semiconductor firms. Computer architects have traditionally composed systems from standard integrated circuits designed and manufactured by these firms but have seldom participated in the specification and design of these circuits. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EE/CS) curricula reflect this tradition, with courses in device physics and integrated circuit design aimed at a different group of students than those interested in digital system architecture and computer science.

"This text is written to fill a current gap in the literature and to introduce all EE/CS students to integrated system architecture and design. Combined with individual study in related research areas and participation in large system design projects, this text provides the basis for a graduate course-sequence in integrated courses on the subject. The material can also be used to augement courses on computer architecture. We assume the reader's background contains the equivalent of introductory courses in computer science, electronic circuits, and digital design" (Preface v-vi).

"An important milestone that followed was the Multi Project Chip (MPC) service for fabricating the students' design exercise chips and the researcher's prototype chips at a reasonable cost. The first successful run of it was demonstrated at Lynn Conway's 1978 VLSI design course at MIT. A few weeks after completion of their design the students had the fabricated prototype in their hands, available for testing. Lynn Conway's improved new Xerox PARC MPC VLSI implementation system and service was operated successfully for a dozen universities by in late 1979. Lynn Conway's MPC technology was transferred to USC-ISI, becoming the foundation for the MOSIS System, which was used and evolved since 1981 as a national infrastructure for fast-turnaround prototyping of VLSI chip designs by universities and researchers.

"In 1980 DARPA began the DoD's new VLSI research program to support extensions of this work, resulting in many university and industry researchers being involved in following up the Mead-Conway innovations. The Mead & Conway revolution rapidly spread around the world and many national Mead & Conway scenes were organized, like the German multi-university E.I.S. project " (Wikipedia article on Mead & Conway revolution, accessed 12-29-2013).

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1990 – 2000

TED: Technology, Entertainment and Design 1990

After a one-off event in 1984, annual TED conferences begain in 1990 in Monterey, California.  In 2012 the events were held in Long Beach and Palm Springs in the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming video of the talks on the Internet. The TED organization is based in New York City and Vancouver.

TED speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their material in the most exciting and engaging way that they can, often through storytelling.

"Since June 2006 the talks have been offered for free viewing online, under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license, through TED.com. As of November 2011, over 1,050 talks are available free online. By January 2009 they had been viewed 50 million times. In June 2011, the viewing figure stood at more than 500 million, and on Tuesday November 13, 2012, TED Talks had been watched one billion times worldwide, reflecting a still growing global audience."

"TED was conceived by architect and graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman, who observed a convergence of the fields of technology, entertainment and design. The first conference, organized by Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984, featured demos of the Sony compact disc, and one of the first demonstrations of the Apple Macintosh computer. Presentations were given by famous mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot and influential members of the digerati community, like Nicholas Negroponte and Stewart Brand. The event was financially unsuccessful, however, and it took 6 years before the second conference was organized. From 1990 onward, a growing community of "TEDsters" has been gathering annually at the invitation-only event in Monterey, California, until 2009, when it was relocated to Long Beach, California due to a substantial increase of attendees" (Wikipedia article on Ted (conference), accessed 12-26-2012).

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Probably the First For-Profit Social Networking Site 1995

In 1995 Randy Conrads founded Classmates.com. This was probably the first for-profit social networking website.

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2000 – 2005

Conceiving and Building a Machine-Readable Database to Present Information "Filtered, Selected and Presented According to the Needs of the Individual User" 2000 – 2007

In 2000 American inventor, scientist, engineer, entrepreneur, and author William Daniel "Danny" Hillis wrote a paper entitled Aristotle (The Knowledge Web). In 2007, at the time of founding Metaweb Technologies to develop aspects of ideas expressed in his Aristotle paper, Hillis wrote:

"In retrospect the key idea in the "Aristotle" essay was this: if humans could contribute their knowledge to a database that could be read by computers, then the computers could present that knowledge to humans in the time, place and format that would be most useful to them.  The missing link to make the idea work was a universal database containing all human knowledge, represented in a form that could be accessed, filtered and interpreted by computers.

"One might reasonably ask: Why isn't that database the Wikipedia or even the World Wide Web? The answer is that these depositories of knowledge are designed to be read directly by humans, not interpreted by computers. They confound the presentation of information with the information itself. The crucial difference of the knowledge web is that the information is represented in the database, while the presentation is generated dynamically. Like Neal Stephenson's storybook, the information is filtered, selected and presented according to the specific needs of the viewer. ["In his book Diamond Age, the science fiction writer Neil Stephenson describes an automatic tutor called The Primer that grows up with a child. Stephenson's Primer does everything described above and more. It becomes a friend and playmate to the heroine of the novel, and guides not only her intellectual but also her emotional development" (from Hillis's Aristotle, 2000). 

"John, Robert and I started a project,  then a company, to build that computer-readable database. How successful we will be is yet to be determined, but we are really trying to build it:  a universal database for representing any knowledge that anyone is willing to share. We call the company Metaweb, and the free database, Freebase.com. Of course it has none of the artificial intelligence described in the essay, but it is a database in which each topic is connected to other topics by links that describe their relationship. It is built so that computers can navigate and present it to humans. Still very primitive, a far cry from Neal Stephenson's magical storybook, it is a step, I hope, in the right direction" (http://edge.org/conversation/addendum-to-aristotle-the-knowledge-web, accessed 02-02-2014).

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Foundation of the Oxford Internet Institute 2001

In 2001 the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) was founded at the University of Oxford for the study of the social implications of the Internet. 

When I wrote this entry in November 2013 it remained the only major department in a top-ranked international university to offer multi-disciplinary social science degree programs focussing on the Internet, including a one-year MSc in Social Science of the Internet and a DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences

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HASTAC is Founded 2002


Cathy Davidson

David Theo Goldberg

Cathy N. Davidson, former Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and co-founder of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University, and David Theo Goldberg, Director of the University of California's state-wide Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) based at UC Irvine, founded  HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, pronounced "haystack"), a virtual organization of  individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer for shaping how society learns, teaches, communicates, creates, and organizes at the local and global levels.  In 2012 the organization had over 7000 members.

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ECHO (European Cultural Heritage Online) is Founded December 1, 2002

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics logo

Max Plank Institute for the History of Science logo

The ECHO website homepage interface

On December 1, 2002 the ECHO initiative was announced in Berlin.  Funded by the European Commission, it was founded by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Art in Rome, by the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, and by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, together with their international partners.

"The new European Commission-funded project ECHO (European Cultural Heritage Online) to create an IT-based infrastructure for the humanities is taking shape today with its kick-off-meeting held in Berlin. With a budget of approximately 1.6 million Euros 16 partners from 9 European countries including candidate countries together with their subcontractors, the initiative aims at achieving four major goals, scientific, technological, cultural and political, until May 2004:  

"By 1) improving the situation for the humanities concerning the new information technologies through

"2) the fostering of a new IT-based infrastructure, adequate to future information technologies,

"3) cultural heritage in Europe will be brought online and

"4) be made freely accessible without any commercial constraints.

"The project, coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, is highly welcomed by the EU commission as a chance to strengthen the competiveness of European research by promoting an urgently needed concept for good practice in scholarly research in the humanities. In order to exploit the innovative potential of the new information technologies, the project will contribute to overcome the present fragmentation of approaches to transfer cultural heritage to the Internet.  

"At present Europe lags behind in developing a large-scale infrastructure for the humanities adequate to the Internet age and competitive with similar ventures in the US. As a Europe-wide effort, ECHO aims at developing high-quality research in line with the ambition of the European Research Area and competitive with US and Japanese ventures. Only by overcoming the limitations of national perspectives can the critical mass be brought together that ensures the self-organisation of culture in the new medium.  

"If the new media comprises an adequate representation of human cultural diversity they can offer also new opportunities reflecting on possible links and similarities e.g. between European and non-European cultures. A culturally informed Web may thus even constitute a public think-tank in which cultural diversity drives rather than conflicts with communication.  

"The ECHO project is constituted by its main partners as well as by subcontractors. Even now, however, the informal network of actors willing to contribute extends far beyond the group of applicants. Some 25 academic, governmental, and private institutions from 15 European and 3 non-European countries (China, Mexico, and the USA) have declared their adherence to the project; they will be contacted during its first phase.  

"The single most important added European value offered by the project to the citizens of Europe is a contribution to the preservation of, and an improved and extended access to, their own European cultural heritage. Its enhanced availability on the Internet will also create new opportunities for shaping a polyvalent European identity, including a realisation of the non-European origins of essential presuppositions of European culture as well as an awareness of its historical pitfalls. Border-crossing technologies such as language tools adapted to cultural sources contribute to European integration by making these treasures accessible to all Europeans (e-Europe). ECHO will provide web-accessible multimedia content together with navigation facilities, hence making it attractive for researchers, teachers, students, journalists, and also for the general public.  

"In addition, the ECHO project will be directly concerned with copyright laws and open source policies. It will provide an opportunity for reflecting on the ongoing developments from a practical point of view and may lead to the definition of new policies encouraging the transfer of cultural heritage to the existing and new media.  

"The project is defined in three major steps.  

"• An assessment of the present situation in relation to bringing European cultural heritage online. In view of the fragmentation of endeavours presently undertaken, it is necessary to assess the implementation of Information Technology for preserving, sharing, and studying this heritage in different disciplines and nations.

• The exploration of a novel IT-based cooperative research infrastructure. The project will create, within its limited scope, a model implementation of a new cooperative research infrastructure, that aims at mobilising and bringing together all relevant actors (universities, museums, libraries, archives, (national) research councils, digital heritage organisa-tions, and companies) in the broad field of the humanities and cultural heritage in Europe.

"• A paradigmatic proof of the new potentials for research offered by this infrastructure. By taking up four paradigmatic content areas in the humanities, from the history of art, the history of science, language studies, and social and cultural anthropology, respectively, the project aims at demonstrating the innovative potential for research offered by this infrastructure.

"The highly ambitious ECHO project aims at the creation of a progressively growing agora, defining the management structure, data formats, tools and workflows. This in turn is intended to serve as a model for a larger-scale network within the 6th Framework Program of the EU. The subsequent project, possibly labelled ECHO 2, shall bring a major contribution to the preservation of Europe's cultural heritage as well as improved and extended access to this heritage for both scholars and the general public alike. This transformation of the Internet into a semantic web allowing the exchange and processing of information in the language of human culture within an emerging Open Library will serve as a framework for cooperative work on the sources and for the presentation of its results. It will also show socio-economic effects such as becoming a central resource of technology for storing and distributing information for institutions who lack such means; or for creating a basis for virtual tourism into the digitised realm of our rich cultural heritage in Europe." 

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Amazon Introduces "Search Inside" 120,000 Books October 23, 2003

Gary Wolf

The Amazon.com logo

On October 23, 2003 Amazon.com made it possible to “search inside” the full text of 120,000 books from more than 190 publishers.  This allowed Amazon users to search not only the full texts of individual titles but all 120,000 collectively. 

On October 23, 2003 joujrnalist Gary Wolf published an article about the cultural history of digital libraries, and more specifically Amazon's "Search Inside," in Wired magazine, entitled "The Great Library of Amazonia," from which I quote a portion:

"The more specific the search, the more rewarding the experience. For instance, I've recently become interested in Boss Tweed, New York's most famous pillager of public money. Manber types "Boss Tweed" into his search engine. Out pop a few books with Boss Tweed in the title. But the more intriguing results come from deep within books I never would have thought to check: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole; American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis; Forever: A Novel, by Pete Hamill. I immediately recognize the power of the archive to make connections hitherto unseen. As the number of searchable books increases, it will become possible to trace the appearance of people and events in published literature and to follow the most digressive pathways of our collective intellectual life.

"From the Hamill reference, I link to a page in the afterward on which he cites books that influenced his portrait of Tweed. There, on the screen, is the cream of the research performed by a great metropolitan writer and editor. Some of the books Hamill recommends are out of print, but all are available either new or used on Amazon.

"With persistence, serendipity and plenty of time in a library, I may have found these titles myself. The Amazon archive is dizzying not because it unearths books that would necessarily have languished in obscurity, but because it renders their contents instantly visible in response to a search. It allows quick query revisions, backtracking, and exploration. It provides a new form of map.

"Getting to this point represents a significant technological feat. Most of the material in the archive comes from scanned pages of actual books. This may be surprising, given that most books today are written on PCs, e-mailed to publishers, typeset on computers, and printed on digital presses. But many publishers still do not have push-button access to the digital files of the books they put out. Insofar as the files exist, they are often scattered around the desktops of editors, designers, and contract printers. For books more than a few years old, complete digital files may be lost. John Wiley & Sons contributed 5,000 titles to the Amazon project -- all of them in physical form.

"Fortunately, mass scanning has grown increasingly feasible, with the cost dropping to as low as $1 each. Amazon sent some of the books to scanning centers in low-wage countries like India and the Philippines; others were run in the United States using specialty machines to ensure accurate color and to handle oversize volumes. Some books can be chopped out of their bindings and fed into scanners, others have to be babied by a human, who turns pages one by one. Remarkably, Amazon was already doing so much data processing in its regular business that the huge task of reading the images of the books and converting them into a plain-text database was handled by idle computers at one of the company's backup centers."

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2,350,000 U.S. Students in Online Learning 2004

According to Sloan-C, A Consortium of Institutions and Organizations Committed to Quality Online Education, 2.35 million students were enrolled in online learning in the United States during 2004.

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The Institute for the Future of the Book 2004

Robert (Bob) Stein

The Criterion Collection logo

In 2004 Bob Stein, pioneering commercial multi-media publisher and co-founder of the Voyager Company and The Criterion Collection, co-founded The Institute for the Future of the Book, "a small think-and-do tank investigating the evolution of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens."

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The Site of the Original Library of Alexandria is Located May 12, 2004

An artist's rendition of the Library of Alexandria

On May 12, 2004 archaeologists announced finding what they believed to be the remains of the building site of the ancient Library of Alexandria.

The 13 lecture halls at the building site could have housed as many as 5000 students, raising the possibility that the Library of Alexandria might have been the world's first university.

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The Google Print Project is Announced October 2004

The Frankfurt Bookfair logo

The original Google Print homepage

The new Google Books homepage

At the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2004 Google announced the Google Print project to scan and make searchable on the Internet the texts of more than ten million books from the collections of the New York Public Library, and the libraries of Michigan, Stanford, Harvard and Oxford Universities.

The project was renamed Google Books in December 2005.

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2005 – 2010

"Last Child in the Woods" : Exploration of Nature Versus Exposure to Media in Childhood 2005

In 2005 American journalist and non-fiction writer Richard Louv published Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit DisorderIn this book Louv studied the relationship of children and the natural world in current and historical contexts, creating the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe possible negative consequences to individual health and the social fabric as children move indoors as a result of immersion in television, Internet, and computer games, and away from physical contact with the natural world – particularly unstructured, solitary experience.

Louv cited research pointing to attention disorders, obesity, a dampening of creativity and depression as problems associated with a nature-deficient childhood. He amassed information on the subject from practitioners of many disciplines to make his case, and is commonly credited with helping to inspire an international movement to reintroduce children to nature.

I first learned about Louv's book in a lecture by paleontologist, educator, and television broadcaster Scott D. Sampson held at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California on October 26, 2011. Sampson's lecture was the first in a science lecture series organized by my son, Max, in his junior year in high school. An extremely engaging speaker, Sampson uses the electronic media to promote the disengagement from media, and active exploration of nature, especially in childhood. He also promotes the use of social media in promoting scientific exploration of nature by the individual in each person's locality.

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The Million Dollar Homepage August 25, 2005 – January 11, 2006

A screenshot of the Million Dollar Homepage

On August 25, 2005 Alex Tew, a student from Wiltshire, England, launched The Million Dollar Homepage to pay for his university education.

"The home page consists of a million pixels arranged in a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid; the image-based links on it were sold for $1 per pixel in 10 × 10 blocks. The purchasers of these pixel blocks provided tiny images to be displayed on them, a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to which the images were linked, and a slogan to be displayed when hovering a cursor over the link. The aim of the site was to sell all of the pixels in the image, thus generating a million dollars of income for the creator. The Wall Street Journal has commented that the site inspired other websites that sell pixels.

"Launched on 26 August 2005, the website became an Internet phenomenon. The Alexa ranking of web traffic peaked at around 127; as of 18 February 2009 (2009 -02-18)[update], it is 42,735. On 1 January 2006, the final 1,000 pixels were put up for auction on eBay. The auction closed on 11 January with a winning bid of $38,100 that brought the final tally to $1,037,100 in gross income" (Wikipedia article on The Million Dollar Homepage, accessed 05-08-2009).

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A University Library Intended to Contain Very Few Physical Books September 6, 2005

Classes began at the University of California, Merced on September 6, 2005. At the opening of this new campus focused on math, science, and engineering the library included approximately 10,000 journal subscriptions—all available online, with no print journals. This "21st century research library" contained a limited collection of about 30,000 physical books, and offered interlibrary loans from other University of Calfornia libraries. It emphasized providing access to digital books and the "deep web"—databases available by subscription:

"The Internet is wide-ranging, but the bulk of the information needed for scholarly study and research is not freely available and cannot be found in a Google search. The UC Merced Library acquires and manages subscriptions to millions of scholarly articles in electronic journals, tens of thousands of electronic books, and hundreds of databases. Thanks to the Library, UC Merced students and faculty can access these scholarly electronic resources at any time with a connection to the Internet.

"The collection has what you want.

"The Library has many books and DVD movies on the shelves to support study in the areas of UC Merced specialization and to also provide a break from study with recreational reading and viewing. If what you need is not in the building, then use the University of California systemwide library catalog to request free, overnight courier delivery for any of the 32 million volumes at the other UC campuses" (UC Merced Library website, accessed 01-28-09).

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College-Level Lectures Via Podcasts January 28, 2006

The iTunes U logo

The iTunes U section of the iTunes application

Apple launched iTunes U, a service that offered college-level lectures via podcasts.

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Reborn Digital: The First Fully Digital University Press: A 3 Year Experiment in the United States July 13, 2006 – September 30, 2010

The Rice University Press logo

The Connexions logo

Rice University Press, which shut down in 1996, announced that it was re-opening as an entirely digital operation:

"As money-strapped university presses shut down nationwide, Rice University is turning to technology to bring its press back to life as the first fully digital university press in the United States.  

"Using the open-source e-publishing platform Connexions, Rice University Press is returning from a decade-long hiatus to explore models of peer-reviewed scholarship for the 21st century. The technology offers authors a way to use multimedia -- audio files, live hyperlinks or moving images -- to craft dynamic scholarly arguments, and to publish on-demand original works in fields of study that are increasingly constrained by print publishing.  

" 'Rice University Press is using Rice's strength in technology to innovatively overcome increasingly common obstacles to publication of scholarly works,' Rice University President David Leebron said. 'The nation's first fully digital academic press provides not only a solution for scholars -- particularly those in the humanities -- who are limited by the dearth of university presses, but also a venue for publishing multimedia essays, articles, books and scholarly narratives.'

Charles Henry, Rice University vice provost, university librarian and publisher of Rice University Press during the startup phase, said, 'Our decision to revive Rice's press as a digital enterprise is based on both economics and on new ways of thinking about scholarly publishing. On the one hand, university presses are losing money at unprecedented rates, and technology offers us ways to decrease production costs and provide nearly ubiquitous delivery system, the Internet. We avoid costs associated with backlogs, large inventories and unsold physical volumes, and we greatly speed the editorial process.  

" 'We don't have a precise figure for our startup costs yet, but it's safe to say our startup costs and annual operating expenses will be at least 10 times less than what we'd expect to pay if we were using a traditional publishing model,' Henry said.  

"The digital press will operate just as a traditional press, up to a point. Manuscripts will be solicited, reviewed, edited and resubmitted for final approval by an editorial board of prominent scholars. But rather than waiting for months for a printer to make a bound book, Rice University Press's digital files will instead be run through Connexions for automatic formatting, indexing and population with high-resolution images, audio and video and Web links.  

" 'We don't print anything,' Henry explained. 'It will go online as a Rice University Press publication in a matter of days and be available for sale as a digital book.' Users will be able to view the content online for free or purchase a copy of the book for download through the Rice University Press Web site. Alternatively, thanks to Connexions' partnership with on-demand printer QOOP, users will be able to order printed books if they want, in every style from softbound black-and-white on inexpensive paper to leather-bound full-color hardbacks on high-gloss paper.  

"As with a traditional press, our publications will be peer-reviewed, professionally vetted and very high quality,' Henry said. 'But the choice to have a printed copy will be up to the customer.'

"Authors published by Rice University Press will retain the copyrights for their works, in accordance with Connexions' licensing agreement with Creative Commons. Additionally, because Connexions is open-source, authors will be able to update or amend their work, easily creating a revised edition of their book. W. Joseph King, executive director of Connexions and co-director of the Rice University Press project, said, 'Connexions' mission is to support open education in all forms, including the publication of original scholarly works. We believe that Connexions has the ability to change the university press at Rice and in general.'

"In the coming months, Rice University Press will name its board of directors and appoint an editorial board in one or two academic disciplines that are especially constrained by the current print model. Over time, Rice University Press will focus on:

"1. Putting out original scholarly work in fields particularly impacted by the high costs and distribution models of the printed book. One such field is art history, in which printing costs are exceptionally high. Over the years, many university presses have slashed the number of art history titles, severely limiting younger scholars' prospects of publication, Henry said. Rice University Press has identified art history as a field that would benefit immediately and therefore it will be the press's first area of major effort.  

"2. Fostering new models of scholarship: With the rise of digital environments, scholars are increasingly attempting to write book-length studies that use new media -- images, video, audio and Web links -- as part of their arguments. Rice University Press will easily accommodate these new forms of scholarship, Henry said.

"3. Providing more affordable publishing for scholarly societies and centers: Often disciplinary societies and smaller centers, especially in the humanities, publish annual reports, reflections on their field of study or original research resulting from grants. For smaller organizations, the printing costs of these publications are prohibitive. Rice University Press will partner with organizations to provide more affordable publishing.  

"4. Partnering with large university presses: In the wake of rising production costs and overhead, many university presses have closed or reduced the number of titles they publish, especially in the humanities and social sciences. As a result many peer-reviewed, high quality books are waiting on backlog. Rice University Press will work with selected university publishers to inexpensively publish approved works. Henry said two major university presses have already expressed an interest in working with Rice University Press to reduce backlogged titles. Rice University Press plans to partner with these and other presses to produce such works as dual publications.  

" 'Technological innovations suffuse academia, but institutional innovation often seems more challenging. The initiative to resuscitate Rice University Press as a fully digital university press is thus doubly exciting,' said Steve Wheatley, vice president of the American Council of Learned Societies, an umbrella organization of 70 scholarly societies in the humanities and social sciences. 'It is particularly encouraging to note that the revived press will give special attention to scholarship that is born digital. Equally commendable -- and perhaps even more important -- is the commitment of the university to support this initiative at this crucial phase for scholarly publishing " (http://media.rice.edu/media/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW&ID=8654, accessed 05-23-2010)/

♦ "Rice University Press ceased operations on September 30, 2010. Certain publications continue to be available on Connexions."

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IBM Begins Development of Watson, the First Cognitive Computer 2007

David Ferrucci

The Watson deep question answering computing system lab

The Watson Research Center

In 2007 David Ferrucci, leader of the Semantic Analysis and Integration Department at IBM’s Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York,  and his team began development of Watson, a special-purpose computer system designed to push the envelope on deep question and answering, deep analytics, and the computer's understanding of natural language. "Watson" became the firstg cognitive computer, combinding machine learning and artificial intelligence.

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Goodreads is Founded January 2007

In January 2007 Otis and Elizabeth Chandler launched the "social cataloguing" website Goodreads in San Francisco.

"The website allows individuals to freely search Goodreads' extensive user-populated database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions and discussions" (Wikipedia article on Goodreads, accessed 10-29-2013).

In March 2013 Goodreads was acquired by Amazon.com.

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Second Life is Used for Teaching Foreign Languages July 2007

A virtual classroom in Second Life where players can learn new languages, among other studies

According to an article in LeMonde.fr in July 2007, the virtual reality site, Second Life, was being used for teaching foreign languages.

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The World Wide Telecom Web for Illiterate Populations August 2007

Arun Kumar

A diagram of the World Wide Telecom Web, also known as "Spoken Web"

In August 2007 Arun Kumar and others at IBM Research - India, New Delhi,  published "WWTW: The World Wide Telecom Web", a voice-driven Internet designed for illiterate populations:

"our vision of a voice-driven ecosystem parallel to that of the WWW. WWTW is a network of interconnected voice sites that are voice driven applications created by users and hosted in the network. It has the potential to enable the underprivileged population to become a part of the next generation converged networked world. We present a whole gamut of existing technology enablers for our vision as well as present research directions and open challenges that need to be solved to not only realize a WWTW but also to enable the two Webs to cross leverage each other."

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The First Healthcare Course Taught in Second Life September 2007

A player's avatar stands infront of the virtual campus of Coventry University in Second Life

In September 2007 England's Coventry University developed a MSc course in clinical management that held problem-based learning groups for students in Second Life. The course trained students in managing healthcare facilities, and was the first healthcare course to use Second Life as a learning platform.




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Anthony Grafton's "Codex in Crisis" November 5, 2007 – 2008

Anthony Grafton

The cover of Codex in Crisis

On November 5, 2007 historian Anthony Grafton of Princeton University published "Future Reading. Digitization and its Discontents" in The New Yorker Magazine. This was revised and reissued as a small book entitled Codex in Crisis (2008). It was reprinted as the last chapter in Grafton's, Worlds Made by Words. Scholarship and Community in the Modern West (2009).

On December 18, 2008 Grafton spoke about Codex in Crisis at Google, Montain View, in the Authors@Google series:

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The Amazon Kindle is Introduced November 19, 2007

The Amazon logo

A first generation Amazon Kindle

Amazon.com introduced the Kindle on November 19, 2007. This unconventionally-named ebook reader differed from other ebook readers because it incorporated a wireless service for purchasing and delivering electronic texts from Amazon.com without a computer. The 6 inch wide electronic-paper screen was limited to grayscale at 167ppi resolution. At its introduction 90,000 titles were available for download to the 10 oz. device. The first Kindle could store about 200 books.

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Game-Based Learning for Virtual Patients March 2008

In March 2008 Imperial College Medical School, London, announced the development of Phase I - Game-based learning for Virtual Patients in Second Life.

"The four-dimensional framework described by De Freitas and Martin (2006), plus the learning types described by Helmer (2007), as well as the different aspects of emergent narrative described by Murray (1997) have provided the basis for the design of these game-based learning activities for virtual patients under two different categories: context and learner specification, and narrative and modes of representation. Phase I of this project focused on the delivery of a virtual patient in the area of Respiratory Medicine following a game-based learning model in Second Life."

In December 2013 a video of Phase I was available from YouTube at at this link.

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Toward a World Digital Mathematics Library July 27, 2008

Petr Sojka of the Department of Computer Graphics and Design of Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, Czech Republic, organized the first conference entitled DML 2008 Towards a Digital Mathematics Library. Held at the University of Birmingham on July 27, 2008, it was part of the Conferences on Intelligent Computer Mathematics (CICM) and Mathematics Knowledge Management (MKM).

"Mathematicians dream of a digital archive containing all peer-reviewed mathematical literature ever published, properly linked and validated/verified. It is estimated that the entire corpus of mathematical knowledge published over the centuries does not exceed 100,000,000 pages, an amount easily manageable by current information technologies.

"The workshop's objectives are to formulate the strategy and goals of a global mathematical digital library and to summarize the current successes and failures of ongoing technologies and related projects, asking such questions as:

"* What technologies, standards, algorithms and formats should be used and what metadata should be shared?

"* What business models are suitable for publishers of mathematical literature, authors and funders of their projects and institutions?

"* Is there a model of sustainable, interoperable, and extensible mathematical library that mathematicians can use in their everyday work?

* What is the best practice for

"o retrodigitized mathematics (from images via OCR to MathML and/or TeX);

"o retro-born-digital mathematics (from existing electronic copy in DVI, PS or PDF to MathML and/or TeX);

"o born-digital mathematics (how to make needed metadata and file formats available as a side effect of publishing workflow [CEDRAM model])?"

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Creation of the HathiTrust Digital Library October 2008 – March 2012

In October 2008 thirteen universities in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation and the University of California founded the HathiTrust, a very large scale collaborative repository of digital content from research libraries, including content digitized via the Google Books project, and Internet Archive digitization initiatives, as well as content digitized locally by member libraries. The name came from the Hindu word for elephant, as in "an elephant never forgets."

♦ As of January 2011 over 50 academic research libraries were members of the HathiTrust. Its website published the following statistics:

7,909,950 total volumes,  4,057,969 book titles, 189,013 serial titles 2,768,482,500 pages,  355 terabytes,  94 miles,  6,427 tons,  1,972,865 volumes (~25% of total) in the public domain.

♦ In March 2012 the HathiTrust website published the following statistics:

10,109,695 total volumes,  5,371,919 book titles, 266,508 serial titles 3,538,393,250 pages,  453 terabytes,  120 miles,  8,214 tons,  2,802,045 volumes (~28% of total) in the public domain.

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"Tango with Cows" : A Virtual Exhibition November 18, 2008

Cover of Tango with Cows, Vasily Kamensky.  Please click on image to view larger image.

On November 18, 2008 The Getty Museum opened an exhibition entitled Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde 1910-1917. On the website of the show you could turn the pages of virtual copies of rare art books exhibited, view English translations, and hear readings of the text in Russian. (I last accessed the website in December 2013).

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"From Book Fluency to Screen Fluency, from Literacy to Visuality" November 21, 2008

On November 21, 2008 Kevin Kelly of Pacifica, California, published an article in The New York Times Magazine entitled "Becoming Screen Literate," arguing that literacy was undergoing a paradigm shift from "book fluency to screen fluency." Summarizing historical developments in the book that led to what he called "book fluency," Kelly argued that digital tools making authorship of films accessible to everyone, were changing the nature of both production of films, and scholarship about films, much as they changed the nature of authorship and scholarship of books. Sections are quoted below:

"When technology shifts, it bends the culture. Once, long ago, culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation and rhetoric instilled in societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate and the subjective. Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. Gutenberg’s invention of metallic movable type elevated writing into a central position in the culture. By the means of cheap and perfect copies, text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. From printing came journalism, science and the mathematics of libraries and law. The distribution-and-display device that we call printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for linear logic (in a sentence), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact) and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book. In the West, we became people of the book.

"Now invention is again overthrowing the dominant media. A new distribution-and-display technology is nudging the book aside and catapulting images, and especially moving images, to the center of the culture. We are becoming people of the screen. The fluid and fleeting symbols on a screen pull us away from the classical notions of monumental authors and authority. On the screen, the subjective again trumps the objective. The past is a rush of data streams cut and rearranged into a new mashup, while truth is something you assemble yourself on your own screen as you jump from link to link. We are now in the middle of a second Gutenberg shift — from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.

"The overthrow of the book would have happened long ago but for the great user asymmetry inherent in all media. It is easier to read a book than to write one; easier to listen to a song than to compose one; easier to attend a play than to produce one. But movies in particular suffer from this user asymmetry. The intensely collaborative work needed to coddle chemically treated film and paste together its strips into movies meant that it was vastly easier to watch a movie than to make one. A Hollywood blockbuster can take a million person-hours to produce and only two hours to consume. But now, cheap and universal tools of creation (megapixel phone cameras, Photoshop, iMovie) are quickly reducing the effort needed to create moving images. To the utter bafflement of the experts who confidently claimed that viewers would never rise from their reclining passivity, tens of millions of people have in recent years spent uncountable hours making movies of their own design. Having a ready and reachable audience of potential millions helps, as does the choice of multiple modes in which to create. Because of new consumer gadgets, community training, peer encouragement and fiendishly clever software, the ease of making video now approaches the ease of writing.

"But merely producing movies with ease is not enough for screen fluency, just as producing books with ease on Gutenberg’s press did not fully unleash text. Literacy also required a long list of innovations and techniques that permit ordinary readers and writers to manipulate text in ways that make it useful. For instance, quotation symbols make it simple to indicate where one has borrowed text from another writer. Once you have a large document, you need a table of contents to find your way through it. That requires page numbers. Somebody invented them (in the 13th century). Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. And bibliographic citations (invented in the mid-1500s) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources. These days, of course, we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorize a selected word or phrase for later sorting.

"All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, quote experts and sample bits of beloved artists. These tools, more than just reading, are the foundations of literacy."


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"The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age" 2009

In 2009 American educator Cathy N. Davidson of Duke University, and David Theo Goldberg, of the University of California at Irvine, with support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant making initiative on Digital Media and Learning, published The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.

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"Readability" is Launched 2009

Readability was launched by Arc90 in New York.  This service automatically stripped websites of advertising and other distractions, providing a customized reading view, and method of saving articles for future reading.

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Larger Version of the Amazon Kindle Introduced May 6, 2009

On May 6, 2009 Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com unveiled a larger version of the Amazon Kindle called the Kindle DX (for Deluxe). The larger model had a 

"9.7-inch display with auto-rotation, high-speed wireless access to 275,000 books, 3.3 gigabytes of storage, or room for up to 3,500 books. Native support for PDF documents, with no panning, zooming or scrolling necessary" (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/06/live-blogging-the-kindle-fest/).

The initial list price of the DX was $489, or $130 more than the previous model, the Kindle 2. The DX was available for sale in the summer of 2009.

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The First College Journalism Course Focused on Twitter September 1, 2009

"This fall, DePaul University journalism alumnus Craig Kanalley will teach what is believed to be the first college-level journalism course focused solely on Twitter and its applications. Kanalley is a digital intern at the Chicago Tribune.

"It is one of several innovative courses offered by DePaul’s College of Communication to help prepare students to work in the burgeoning digital landscape. Other journalism courses include niche journalism, reporting for converged newsrooms, backpack reporting and entrepreneurial journalism.

"Kanalley said his course, 'Digital Editing: From Breaking News to Tweets, is really about learning how to make sense of the clutter of the Web, particularly in situations of breaking news or major developing stories, and how to evaluate and verify the authenticity of reports by citizen journalists.'

“ 'Thousands share information about these stories and how they’re affected through Twitter every day, and there’s a need to sift through this data to find relevant information that provides story tips and additional context for these events,' Kanalley said.

"Students will especially focus on the social networking platform Twitter and apply concepts discussed in class to Kanalley’s live journalism Web site Breaking Tweets ( www.breakingtweets.com ), which integrates news and relevant Twitter feedback to create a one-of-a-kind Web experience for readers by providing eyewitness accounts of breaking news stories from around the world" (http://media-newswire.com/release_1098001.html, accessed 09-01-2009).

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Darnton's Case for Books: Past, Present and Future September 14, 2009

"In The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, Robert Darnton, a pioneer in the field of the history of the book, offers an in-depth examination of the book from its earliest beginnings to its changing—some even say threatened—place in culture, commerce and the academy. But to predict the death of the book is to ignore its centuries-long history of survival. The following are some of Darnton's observations.

"1. The Future. Whatever the future may be, it will be digital. The present is a time of transition, when printed and digital modes of communication coexist and new technology soon becomes obsolete. Already we are witnessing the disappearance of familiar objects: the typewriter, now consigned to antique shops; the postcard, a curiosity; the handwritten letter, beyond the capacity of most young people, who cannot write in cursive script; the daily newspaper, extinct in many cities; the local bookshop, replaced by chains, which themselves are threatened by Internet distributors like Amazon. And the library? It can look like the most archaic institution of all. Yet its past bodes well for its future, because libraries were never warehouses of books. They have always been and always will be centers of learning. Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication. Books, too, can accommodate both modes. Whether printed on paper or stored in servers, they embody knowledge, and their authority derives from a great deal more than the technology that went into them.

"2. Preservation. Bits become degraded over time. Documents may get lost in cyberspace, owing to the obsolescence of the medium in which they are encoded. Hardware and software become extinct at a distressing rate. Unless the vexatious problem of digital preservation is solved, all texts “born digital” belong to an endangered species. The obsession with developing new media has inhibited efforts to preserve the old. We have lost 80% of all silent films and 50% of all films made before World War II. Nothing preserves texts better than ink imbedded in paper, especially paper manufactured before the 19th century, except texts written in parchment or engraved in stone. The best preservation system ever invented was the old-fashioned, pre-modern book.

"3. Reading… and Writing. Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life. The practice spread everywhere in early modern England, among ordinary readers as well as famous writers like Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Milton, and John Locke. It involved a special way of taking in the printed word. Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end (unless they are digital natives and click through texts on machines), early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it, and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality. 

"4. Piracy. Voltaire toyed with his texts so much that booksellers complained. As soon as they sold one edition of a work, another would appear, featuring additions and corrections by the author. Customers protested. Some even said that they would not buy an edition of Voltaire's complete works—and there were many, each different from the others—until he died, an event eagerly anticipated by retailers throughout the book trade. Piracy was so pervasive in early modern Europe that bestsellers could not be blockbusters as they are today. Instead of being produced in huge numbers by one publisher, they were printed simultaneously in many small editions by many publishers, each racing to make the most of a market unconstrained by copyright. Few pirates attempted to produce accurate counterfeits of the original editions. They abridged, expanded, and reworked texts as they pleased, without worrying about the authors' intentions. 

"5. E-Books. I want to write an electronic book. Here is how my fantasy takes shape. An “e-book,” unlike a printed codex, can contain many layers arranged in the shape of a pyramid. Readers can download the text and skim the topmost layer, which will be written like an ordinary monograph. If it satisfies them, they can print it out, bind it (binding machines can now be attached to computers and printers), and study it at their convenience in the form of a custom-made paperback. If they come upon something that especially interests them, they can click down a layer to a supplementary essay or appendix. They can continue deeper through the book, through bodies of documents, bibliography, historiography, iconography, background music, everything I can provide to give the fullest possible understanding of my subject. In the end, they will make the subject theirs, because they will find their own paths through it, reading horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, wherever the electronic links may lead. 

"6. Authorship. Despite the proliferation of biographies of great writers, the basic conditions of authorship remain obscure for most periods of history. At what point did writers free themselves from the patronage of wealthy noblemen and the state in order to live by their pens? What was the nature of a literary career, and how was it pursued? How did writers deal with publishers, printers, booksellers, reviewers, and one another? Until those questions are answered, we will not have a full understanding of the transmission of texts. Voltaire was able to manipulate secret alliances with pirate publishers because he did not depend on writing for a living. A century later, Zola proclaimed that a writer's independence came from selling his prose to the highest bidder. How did this transformation take place?

"7. The Book Trade. It may seem hopeless to conceive of book history as a single subject, to be studied from a comparative perspective across the whole range of historical disciplines. But books themselves do not respect limits either linguistic or national. They have often been written by authors who belonged to an international republic of letters, composed by printers who did not work in their native tongue, sold by booksellers who operated across national boundaries, and read in one language by readers who spoke another. Books also refuse to be contained within the confines of a single discipline when treated as objects of study. Neither history nor literature nor economics nor sociology nor bibliography can do justice to all aspects of the life of a book. By its very nature, therefore, the history of books must be international in scale and interdisciplinary in method. But it need not lack conceptual coherence, because books belong to circuits of communication that operate in consistent patterns, however complex they may be. By unearthing those circuits, historians can show that books do not merely recount history; they make it.(http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6696290.html)"

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A French Alternative to Google Books is Formed December 17, 2009

Jean-Pierre Gérault, president of i2S, Pessac, France, announced the formation of a French consortium to scan the contents of French libraries. The project is called "Polinum," a French acronym that stands for "Operating Platform for Digital Books."

"French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made catching up on France's digital delay one of the national priorities by earmarking euro750 million of a euro35 billion ($51 billion) spending plan announced earlier this week for digitizing France's libraries, film and music archives and other repositories of the nation's recorded heritage. These funds will mainly go to French libraries, universities and museums, who will use them to develop their own plans for digitizing their holdings.  

"The consortium, meanwhile, intends to be the technological choice for those institutions, Gerault said. He declined to estimate what part of the euro750 million the consortium thinks it can capture. 

"France's culture ministry has been in difficult negotiations with Google, which would like to help digitize France's archives but has met resistance in France over fears of giving the internet search giant too much control over the nation's cultural heritage, as well as over how it would protect the interests of authors and other copyright holders" (http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9CL4M480.htm, accessed 12-17-2009).

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The Amazon Kindle is Hacked; eBook Digital Rights Management Cracked December 23, 2009

On December 23, 2009 it was announced that the Amazon Kindle was hacked, allowing for all purchased content to be transferred off the device via a PDF file. 

"Kindle e-books are sold as .AZW files which have DRM that stops users from transferring the purchased books to other devices that are not Kindles.

"That should no longer be a problem thanks to Israeli hacker "Labba" who has cracked the DRM. A second hacker, 'I

" 'Cabbages' did note that Amazon's DRM process was tough to crack, although ultimately Amazon's work was in vain. 'Amazon actually put a bit of effort behind the DRM obfuscation in their Kindle for PC application. And they seem to have done a reasonable job on the obfuscation. Way to go Amazon! It's good enough that I got bored unwinding it all and just got lazy with the Windows debugging APIs instead,' he said" (http://www.afterdawn.com/news/archive/20989.cfm#comments, accessed 01-02-2010).

Amusingly perhaps, or following the belief that all publicity is good publicity, Amazon.com had two advertisements for the Kindle on the web page publishing the above story.

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2010 – 2012

"The Never-Ending Language Learning System" January 2010

Supported by DARPA and Google, in January 2010 Tom M. Mitchell and his team at Carnegie Mellon University initiated the Never-Ending Language Learning System, or NELL, in an effort to develop a method for machines to teach themselves semantics, or the meaning of language.

"Few challenges in computing loom larger than unraveling semantics, understanding the meaning of language. One reason is that the meaning of words and phrases hinges not only on their context, but also on background knowledge that humans learn over years, day after day" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/science/05compute.html?_r=1&hpw). 

"NELL has been in continuous operation since January 2010. For the first 6 months it was allowed to run without human supervision, learning to extract instances of a few hundred categories and relations, resulting in a knowledge base containing approximately a third of a million extracted instances of these categories and relations. At that point, it had improved substantially its ability to read three quarters of these categories and relations (with precision in the range 90% to 99%), but it had become inaccurate in extracting instances of the remaining fourth of the ontology (many had precisions in the range 25% to 60%).  

"The estimated precision of the beliefs it had added to its knowledge base at that point was 71%. We are still trying to understand what causes it to become increasingly competent at reading some types of information, but less accurate over time for others. Beginning in June, 2010, we began periodic review sessions every few weeks in which we would spend about 5 minutes scanning each category and relation. During this 5 minutes, we determined whether NELL was learning to read it fairly correctly, and in case not, we labeled the most blatant errors in the knowledge base. NELL now uses this human feedback in its ongoing training process, along with its own self-labeled examples. In July, a spot test showed the average precision of the knowledge base was approximately 87% over all categories and relations. We continue to add new categories and relations to the ontology over time, as NELL continues learning to populate its growing knowledge base" (http://rtw.ml.cmu.edu/rtw/overview, accessed 10-06-2010).

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"Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication. . . " February 2010

In February 2010 biosocial anthropologist Diane Harley, director of the Higher Education in the Digital Age (HEDA) project at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, and colleagues, published Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines.

"Since 2005, the Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE)... has been conducting research to understand the needs and practices of faculty for in-progress scholarly communication (i.e., forms of communication employed as research is being executed) as well as archival publication. The complete results of our work can be found at the Future of Scholarly Communication’s project website. This report brings together the responses of 160 interviewees across 45, mostly elite, research institutions to closely examine scholarly needs and values in seven selected academic fields: archaeology, astrophysics, biology, economics, history, music, and political science.

"The report is divided into eight chapters and can be read in its entirety online (733 pages) or can be downloaded in a PDF file, as can any individual chapter" (http://escholarship.org/uc/cshe_fsc, accessed 02-12-2010).

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Modifiable eBook Editions of Textbooks February 22, 2010

Macmillan announced on February 22, 2010 that it was introducing new software called DynamicBooks, which would let college professors curate ebooks for their own courses. They could add paragraphs, bring in extra sources, links, and updates—without having to consult with the original author.

According to the New York Times, students will be able to purchase the books at their local university stores, as well as dynamicbooks.com and through CourseSmart, an e-textbook seller. The company is also working with Apple so students can access the books on the iPad. In August, they will offer 100 titles.

"The modifiable e-book editions will be much cheaper than traditional print textbooks. “Psychology,” for example, which has a list price of $134.29 (available on Barnes & Noble’s Web site for $122.73), will sell for $48.76 in the DynamicBooks version. Macmillan is also offering print-on-demand versions of the customized books, which will be priced closer to traditional textbooks.  

"Fritz Foy, senior vice president for digital content at Macmillan, said the company expected e-book sales to replace the sales of used books. Part of the reason publishers charge high prices for traditional textbooks is that students usually resell them in the used market for several years before a new edition is released. DynamicBooks, Mr. Foy said, will be “semester and classroom specific,” and the lower price, he said, should attract students who might otherwise look for used or even pirated editions" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/business/media/22textbook.html?scp=1&sq=publishing%2002/22/2010&st=cse, accessed 02-23-2010).

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The Sociology of Wikipedians March 2010

A joint study of the Wikipedia contributor population by the United Nations University and the Maastricht Economical and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) suggested on March 2010 that Wikipedians 9contributors to the Wikipedia) were over 85% male and in their mid-20s.

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Probably the First Fully Visually Satisfying Interactive eBook April 5, 2010

On April 5, 2010 Theodore Gray, co-founder of Wolfram Research, makers of Mathematica, as well as a Popular Science columnist, and an element collector, issued the ebook version of his 2009 printed book, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, for the Apple iPad.

Gray's ebook may have been the first interactive book to take full advantage of the features of the iPad, including splendid high resolution graphics, 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.

♦ In December 2013 a video which Gray discussed the features, design, and production of the ebook, The Elements was available from YouTube at this link

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Social Networking Added to Reading Electronic Books June 2010

The "popular highlights" feature of the Amazon Kindle ebook reader available in June 2010 enabled readers to see which portions of books other readers considered noteworthy. It also suggested that Amazon may be collecting this information as possible marketing information for publishers. This feature could  be disabled by Kindle users.

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Flipboard, "Your Personalized, Social Magazine" July 2010

In July 2010 the social-network aggregation, magazine-format application software Flipboard was launched for the iPad as "your personalized, social magazine" by Mike McCue and Evan Doll in Palo Alto, California.

The magazine collected the recommendations of user's friends on social network sites, and other websites and presented them in magazine format on the iPad. The application was designed specifically for the iPad's large touch screen and allowed users to "flip" through their social networking feeds and feeds from websites that partnered with Flipboard. The product was later ported to the iPhone.

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The First Traditional Humanities Journal to Try "Open" Peer Review July 26, 2010

For its special issue, "Shakespeare and the New Media," the scholarly humanities journal Shakespeare Quarterly published by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., offered contributors the chance to take part in a partially open peer-review process conducted by MediaCommonspress.  

"Authors could opt to post drafts of their articles online, open them up for anyone to comment on, and then revise accordingly. The editors would make the final call about what to publish (hence the "partially open" label). As far as the editors know, it's the first time a traditional humanities journal has tried out a version of crowd-sourcing in lieu of double-blind review" (http://chronicle.com/article/Leading-Humanities-Journal/123696/, accessed 08-24-2010).

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Columbia University Opens the Tow Center for Digital Journalism October 19, 2010

On October 19, 2010 the Tow Center for Digital Journalism offically opened at Columbia Journalism School, reflecting the development of the most significant new journalistic media since television, and resultant changes in the news industry. The first director of the Tow Center was Emily Bell, who had previously led the development of digital content at TheGuardian.com.

Among its features, the Tow Center also helps oversee the dual-degree Master of Science Program in Computer Science and Journalism offered in conjunction with Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.These students receive highly specialized training in the digital environment, enabling them to develop technical and editorial skills in all aspects of computer-supported news gathering and digital media production.

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Bestsellers on eBook Readers: Romance Novels December 9, 2010

According to an article published in The New York Times, at the end of 2010 one of the hottest selling fields in ebooks was romance novels, which were also top-sellers in paperback. It turns out that many buyers preferred ordering romance novels online in privacy to buying them in public locations such as drug stores where they might run into people they knew. Many also preferred to read these on an ebook reader, especially in public places like buses or trains, so they didn't have to expose the racy nature of the novels, typically advertised in the graphics on the covers of paperback editions.

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The Digital Public Library of America December 13, 2010

On December 13, 2010 John Palfrey and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard announced that it would begin coordinating plans for a Digital Public Library of America. This initiative was stimulated by an article published by Robert Darnton in the New York Review of Books on on October 4, 2010 entitled "A Library Without Walls."

Related to the Berkman Center's announcement, an article appeared in Libraryjournal.com by Michael Kelly on December 15, 2010: "New Plan Seeks a 'Big Tent' for a National Digital Library." 

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An Interactive Pop-Up Children's Book App for the iPhone & iPad December 16, 2010

On December 16, 2010 GameCollage.com, based in Seattle, issued Three Little Pigs and the Secrets of a Popup Book for iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad. The app, which cost $3.99, was an interactive children's book which allowed the reader to push, pull, spine, slide and explore interactive pages, and to see, in a virtual way, how the mechanism of the book would work if it were an actual paper pop-up book. The art was adapted from original illustrations by L. Leslie Brooke.  The app included a "whimsical sound track with colorful sound effects." When apples fell out of the tree, they fell in the direction the iPad was tipped. 

Unlike an actual popup book printed on paper, which might feature high quality paper, paper engineering, printing, and binding,  the app featured "silky smooth animation running at constant 60 frames per second," and a "highly polished user interface."

In December 2013 a video ad for the app was available from YouTube at this link

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Post-Review Process Rather than Pre-Review Process in Publishing? 2011

"I want to suggest that the time has come for us to consider whether, really, we might all be better served by separating the question of credentialing from the publishing process, by allowing everything through the gate, and by designing a post-publication peer review process that focuses on how a scholarly text should be received rather than whether it should be out there in the first place" (Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy [2011]). Fitzpatrick is Professor of Media Studies, Pomona College, Claremont, California.

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Can an Artificial Intelligence Get into the University of Tokyo? 2011

In 2011 National Institute of Informatics in Japan initiated the Todai Robot Project with the goal of achieving a high score on the National Center Test for University Admissions by 2016, and passing the University of Tokyo entrance exam in 2021. 

"INTERVIEW WITH Yusuke Miyao, June 2013

Associate Professor, Digital Content and Media Sciences Research Division, NII; Associate Professor, Department of Informatics; "Todai Robot Project" Sub-Project Director 

Can a Robot Get Into the University of Tokyo? 
The Challenges Faced by the Todai Robot Project

Tainaka Could you tell us the objectives of the project?
Miyao We are researching the process of thinking by developing a computer program that will be able to pass the University of Tokyo entrance exam. The program will need to integrate multiple artificial intelligence technologies, such as language understanding, in order to develop all of the processes, from reading the question to determining the correct answer. While the process of thinking is first-nature to people, many of the processes involved in mental computation are still mysteries, so the project will be taking on challenges that previous artificial intelligence research has yet to touch.
Tainaka You're not going to making a physical robot?
Miyao No. What we'll be making is a robot brain. It won't be an actual robot that walks through the gate, goes to the testing site, picks up a pencil, and answers the questions.
Tainaka Why was passing the university entrance exam selected as the project's goal?
Miyao The key point is that what's difficult for people is different than what's difficult for computers. Computers excel at calculation, and can beat professional chess and shogi players at their games. IBM's "Watson" question-answering system*1 became a quiz show world champion. For a person, beating a professional shogi player is far harder than passing the University of Tokyo entrance exam, but for a computer, shogi is easier. What makes the University of Tokyo entrance exam harder is that the rules are less clearly defined than they are for shogi or a quiz show. From the perspective of using knowledge and data to answer questions, the university entrance exam requires a more human-like approach to information processing. However, it does not rely as much on common sense as an elementary school exam or everyday life, so it's a reasonable target for the next step in artificial intelligence research.
Tainaka Elementary school exam questions are more difficult?
Miyao For example, consider the sentence "Assuming there is a factory that can build 3 cars per day, how many days would it take to build 12 cars?" A computer would not be able to create a formula that expresses this in the same way a person could, near-instantaneously. It wouldn't understand the concepts of "car" or "factory", so it wouldn't be able to understand the relationship between them. Compared to that, calculating integrals is far easier.
Tainaka The National Center Test for University Admissions is multiple choice, and the second-stage exam is a short answer exam, right?
Miyao Of course, the center test is easier, and it has clear right and wrong answers, making it easier to grade. For the second-stage exam, examinees must give written answers, so during the latter half of the project, we will be shifting our focus on creating answers which are clear and comprehensible to human readers.
Tainaka Does the difficulty vary by test subject?
Miyao What varies more than the difficulty itself are the issues that have to be tackled by artificial intelligence research. The social studies questions, which test knowledge, rely on memory, so one might assume they would be easy for computers, but it's actually difficult for a computer to determine if the text of a problem corresponds to knowledge the computer possesses. What makes that identification possible is "Textual Entailment Recognition"*2, an area in which we are making progress, but still face many challenges. Ethics questions, on the other hand, frequently cover common sense, and require the reader to understand the Japanese language, so they are especially difficult for computers, which lack this common sense. Personally, I had a hard time with questions requiring memorization, so I picked ethics. (laughs)
Tainaka So ethics and language questions are difficult because they involve common sense.
Miyao Similar challenges are encountered with English, other than the common sense issue. For example, English questions include fill-in-the-blank questions, but it's difficult to pick natural conversational answers without actual life experience. Reading comprehension questions test logical and rational thought, but it's not really clear what this "logical and rational thought" consists of. The question, then, is how to teach "logical and rational thought" to computers. Also, for any subject, questions sometimes include photos, graphs, and comic strips. Humans understand them unconsciously, but it's extremely difficult to have computers understand them.
Tainaka Aren't mathematical formula questions easy to answer?
Miyao If they were presented as pure formulas, computers would excel at them, but the reality is not so simple. The questions themselves are written in natural language, making it difficult to map to the non-linguistic world of formulas. The same difficulty can be found with numerical fields, like physics or chemistry, or in fields which are difficult to convert into computer-interpretable symbols, such as the emotional and situational experience of reading a novel. That's what makes elementary school exams difficult.
Tainaka There are a mountain of problems.
Miyao There are many problems that nobody has yet taken on. That's what makes it challenging, and it's very exciting working with people from different fields. Looking at the practical results of this project, our discoveries and developments will be adapted for use in general purpose systems, such as meaning-based searching and conversation systems, real-world robot interfaces, and the like. The Todai Robot Project covers a diverse range of research fields, and NII plans to build an infrastructure, organizing data and creating platforms, and bring in researchers from both inside and outside Japan to achieve our objectives. In the future we will build an even more open platform, creating opportunities for members of the general public to participate as well, and I hope anyone motivated will take part" (http://21robot.org/introduce/NII-Interview/, accessed 12-30-2013).
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The Wikipedia Celebrates its Tenth Anniversary January 15, 2011

The Wikipedia celebrated its tenth anniversary with 448 events around the world.

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The New York Times Begins its "Recommendations Service" January 31, 2011

The New York Times rolled out its interactive Recommendations service. When I first looked at this on February 2, 2011 the service reported that I had read 120 articles in the previous month, breaking them down into ten categories. Based on my previous reading history it recommended that I read twenty articles in that day's edition.

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IBM's Watson Question Answering System Defeats Humans at Jeopardy! February 14 – February 16, 2011

LOn February 14, 2011 IBM's Watson question answering system supercomputer, developed at IBM's T J Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York, running DeepQA software, defeated the two best human Jeopardy! players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson's hardware consisted of 90 IBM Power 750 Express servers. Each server utilized a 3.5 GHz POWER7 eight-core processor, with four threads per core. The system operatesd with 16 terabytes of RAM.

The success of the machine underlines very significant advances in deep analytics and the ability of a machine to process unstructured data, and especially to intepret and speak natural language.

"Watson is an effort by I.B.M. researchers to advance a set of techniques used to process human language. It provides striking evidence that computing systems will no longer be limited to responding to simple commands. Machines will increasingly be able to pick apart jargon, nuance and even riddles. In attacking the problem of the ambiguity of human language, computer science is now closing in on what researchers refer to as the “Paris Hilton problem” — the ability, for example, to determine whether a query is being made by someone who is trying to reserve a hotel in France, or simply to pass time surfing the Internet.  

"If, as many predict, Watson defeats its human opponents on Wednesday, much will be made of the philosophical consequences of the machine’s achievement. Moreover, the I.B.M. demonstration also foretells profound sociological and economic changes.  

"Traditionally, economists have argued that while new forms of automation may displace jobs in the short run, over longer periods of time economic growth and job creation have continued to outpace any job-killing technologies. For example, over the past century and a half the shift from being a largely agrarian society to one in which less than 1 percent of the United States labor force is in agriculture is frequently cited as evidence of the economy’s ability to reinvent itself.  

"That, however, was before machines began to 'understand' human language. Rapid progress in natural language processing is b