Table of Contents
- From Gutenberg’s Movable Type to the Digital Book, and Other Studies in the History of Media
- Relating the Rapidly Changing Present to the Distant Past
- The Transition from Print to Digital
- Defining “The Book”
- Restating the Problem
- Economic Aspects
- How Printing Changed the Ways that Books Were Used, and Manuscript Production Persisted
- How Form and Function of Books Impacts the Reading and Writing Process
- Transitional Phases in the Form and Function of the Book before Gutenberg
- The Transition from Oral to Written Culture
- The Transition from the Roll to the Codex: Technological and Cultural Implications
- An Achievement in Book Production That Some Have Compared to the Gutenberg Bible
- Loss of Information from Late Antiquity to the Thirteenth Century
- The Carolingian Renewal and the Recopying of Codices in Minuscule
- Secularization of Book Production and Widening of the Market, Helped by the Invention of Spectacles, Causes Advances in the Form, Function, and Production of the Manuscript Book
- From Cuneiform Archives to Search Engines: The History of Bibliographical Control, Indexing and Searching
2. Transitional Phases in the Form and Function of the Book before Gutenberg
2.G. Secularization of Book Production and Widening of the Market, Helped by the Invention of Spectacles, Causes Advances in the Form, Function, and Production of the Manuscript Book
Toward the end of the eleventh century, with the development of the first universities, monastic culture gradually began sharing its centuries-old monopoly on education and book production. Laying claim as the oldest university, the University of Bologna was founded in 1088. Oxford was founded about 1096, Cambridge in 1209, the University of Paris in 1257. As intellectual life began to be increasingly centered at the universities, book production moved from the monastic scriptoria to the secular communities near universities where scholars, teachers and students, in cooperation with booksellers, artisans and craftsmen, organized an active book trade. Paris became the leading cultural center of thirteenth century Europe. Of the medieval centers for book production, Paris was the largest, and also the site for which the largest amount of relevant archival material has been preserved. 2.G.1. For the history of of the medieval book trade in Paris the most comprehensive study of the extensive archival material is Richard and Mary Rouse's Manuscripts and their Makers. Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500 (2 vols., 2000). Along with the development of universities, a technological development during the thirteenth century that probably stimulated the demand for reading material more than any other, and also stimulated advances in the form and function of books, was the invention of spectacles. Spectacles would have allowed a significant number of far-sighted people to read and write, and would have allowed older people, including more learned and experienced scholars, who had become far-sighted as a result of the aging process, to read and write just as they do today. This would have resulted in a significant widening of the book market, a greater demand for reading material, more productive teaching, scholarship and an increase in writing.Various unsustantiated theories concerning possible inventors of spectacles were proposed over the centuries--none supported by satisfactory evidence. An ordinance dated April 2, 1300 confirms that lenses for spectacles were being produced by the Venetian glass industry by this date. 2.G.2. "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  7 and footnote 25).
For the first half of the thirteenth century Bibles and psalters in Latin and other devotional works accounted for the bulk of high quality luxury manuscript book production in France. As the century unfolded, a much wider demand for books for individual use encouraged the production of increasing numbers of picture books, including romances and histories, lives of popular saints and other historical characters, for the instruction and entertainment of the royal family, the nobility and the growing bourgoisie. A new feature of these manuscripts was that they were written or translated into French, taking their place alongside religious manuscripts in Latin as important commissions and regular business of the Paris book trade. The new expanding clientele of literate laymen, only some of whom were probably tutored in Latin, also desired translations of the Old Testament as it was seen as an important source of historical information. To meet the demands of the new market for vernacular history and romance, artists who had been trained to illustrate religious texts found new ways of adapting patterns of illustration to secular historical texts, which necessitated creating series of images that would effectively tell stories. A very early example of secular manuscript illumination before the semiotics of secular illumination were well-established is shown in a manuscript of classical works made around 1200 (Paris, BnF, Ms. lat. 7936). This includes illuminations borrowed from traditional biblical imagery. As the patterns of iconography evolved with this genre of manuscripts, religious iconography could be inserted in secular stories with the intent of transfering religious meaning to the historical events. "The variety of these solutions and the successful and complicated ways the images interacted with the text are a testament to the artists' ability and their willingness to experiment with divided historiated initials, multicompartment miniatures, full-page minatures, and divided minatures that extend across more than one column of text. By the second third of the fourteenth century, however, a traditional format for secular manuscript illumination had largely been established, in which single-column minatures indicated the major divisions of the text, usually illustrated an event located near the beginning of the chapter, and were often drawn from a stock of patterns--battle, letter delivery, love scene--that could be easily inserted."2.G.3. Morrison, "From Sacred to Secular: The Origins of History Illumination in France," Imagining the Past in France. History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500, Morrison & Hedeman, eds. (2010) 22. This quote is taken from the author's summary of points made with specific examples, and beautifully illustrated in this chapter.
By the early fourteenth century Paris was so closely associated with the trade and production of illuminated manuscripts that in his Divine Comedy, written between 1308 and his death in 1321, Dante coined the term "illumination" in his Purgatorio (Canto XI) with reference to the Parisian style of illustrating and embellishing manuscripts. By the second quarter of the fourteenth century the market for secular literature had expanded sufficiently that artists were beginning to specialize in illuminating either secular or religious works. Through the end of the fifteenth century the most important and original work done in secular illumination was in manuscripts featuring historical stories. The pattern of production of these manuscripts was often that patrons would negotiate with a bookseller regarding the text and style of writing, quality and quantity of images and decoration they desired in a manuscript. The bookseller would then commission a scribe to do the writing, leaving space on each page for the chosen illuminator to fit the images and other kinds of decoration into the manuscript. Sometimes the bookseller would provide written instructions to the artist regarding specific images and the details in each that were desired. Over time certain details of costume in particular were associated with aspects of characters depicted, such as wealth, power, or virtue or lack thereof:
"A rare surviving example of written directions to artists and of the images based on those written directions offers insight into the communal nature of this voaculary of dress. In 1417 the humanist Jean Lebegue [Le Begue] wrote directions in French (Oxford, Bodleian Library, D'Orville Ms. 141, fols. 42v-55v) on how to illustrate Sallust's Roman histories of the Catiline conspiracy and the Jugurthine wars, and around 1420 he acted as libraire for the production of the illuminated manuscript (Geneva, Bibliotheque de Geneve, Ms. lat. 54) that followed them. Comparison with earlier manuscripts reveals that the images made for Lebegue in 1420 drew on a visual rhetoric that was well established before he wrote his directions; Lebegue tapped into this rhetoric when he described the miniatures he wanted, and the artists employed it when they visualized them."
This quote ,which comes from p. 78 of Anne D. Hedeman's "Presenting the Past: Visual Translation in Thirteenth- to Fifteenth-Century France," and much of this information regarding French vernacular historical illuminated manuscripts, is adapted from an extraordinary volume published in December 2010 by Elizabeth Morrison and Anne D. Hedeman entitled Imagining the Past in France. History in Manuscript Painting, 1250-1500. This is the splendidly designed, illustrated and produced catalogue for an exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Besides the wonderful manuscripts, a fascinating aspect of the exhibition is the inclusion of non-book objects which contain historical iconography such as ivory caskets, tapestries, and even a lady's purse, showing how interest in the past went beyond the book in the Middle Ages, perhaps a bit like it does today. The catalogue, which is a richly illustrated study of both manuscript book illustration and manuscript book history, combines historical interpretation with sophisticated curation, and one could not ask for a more exquisite catalogue as a physical object. When we think of substituting digital books for physical books here is an excellent example of a physical book, for which an electronic version or website will never be a satisfactory equivalent.
The market for scholarly books for university teachers and students in the Middle Ages was quite different from the market for expensive illuminated manuscripts, though some of the same scribes and booksellers were involved in both markets. Even the most basic manuscript books without illumination of any kind and quickly penned out were relatively expensive because parchment was expensive. Paper, which was first produced in Europe at Xativa, near Valencia in Al-Andalus in 1151, only very gradually became widely available, and probably did not help lower the cost of book production until production increased in order to meet demand after the introduction of printing. 2.F.4. "Paper seems to have advanced less rapidly in Europe than it had advanced either in China or in the Arabic world. The European parchment with which paper had to compete was a far better writing material than either bamboo slips or papyrus. Furthermore, there were few in Europe who read, and the demand for a cheaper writing material, until the advent of printing, was small. While it was the coming of paper that made the invention of printing possible, it was the invention of printing that made the use of paper general. After Europe began to print, first from blocks and then from type, paper quickly took its place as the one material for writing as well as for printing, though, strange to say, the first paper mill in England was not set up until seventeen years after Caxton began to print at Westminster" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed  137-38). Though higher education had moved out of the monasteries to the universities, most of the teachers at the early universities came from religious orders, and some developments in the history of the scholarly book occurred in both monastic and university settings. In monasteries reading was primarily a spiritual exercise which involved steady reading to oneself interspersed by prayer and pausing for rumination about the text as an act of meditation. At the universities reading was a process of study which required a more reasoning scrutiny of the text and consultation for reference purposes. These two kinds of reading required different kinds of presentation of texts, and this was reflected in new formats and features of scholarly books developed outside the monasteries.
Another aspect of university teaching was the expectation by lecturers that students would be able to follow the text by silently reading their own books. This would, of course, have created a market for comparatively inexpensive copies of widely studied texts. "In 1259 the Dominican house of the University of Paris required that students bring to class a copy of the text covered in public lectures, if possible. . . Similar regulations existed in Paris at the College of Harcourt and at the universities of Vienna and Ingolstadt. In 1309 Pierre Dubois, French publicist in the reign of Philip IV of France, observed that students who did not have a copy of the text before them could profit little from university lectures. Students too poor to purchase their own copies could borrow them from libraries like that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris, or they could copy out texts for their personal use. The statutes of the Sorbonne stipulated lending books against security deposits" (Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origins of Silent Reading  259).
Other changes in manuscript format and organization evolved in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, partly because of the needs of silent reading. Because oral reading had usually consisted of a continous reading of a text, or a substantial section of it, from beginning to end, many Carolingian codices, like ancient rolls, had not been divided into sections shorter than the chapter. . . . From the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries subdivisions were introduced in classical and early medieval texts; some works that had already been subdivided into chapters in later antiquity were more rationally subdivided by university scholars. Thirteenth century scribes and illuminators developed and extended the use of running-titles-- a feature of some of the most ancient surviving codices. They also introduced the analytic table of contents. As early as the sixth century chapter headings were a feature of codices, but in the thirteenth century these headings were brought together in one place and arranged in tabular form. The manner of indicating sources became the ancestor of the modern scholarly apparatus of footnotes. 2.G.5“In the twelfth century the principal apparatus for the academic reader was the gloss, and the principal developments in the mise-en-page of the book in the twelfth century centred on the presentation of the gloss. Inherited material--the auctoritates [authorities]--was organized in such a way as to make it accessible alongside the text to be studied. During the course of the twelfth century the content of the gloss to the Bible became stabilized and producers of books introduced refinements of presentation culminating in the layout of copies of what are probably the most highly developed of glossed books, the commentaries of Peter Lombard on the Psalter and the Pauline Epistles. The whole process of indicating text, commentary, and sources was incorporated into the design of the page, presumably by a process of careful alignment marked out beforehand in the exemplar. The full text of the Psalter or Epistles was disposed in a larger, more formal version of twelfth-century script in conveniently sited columns, and the size of the columns was determined by the length of the commentary on that particular part of the text. In the commentary itself the lemmata were underlined in red. Each of the auctores [authors] quoted in the commentary was identified by name in the margin, again in red, and the extent of the quotation was also marked. As the final refinement each of the auctores was given a symbol consisting of dots or lines and dots which was placed both against the name in the margin, and against the beginning of the auctoritats or quotation in the body of the commentary. The practice of indicating sources in the margin derived from earlier manuscripts is here systematized, and becomes the ancestor of the modern scholarly apparatus of footnotes (Parkes, “The Influence of the Concepts of Ordinatio and Compilatio on the Development of the Book,” Alexander and Gibson (eds) Medieval Learning and Literature. Essays presented to Richard William Hunt  116-17).
As the market for books widened, booksellers in the vicinity of at least eleven universities, including those in Bologna, Padua, Florence, Naples, Salamanca in Spain, Paris, and Oxford, introduced a system called “pecia” in which they divided the copying of a single manuscript book between various scribes in order to speed up production of reliable copies of works of contemporary scholastic authors in law, theology, philosophy, and aids to preaching. The pecia system might be viewed as a small step toward the mass production of books which printing would later introduce. The earliest surviving evidence of this system of providing “certified texts” of manuscripts in university bookstores is the Vercelli contract of 1228 from the University of Padua. Under the pecia system, the university bookseller (stationarius) would obtain a reliable exemplar of the work. From this exemplar the bookseller made a copy or exemplar of his own on equal quires or pieces (peciae), each of which was numbered in sequence, so that he could hire out these pieces for copying to professional scribes. Once the copy was completed by the various scribes the quires would be bound in the numbered sequence, and the bookseller would retain his peciae so that he loan them out again when another copy of the text was ordered. 2.G.6 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  71. See also Destrez, La pecia dans les manuscrits universitaires du XIIIe et XIVe siecle (1935).
By the mid-15th century, when Gutenberg introduced printing by movable type, the production and sale of manuscript books had been systematized, and many of the elements of the book, as we know it, were already well-established. Through the methods of printing, the first widely-applied process of mass production, book production would be further systematized, and new distribution methods would evolve for the sale of editions rather than individual commissioned manuscripts. As we have seen, the transition from manuscript to print was one of a series of transitions in the form and function of the book, in which innovations were introduced while usable elements of prior book technologies remained in place, in the form of cuneiform tablets, papyrus rolls, and ancient and medieval codices. Because of the cumulative nature of information, and our desire to understand our past, no matter how fast technologies advance, usable prior technologies of the book, such as medieval manuscripts, early printed books, and even Egyptian papyri, continue to co-exist, to a certain extent, with the latest innovations in recording, distribution, and storage, much as print co-exists with digital today. (This section was last revised on July 14, 2011.)