Explanation of the Five (Now Seven) Subdivisions of the Book History Theme in HistoryofInformation

The Book History theme in HistoryofInformation is by far the largest. Before it was split up into five chronological subdivisions in November 2020 it had over 1000 entries and it could have had more, but for several years as I added to HistoryofInformation I had resisted indexing to that general theme, thinking that it had become excessively large. When I noticed the huge number of entries that had been indexed to that theme my assumption was that excessively large themes would create memory problems for our server, and eventually in 2020, after the addition of thousands of more images to the website, it appeared that memory issues from excessively large themes may have been contributing to server crashes. To fix those issues Vann Miller eventually modified the code.

When it was time to subdivide the Book History theme five discrete chronological periods quickly came to mind. Here was my reasoning behind the subdivisions:

Book History before 450 CE.  450 CE is a date sometimes associated with the end of classical civilization in the West, and the time that the Church gradually replaced the Roman state as the source of order and stability. Obviously this is not an exact date, and I could have chosen a later date, such as the death of Boethius in 524 or 525.

Book History from 450 to 999 CE. The choice of 999 was arbitrary; it is not an historically meaningful date except that it was the end of a millenium, and considering the large number of medieval entries in the database I wanted to subdivide all the entries from the thousand year span of the Middle Ages from roughly 450 to 1450. 

Book History from 1000 to 1451. This was the remaining span of the Middle Ages before Gutenberg invented printing by movable type.

Book History from 1452 to 1797. 1452 is the year associated with Gutenberg's first surviving examples of printing from movable type. This date is an estimate. 1797 is the year before Robert invented the papermaking machine--the first step in the mechanization of the components involved in book production.

Book History from 1798 to the Present. 1798 was the year in which Louis-Nicolas Robert invented the papermaking machine. This was the first step in the mechanization of book production, and from my perspective the beginning of the modern era for books. The next major step was the development of printing machines, followed by efforts at the mechanization of typesetting and type distribution. Bookbinding began to be mechanized with the Rolling Press invented by William Burn in 1827, followed by later machines for special bookbinding purposes. The history of the mechanization of bookbinding is the least well-documented of the major components of book production.

The first five subdivisions made good sense when I subdivided the Book History theme at the end of November 2020. But soon I found that I had indexed so many entries to the theme after 1798 that it remained very awkward to follow. By late December I decided to subdivide the 1798+ material  by periods of years, so we now have Book History 1798-1899, Book History 1900-1999, and Book History 2000 to the Present.

To focus your approach to any of the themes with large numbers of entries you may wish to use the Timeline slider on the left of the screen to narrow the date range down to the period of years in which you are interested.

Jeremy M. Norman
January 10, 2021