Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wow! Where does the time go!? This has been a busy week. One of my classes has a lot of reading. A LOT! I think there were something like 12 articles/chapters to read, discussion questions, another 16 or so "supplemental" readings, looking things up online, etc, etc. Most of us thought it was for one day, but then it turned out to be for two days worth of class discussion.

And absolutely fascinating discussion, let me tell you! Last week we talked about parts of the book and this week we talked about the history of the book, back to the beginning of time it seems. It was really amazing, I thought. We started with Sumerians making clay balls thousands of years ago to record business transactions. Then they started stamping them with pictures. Then you get pictographys, hieroglyphs, and hieratics from the Egyptians. People were 'writing' things in stone or in wax tablets, but then someone got the bright idea to write things in sheets of papyrus and scrolls were born. It was done that way for a long time and then some time in the second century the book as we know it today was invented.

There were a number of factors in this. First, searching through a scroll for some piece of text you wanted was not easy. Second, Alexandria was the sole producer of papyrus and they decided to put an embargo on it because they were scared Rome was trying to take over the world and their scroll business (which they were). So Rome starts using parchment (which doesn't roll well) and papyrus basically dies after that. Somebody got the idea to cut scrolls up into sheets, sew them together, and bind them between two codicies (those wood and wax slabs people used to write on). Thus the book was born, and it has stayed in basically the same format for almost 2000 years.

Everything that has happened to books since then has had to do with the structure of the book and with making it easier to use. Paragraphs and punctuation and capitals didn't really come into use until the 1400s. Indentations in paragraphs showed up in the 1700s. Copyright started in 1709 and the first dust jacket appeared in 1833. Margins were a medieval invention and the table of contents showed up in the 1400s as well.

Of course up till the mid-1400s all books are made by hand by monks sitting in cold, dark, cramped shacks. Then in 1453 Guttenburg pulls together moveable, reusable type, ink, and a press and the world changes! We can now mass produce books!

The most interesting part of the conversation (which I think I mentioned before) is that all the changes that have happened over 2000 years have been to the structure of the book and not the content. The way we write stories has not changed. Books have always contained words, sentences, paragraphs. Now they also have pictures, graphs, etc.

But with the advent of electronic books, we may see the content of books change. Already ebooks have links to dictionaries, thesaurus, and other resources. Let's say we also throw in animation, sound, video, instant messaging, chat, blog, wiki, podcast, and commentary. The nature of books is totally different. Who is the author? What's authority now and who decides? Editions are pretty much out the door. And can you really call something like this a book?

I don't know but it is absolutenly fascinating.

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