A Short History of the Book

What are books? Where do they come from? How have they changed over time? Will they disappear in the future? This course will introduce you to the fascinating history of the book, from the invention of writing in the Bronze Age to the rise of the e-book in our own times. We will take a close look at the roles the technologies of writing and the printed word have played in the development of human civilizations and how they have shaped the ways we think, believe and communicate. The book, we will learn, is not merely a useful is sometimes dangerous tool for communicating information but a mirror continually reflecting and refracting our human potential in new and transformative ways.



1: The Emergence of Writing

The technology of writing first emerged as a practical means of recording important information. This lecture will present the historical background to the invention of writings systems and the practical and cultural functions they held in ancient civilizations.


2: Empire, Religion and Sacred Scriptures

As a highly prized skill that required extensive training, writing was closely tied to the power structures of religion and state. In this lecture will learn about the important roles played by writing in the growth and administration of empires and in the emergence of new types of religious belief and practice.


3: From Scroll to Codex

In the ancient world, writings was primarily done on clay tablets or on scrolls of papyrus or parchment but with the spread of Christianity in the early medieval the codex – the book form with which we are all familiar –gradually replaced those earlier forms of writing. This lecture will introduce the codex as a new way of organizing knowledge and explore how this change in the material aspects of writing went hand in hand with changes in its cultural functions.


4: Medieval Book and Medieval Scribe

In the medieval period, literacy was still largely limited to the wealthy and learned and most of the writing and copying of books was done by professional scribes working in monasteries or royal courts. In this lecture we will learn not only how books in this period were composed, illustrated and read but who decided what types of information was worthy of being recorded.


5: The Invention of Printing and the Democratization of Knowledge

The invention of printing transformed not only how and how many books were copied, but it also introduced new kinds of reading material as well and led to far-reaching changes in the way books were read. This lecture will describe the contribution of the printing revolution to such developments as the scientific revolution, the rise of literacy and the emergence of newspapers and popular literature.


6: The Age of the Internet and the Future of Reading

The emergence of digital technology has led to another set of transformations in the way we use writing to communicate and how books are produced and read. In this lecture, we will examine some of the innovations of this new technology, from texting and hyperlinks to e-books and Wikipedia and consider whether there is a future for the book and what that future might be like.


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