Week 5 Research in Book History
In week five, you will read more deeply into the sources you identified in week four. Working with your group, you will share ideas and responses to your sources in order to better focus and define the specific question you want to address in your case study.
Your main task is to write a research proposal (Assignment 5)--a project which will give you a significant head start when you begin drafting your case study.
Assignment 5: Research Proposal
Assignment 5 Template (Google Docs)
A research proposal defines your topic, research questions, and sources. Composing a research proposal is a useful way to organize your ideas, focus your research questions, and gather information and quotations from your sources. The process of writing a research proposal will move you forward and give you a big head start on drafting your case study. Be sure to watch the accompanying video for additional advice and guidance with the proposal.
Sample Research Proposal (Google Docs)
An example of a completed Assignment 5. I wrote this to correspond with the sample case study I wrote on the Licensing Act of 1662. This example is also discussed in the accompanying video.
Video: Research Proposals
Watch this video for some additional advice and directions on completing the Research Proposal (Assignment 5). The video includes an analysis of a sample proposal.
Sample Annotated Bibliography Entry
Your Research Proposal should include annotations for each of your four sources.
Here is an example of an annotation. Notice that the source is cited in MLA style. If you need a refresher on MLA style and don't have a writer's handbook available, you can visit the Purdue OWL MLA pages.
Pettegree, Andrew. “Science and Exploration.” The Book in the Renaissance, Yale UP, 2010, pp. 273-96.
Pettegree’s chapter on science and exploration provides an overview of the role of the printed book in the development of science and learning in the sixteenth century in Europe. Pettegree chronicles the “huge increase” in scholarly publishing in the 1500s, and his chapter includes sections on astronomy, mapmaking and cartography, natural science, and the development of the encyclopedia. The sixteenth century, as Pettegree describes, can be seen as a transitional period during which science moved forward, but only slowly, aided by developments in printing and publishing. One specific technology that was important to the development of modern science was the use of woodcut illustrations. In the fifteenth century, most books were almost entirely text-based, but by the sixteenth, new methods for using woodblock printing allowed books to be printed with detailed illustrations. These illustrations included Copernicus’s famous drawings of the heliocentric solar system. Only with the help of the printed book and the woodcut illustration was the field of astronomy beginning to move away from the Ptolemaic view that placed Earth at the center of the universe. Did the printed book immediately usher in an era of scientific enlightenment? No, according to Pettegree. It took more than a century for the idea of scientific method and experimental learning to overtake the ancient reverence for received knowledge. As Pettegree writes, “learning did not necessarily lead to enlightenment” (p. 296). But as this chapter shows, the printed book in the sixteenth century began to lay the foundations for modern science.
Sample Blog Post
Here is an example of a blog post (for grad students to read in preparation for writing your first posts). This sample is about 1200 words long, and I wrote it to summarize and respond to one of the readings from the Broadview Reader.
Eisenstein’s Unacknowledged Revolution
Elizabeth Eisenstein is in many ways the founder of the discipline of book history. Her book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, published in 1979, “examines the shift from script to print following the invention of the press in the mid-fifteenth century” (215). The short excerpt from that book published in The Broadview Reader in Book History can help us to answer two questions about Eisenstein’s argument: First, what is the “revolution” she is describing? Second, why does she say that revolution is “unacknowledged”?
The revolution Eisenstein explores is defined at the very beginning of the excerpt from The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. “In the late-fifteenth century, the reproduction of written materials began to move from the copyist’s desk to the printer’s workshop” (215). In other words, book production changed from hand-written manuscripts (“the copyist’s desk”) to mechanically reproduced printed texts (“the printer’s workshop”). As Einstein argues, “this shift … revolutionized all forms of learning” (215). The discipline of history, in particular, is completely dependent on printed books. “Print enters their work from start to finish,” Eisenstein argues. The same could be said for any academic discipline. Access to printed books and records is vital to the transmission of knowledge in any discipline in the modern university.
Here is where the challenge comes in, and where we find Eisenstein’s argument that the printing revolution is “unacknowledged” (or was, in 1979, when she wrote her book). Because “constant access to printed materials is a prerequisite for the practice of the historian’s own craft” (217), it is hard for those historians to separate themselves from the revolutionary impact of print. In short, historians take print culture for granted; to them, it is almost invisible. The result is a major gap in our understanding. “We still know very little about how access to printed materials affects human behavior” (217).
So here is the problem, as Eisenstein understands it. Historians are aware that the shift from manuscript (or scribal) culture to print culture was significant and even revolutionary. But because they are so dependent upon and immersed in print culture, it is very hard for them to see and understand its consequences. Asking historians to describe the impact of printing is like asking a fish to describe the impact of water. Print culture is so deeply intertwined in the daily work of historians that it has become almost invisible.
Eisenstein refers to another major figure in the field of book history—Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan argues that scanning pages of print produces a “quasi-hypnotic power” (220). “Habitual book readers are so subjectively conditioned by these effects that they are incapable of recognizing them” (219). Both Eisenstein and McLuhan identify something important about print and the way it differs from manuscripts written by hand. Print is uniform and synchronized. Every line of type is the same length; every copy of a printed book is the same as every other. This uniformity is the essence of mechanically printed books. Handwritten scribal texts often differed from one copy to the next, because human scribes would make mistakes or misquote lines.
McLuhan, writing in the 1960s, was fascinated by the rise of electronic media. In his view, the new media “have begun to break the bookish spell that held literate members of Western society in thrall during the past five centuries” (220). Like McLuhan, Eisenstein argues that we need to step back and look in new ways at the impact of print and print culture in order to grasp its true effects.
This is hard to do, as Eisenstein describes, precisely because printed texts are everywhere in our daily lives. “Although calendars, maps, time-tables, dictionaries, catalogs, textbooks, and newspapers are taken for granted at present, … they continue to exert as great an influence on daily life as they did before” (220). Here is where our world in 2018 is different from the world Eisenstein was writing about in 1979 (nearly forty years ago). While some of us still rely on printed calendars, most of us have switched to digital calendars and daily planners. Maps have become GPS apps on our phones. Catalogs are now websites. How many of us read printed newspapers today? Textbooks, too, are rapidly being digitized.
To us, then, the printing revolution is more visible than it might have been to historians in 1979. We can see the contrasts between print and digital, which, in turn, helps us to better see the earlier contrasts between scribal (pre-printing press) culture and the culture of technologically manufactured books.
Why, then, is Eisenstein still relevant to us today? Her work, as we can see in this brief excerpt from her book, begins to pull together a number of different threads in order to build a new discipline around the history of the book. For example, she begins to explore how economics and commercial enterprise was connected to the promotion of new ideas and new authors. “The printer could take satisfaction in serving humanity at large even while enhancing the reputation of authors and making money for himself. This distinctive mixture of motives entered into the rapid expansion of printing industries” (223). She also connects technological developments in typography to the social history of the effects of printing. Her point is that “type design, layout, and lettering are treated as part of a sub-specialty taught in schools of design” (223), where instead Eisenstein wants us to be able to connect those technologies to changes in reading and learning at large.
The key point, I think, in Eisenstein’s argument is that we need to study the history and technology of the book together, holistically. She argues throughout this excerpt that academic specialization has broken the field into so many little pieces that nobody can see the whole picture. “To treat Gutenberg’s invention in this way, however, is to miss the chance of understanding the main forces that have shaped the modern mind” (224).
A course like The Technology of the Book is in a way a direct answer to Eisenstein’s challenge. We are exploring questions that force us to make connections across a wide range of different fields and disciplines. How does the technology of print change the way readers read and understand texts? We know, for example, that reading slowly shifted from oral to silent, and from a social practice to an individual practice. By exploring how that happened, we are drawing connections from individual experience, to the cognitive process of reading, to the social nature of knowledge and learning. We are moving from psychology to sociology to economics and back again. By looking at changes in how books are purchased and consumed, we explore connections between culture (literature) and commerce (economics).
Eisenstein is probably right that in 1979 few historians were making these kinds of connections. As we can see from the sheer size of the Broadview Reader, the field of book history has grown in many directions since her groundbreaking book was published in 1979. Today, we can see and understand the revolutionary power of the printing press. The revolution is no longer unacknowledged.
Source: Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. “The Unacknowledged Revolution.” The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge UP, 1979, pp. 3-42. Reprinted in The Broadview Reader in Book History, edited by Michelle Levy and John Mole, Broadview Press, 2015, pp. 215-30.