the book logo

The Book as Print Culture: Defined

In the article What is the History of Books?, Darnton (1982, 80) described the importance of print culture in studying book history. He stated that

"the lines of research could lead in many directions, but they all should issue ultimately in a larger understanding of how printing has shaped man's attempts to make sense of the human condition."

The Beginning of Print Culture

pressOver the past several decades, there has been much debate about whether changes in society led to the printing press or if the invention of the printing press led to changes in society. This "chicken or egg" dilemma has been debated by scholars of book history for many years. Most conclude that printing contributed to the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. However it didn't impact all areas of culture and the world equality.

The mid-fifteenth century marked a sharp change in the history of the book. This course focuses the shift from a scribal culture to a print culture. As defined by scholar Elizabeth Eisenstein, the "print culture" appeared in the centuries following the advent of the printing press. Walter Ong described the shift from an oral culture to a print culture during this same time as the literacy rate rose. Eisenstein noted that the Protestant Reformation spread quickly due to the printing of non-conformist materials.

The term "print culture" refers to impact of printed forms of communication on society. Eisenstein (1979) stressed that the emergence of the print culture allowed for standardization of content, quick and inexpensive dissemination of information and fixity meaning that each reproduction was exactly the same text. In the past, scribes worked slowly and often edited the content. The printing press eliminated the errors, omissions, or intentional changes made in the duplication process. Authors were liberated from the chore of checking the work of scribes and customers were assured that the book they were reading was a reliable text. Eisenstein concluded that the printing press allowed the canonical texts produced during the Renaissance and Reformation to be permanent records. Consistency in texts allowed the stability of laws and languages assisting in the promotion of nationalism. Finally, scientific progress was supported by the reliable reporting and sharing of scientific findings and theories.

In The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Volume 1 (1979), Eisenstein stresses that

"As an agent of change, printing altered methods of data collection, storage and retrieval systems and communications networks used by learned communities throughout Europe. It warrants special attention because it had special effects."

In The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), Marshall McLuhan argued that the printing press led to the creation of democracy, capitalism, individualism, nationalism, dualism, rationalism, Protestantism, and a culture of scientific research.

According to Janine Barchas (2003, 8), described "print culture" as

"an appreciation of the interaction between authors, readers, and the complex social, economic, and technological machinery that mediated the space between them... the book itself has been recognized as a material artifact whose physical features - in addition to its narrative content - interact with and reveal history, culture, and ideology."

readRead!
Read a series of articles connected to the topic How Revolutionary was the Print Revolution?: Forum 1, Forum 2, Forum 3, Forum 4. Based on this debate, what conclusion can you draw?

Print Culture Worldwide

The beginning of print culture is marked by the introduction of the printing press in the 15th century. However, the history of print culture can be traced by examining the connection between books and culture around the world. For instance, Matt Cohen (2008, 301) states that "the region of New England has been fertile ground for the study of what has been called 'print culture'". Topics include the book as a cultural artifact, the impact of print culture on communications and systems of authority, orality and literacy, impact of printing, reading, authorship, control and censorship, and copyright.

To learn more about print culture, browse New Directions in Book History: Perils of Print Culture: Book, Print, and Publishing History in Theory and Practice (Patten & McElligott, 2014). Available as an ebook through IUPUI.

readRead!
Read ONE of the following articles about the "state of the discipline" in a particular area of the world.

Brokaw, Cynthia (2007). Book history in premodern China: The state of the discipline. Book History, 10, 253-290. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Calvo, Hortensia (2003). The politics of print: the historiography of the book in early Spanish America. Book History, 6, 277-305. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Cohen, Matt (2008). The history of the book in New England: the state of the discipline. Book History, 11, 301-323. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Ghosh, Anindita (2003). An uncertain "coming of the book": early print cultures in Colonial India. Book History, 6, 23-55. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Kamei-Dyche, Andrew T. (2011). The history of books and print culture in Japan. Book History, 14, 270-304. IUPUI students can view the article online.
le Roux, Elizabeth (2012). Book history in the African world: the state of the discipline. Book History, 15, 248-300. IUPUI students can view the article online.
Reed, Christopher A. (2007). Gutenberg and modern Chinese print culture: the state of the discipline II. Book History, 10, 291-315. IUPUI students can view the article online.

try itTry It!
The Book: A Global History by Michael Suarez and H.R. Woudhuysen (2013) provides regional and national histories of the book for countries around the world including Britain, Ireland, France, Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland, Nordic Countries, Iberian Peninsula, Italy, Modern Greece, Austria, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Poland, Baltic States, Slavonic Book in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, Balkans, Sub-Sahrarn Africa, Muslim World, Indian Subcontinent, China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Canada, America, and the Caribbean and Bermuda.

If you're interested in these areas, consider purchasing this book and exploring the book history for each of these areas. A Kindle version is available to purchase from Amazon.

Understanding Print Culture through Primary Sources

Whether reading letters or examining library circulation, primary sources play a critical role in understanding print culture. In The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, Carlo Ginzburg (1992) describes the life of a miller called Menocchio in the 16th century. Ginzburg states that

"thanks to an abundant documentation we are able to learn about his readings and his discussions, his thoughts and his sentiments - fears, hopes, ironies, rages, despairs... It has been possible to trace Menocchio's complicated relationship with written culture: the books (or, more precisely, some of the books) that he read and the manner in which he read them."

When exploring book history, think of the wide range of resources that can be used to study books and how they were used in society. Peter Stallybrass (2004) and others investigated the books, book tables, and tools of writing used during Shakespeare's time. By examining the works of Shakespeare, they were able to learn more about the environments where reading and writing occurred.

When examining books, it's important to consider the time period when they were written. In Books that Changed Our Minds, Malcolm Crowley (1939) states

"It is enough to say that sooner or later the life of our time is summarized in its books. Our new ideas are expressed there, whatever may be their original sources or the first mediums through which they reached us. It is books that form the permanent record, and books that furnish the most convenient basis for describing the mind of the world in which we live."

In addition to reflecting the best of society, they also reflect the stereotypes. For instance the image below shows ethnic stereotypes reflected in an early nineteenth century children's book titled A Peep at the World.

national

When exploring print culture, think about not only the books themselves, but the people behind the books. From the authors and printers to the booksellers and readers, they all play an important role in print culture. Consider focusing in on one aspect of print culture such as women's roles or literary criticism.

readRead!
Read Travis, Trysh (2008). The women in print movement: history and implications. Book History, 11, 275-300. IUPUI students can view the article online.

OR

Gavin, Michael (2012). Writing print cultures past: literary criticism and book history. Book History, 15, 26-47. IUPUI students can view the article online.

OR

Stallybrass, Peter, Chartier, Roger, Mowery, John Franklin & Wolfe, Heather (Winter 2004). Hamlet's tables and the technologies of writing in Renaissance England. Shakespeare Quarterly, 55(4), 379-419. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Resources

Anderson, Benedict (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=nQ9jXXJV-vgC

Anesko, Michael (2009). Collection editions and the consolidation of cultural authority: the case of Henry James. Book History, 12, 186-208.

Barchas, Janine (2003). Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Cambridge University Press. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=Ll1hhbKSw4cC

Baron, Sabrina Alcorn, Lindquist, Eric N. & Shevline, Eleanor F. (2007). Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. University of Massachusetts Press. Available: http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy2.ulib.iupui.edu/books/9781613760659

Beidler, Philip D. (2012). First Books: The Printed Word and Cultural Formation in Early Alabama. University of Alabama Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=XmFCjiRZS3sC

Bell, Bill (2005). Print culture in exile: the Scottish emigrant reader in the nineteenth century. Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, 36(2), 81-106.

Ben-David, Joseph (1991). Scientific Growth: Essays on the Social Organization and Ethos of Science. University of California Press.

Cochrane, James Aikman (1964). Dr. Johnson's Printer: The Life of William Strahan. Taylor & Francis. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=P18VAAAAIAAJ

Crowley, Malcolm & Smith, Bernard (1939). Books that Changed Our Minds.

Darnton, Robert (Summer 1982). What is the history of books? Daedalus, 111, 65-83.

Davidson, Cathy N. (2004). Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Oxford University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=18Et4ZikXLMC

Demming, Michael (1987). Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America. Verso.

Downs, Robert Bingham (2004). Books the Changed the World. Penguin.

Ezell, Maragaret (1999). Social Authorship and the Advent of Print. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth (March 1968). Some Conjectures about the Impact of Printing on Western Society and Thought: A Priminary Report. The Journal of Modern History, 40(1), 1-56.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth (1979). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Vol. 1, Cambridge University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=0-FThHK2DNMC

Eisenstein, Elizabeth (2012a). The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=2esYxPfbpjkC

Eisenstein, Elizabeth (2012b). Divine Art, Infernal Machine: The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of an Ending. University of Pennsylvania Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=ys8EvLiZ-sIC

Ferdinand, Christine (1999). Constructing the frameworks of desire: how newspapers sold books in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In, Joan Raymond, Joad, News, Newspapers, and Society in Early Modern Britain. Taylor & Francis. Preview Avaialble: http://books.google.com/books?id=5GzlzrOHA9IC

Ghosh, Anindita (2003). An uncertain "coming of the book": early print cultures in Colonial India. Book History, 6, 23-55.

Ginzburg, Carlo (1992). The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. JHU Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=4IUREWq_o3MC

Grafton, Anthony (1980). The importance of being printed. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 11(2), 425.

Isaac, Peter & McKay, Barry (1999). The Human Face of the Book Trade: Print Culture and its Creator. St. Paul's Bibliographies.

Jackson, Leon (2010). The talking book and the talking book historian: African American cultures of print-the state of the discipline. Book History, 13, 251-308.

Jaillant, Lise (2011). Sapper, Hodder & Stoughton, and the popular literature of the Great War. Book History, 14, 137-166.

Johns, Adrian (1998). The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. University of Chicago Press. Available: ACLS Humanities E-Book at http://hdl.handle.net.proxy.ulib.uits.iu.edu/2027/heb.01007.0001.001

Kennedy, J. Gerald & McGann, Jerome (eds.) (2012). Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture. LSU Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=uQ2drqBshhYC

Lackington, James (1792). Memoirs of the First Forty-Five Years of the Life of James Lackington. Available: http://archive.org/stream/memoirsoffirstfo00lack

LeFavour, Cree (2004). "Jane Eyre Fever": deciphering the astonishing popular success of Charlotte Bronte in Antebellum America. Book History, 7, 113-141.

Lindell, Lisa (2004). Bringing books to a "book-hungry land": print culture on the Dakota Prairie. Book History, 7, 215-238.

Lommen, Mathieu (ed.) (2012). The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation. Thames & Hudson.

Love, Harold (2006). Early modern print culture. In Finkelstein & McCleery, The Book History Reader, Second Edition. Routledge, 74-86.

McKeon, Michael (1987). The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. JHU Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=kDfz3JCla-wC

McKitterick, David (2003). Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order: 1450-1830. Cambridge University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=OMs9WQXpIXIC

McKittrick, David (Summer 1992). Books, libraries, and society: the past ever with us. Libraries & Culture, 27(3), 231-251.

McLuhan, Marshall (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. University of Toronto Press.

McMillian, John (2011). Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America. Oxford University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=LdsHpFYO_YUC

Menzel, Wolfgang (1928). Die Masse der Literatur. In, Die Deutsche Literature, Vol. 1. Franckh.

Ong, Walter J. (1992). Orality and Literacy. Routedge. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=6plknTd-lPYC

Ogborn, Miles & Withers, Charles (2010). Geographies of the Book. Ashgate Publishing. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=7Pa_cr11e1sC

Passet, Joanne Ellen (2005). Freethought children's literature and the construction of religious identify in late-nineteenth-century America. Book History, 8, 107-129.

Patten, Eve & McElligott, Jason (2014). New Directions in Book History: Perils of Print Culture: Book, Print, and Publishing History in Theory and Practice. Palgrave Macmillan. Available: http://site.ebrary.com.proxy2.ulib.iupui.edu/lib/iupui/detail.action?docID=10959120

Piper, Andrew (2009). Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age. University of Chicago. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=2d7_5vZR-2kC

Raymond, Joad (1999). News, Newspapers, and Society in Early Modern Britain. Taylor & Francis. Preview Avaialble: http://books.google.com/books?id=5GzlzrOHA9IC

Siskin, Clifford & Warner, William (eds) (2010). This is Enlightenment. University of Chicago Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=gzdltMvPMS4C

Stallybrass, Peter, Chartier, Roger, Mowery, John Franklin & Wolfe, Heather (Winter 2004). Hamlet's tables and the technologies of writing in Renaissance England. Shakespeare Quarterly, 55(4), 379-419.

Straznicky, Marta (ed). (2006). The Book of the Play: Playwrights, Stationers, and Readers in Early Modern England. University of Massachusetts Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=yvG0VdPVvfkC

Suarez, Michael F. & Woudhuysen, H.R. (eds.) (2013). The Book: A Global History. Oxford University Press.

Sutherland, John (2007). Bestsellers: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=M1WVZbf9pnIC

Todd, Emily B. (2009). Establishing routes for fiction in the United States: Walter Scott's novels and the early nineteenth-century American publishing industry. Book History, 12, 100-128.

Watt, Ian P. (2001). The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. University of California Press. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=PmwfH7X-IKAC

Watt, Tessa (1994). Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550-1640. Cambridge University Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=SYBCLVaNEBgC

Welky, David (2008). Everything Was Better in America: Print Culture in the Great Depression. University of Illinois Press. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=thWdlKayKPIC

Williams, Julie H. (1999). The Significance of the Printed Word in Early America: Colonists' thoughts on the role of the press. Greenwood Publishing. Preview Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=k2PRjCba16oC


| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Teacher Tap | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | © 2013-2017 Annette Lamb

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.