Friday, January 19, 2007

History of the book

The history of the book is the story of a suite of technological innovations that improved the quality of text conservation, the access to information, portability, and the cost of production. This history is strongly linked to political and economical contingencies and the history of ideas and religions.

Origins and antiquity

Writing is a system of linguistic symbols which permit one to transmit and conserve information. Writing appears to have developed between the 7th millennium BC and the 4th millennium BC, first in the form of early mnemonic symbols which became a system of ideograms or pictographs through simplification. The oldest known forms of writing were thus primarily logographic in nature. Later syllabic and alphabetic (or segmental) writing emerged.

Silk, in China, was also a base for writing. Writing was done with brushes. Many other materials were used as bases: bone, bronze, pottery, shell, etc. In India, for example, dried palm tree leaves were used; in Mesoamerica another type of plant,Amate . Any material which will hold and transmit text is a candidate for books. Given this, the human body could be seen as a book, with tattooing, and if we consider that human memory develops and transforms with the appearance of writing, it is perhaps not absurd to consider that this ability makes humans into living books (this idea is illustrated by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, Peter Greenaway in The Pillow Book).

The book is also linked to the desire of humans to create lasting records. Stones could be the most ancient form of writing, but wood would be the first medium to take the guise of a book. The words biblos and liber first meant "fibre inside of a tree". In Chinese, the character that means book is an image of a tablet of bamboo. Wood tablets have also been found on Easter Island.


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