Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eisensteins' Reading Public

Elizabeth Eisenstein writes in her article the Rise of the Reading Public, how little is known about society before the printing press, as an alternative people handwrote books and used oral recitation or stories to communicate.

Prior to the printing press the world was a scribal culture. That is to say that "For the very texture of scribal culture was so fluctuating, uneven, and multiform that few long range trends can be traced." (pg. 100, Eisenstein). Eisenstein explains what scribal culture means such as having books writen by hand and then reading them to the public. This created a "hybrid half oral, half literate culture" that is difficult to trace back in history. This is a problem because before print the copyist had control over the information being put into the public and there are no long periods of constant culture or routine.

Wealthy elites were literate and had a "bookish" culture says Eisenstein. The elite are always a smaller majority then the commoners and there are major differences between scribal culture and the culture that occurred after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. The period of time when Gutenberg's invention came into play is called the "incunabula", the age between the 1450's and 1500.
The transition from scribal to printing did not happen over night. Between 1350 and 1500 copyists began using a "putting out" method of copying, also known as the pecia system. Each copyist would only copy a certain section of a book and then the book would move onto another section to be filled in by another copyist. this system worked well and this kind of work was now done at a stationers' shop. A new business arose from the need for written material. In reality the reading public were still the elite until literature began mainstream and useful to the promotion of society.
To say the elite, within that group would be the wealthy and also the merchant class because they are business owners who keep records and need the tool of literacy. The average person during the the 1400's would be a peasant or a farmer. Skilled workers in certain fields would also find literacy useful but the majority of the society would have been illiterate.

The printing press supposedly changed all that was and would be, but how exactly did that happen since there is no mention of this great revolutaionary moment, explains Eisenstein. The development of the printing press and more prevalent reading public suggested that oral gatherings were being substituted by individual "silent scanning"(pg. 102).

The changes that occurred in the city areas, while the rural societies didn't have accessibility to become a reading public until the 19th century. In the rural towns the storyteller was replaced by the one literate person in the village. in the cities modernism was propelled by bible printing. What people went to church to hear about the happenings of the neighborhood they now bought the monthly paper that soon transformed into a weekly and eventually daily paper in the larger cities. These changes occurred with the help of the ending of fuedalism and the begining of capitalism and mercantilism. Some agrue Eisenstein writes, that the printing press weakened community ties, but all will say that individualism flourished everywhere.


At 10:14 PM, Blogger A. Mattson said...

A good, substantial post.

Scribal workshops produced masterpieces of illumnation for an elite population. To meet the demand for learning new efficient techniques of mass production were developed even before the introduction of movable type.

The print revolution made possible a new growing "reading public." What are the factors that led to the rise of this reading public? What effect did this new public sphere of learning have on politics and the sciences?


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