¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0  The 19th century saw the rise of the study of books as a material object as part of the development of the study of analytical bibliography, but book history as a discipline involving the study of ‘print culture’, draws heavily on the methodology of the French Annales school, established in the 1960s. For an overview of the development of book history and its different strands see: Darnton, R. (1982) ‘What Is the History of Books?’. Daedalus, 111 (3), 65–83, and the introductions to Hall, D.D. (1996) Cultures of Print: Essays in the History of the Book. University of Massachusetts Press; Finkelstein, D. (2006) The Book History Reader. New York: Routledge; Howsam, L. (2006) Old Books And New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book And Print Culture. University of Toronto Press; Baron, S.A., Lindquist, E.N., and Shevlin, E.F. (2007) Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies After Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. University of Massachusetts Press.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0  Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg (an online ebook database), is often credited for ‘inventing’ the ebook in 1971. See: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Michael_S._Hart. However, experiments with ebooks and hypertexts were already taking place in the 1960s (with Alan Kay’s Dynabook, for instance), and some even place its invention in the 1930s or 40s. For more information on the history of the ebook, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-book
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0  Although book historians or theorists increasingly draw on media theory and history, the relationship up to now has not exactly been mutual. Whitney Trettien argues that this might be due to the continuing digital divide between English and Literary Studies on the one hand and Media and Communication studies on the other. She states that, although ‘the two disciplines operate along parallel axes, studying similar phenomena but rarely intersecting’, much can be gained by integrating the disciplines’ methodologies and theories, by drawing on their similarities (Trettien 2009). Hayles can be seen as a theorist who has actively investigated textual media from a ‘media standpoint’, most recently in the edition she co-edited with Jessica Pressman, entitled Comparative textual media. Transforming the humanities in the postprint era (2013).
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0  Therefore, necessarily, I will not discuss the discourse in its entire diversity, but I will be focusing on some of its key characteristics and some of its leading participants, as it can be argued that these have been most influential in shaping the book historical field, and with that the future of the book.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0  Although the book as a material object is added to this model to make it more inclusive, it is still only a construction that aides us in getting a clearer overview of the debate. Much valuable research is excluded from this model—something already remarked upon by Darnton himself in a revision of his communication circuit in 2007, where he emphasises the omission of some crucial agents and functions from the communication chain, from literary agents to piracy—and hence it does not aim to cover the debate in its entirety, but tries to focus on some of its main focal points.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0  In Book Was There (2012: 159), Andrew Piper gives a good overview of book historical studies that focus on readership, to which I would like to add Adrian Johns’ The Nature of the Book (1998) and Rolf Engelsing’s work on the 19th century ‘reading revolution’ (1973).
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0  Kember and Zylinska offer a valuable reading on how these dichotomies or ‘binary oppositions’ that structure debates on new media are actually ‘false divisions’. Although often identified as false, new media debates tend to perpetuate these divisions anyway, for a number of reasons, as we will show in what follows (Kember and Zylinska 2012: 2–3).
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0  Evgeny Morozov is someone who, following Adrian Johns and Mark Warner, argues that Eisenstein privileges print over culture: ‘Eisenstein’s account holds only if one accepts a sharp separation between technology on the one hand and society and culture on the other—and then assumes that the former shapes the latter, never the other way around’ (2013).
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0  Theorists who emphasise the continuation of the manuscript tradition after the invention of print are detailed in Finkelstein’s Book History Reader (2006: 18) and include Harold Love and David McKitterick. The discussion on the speed and nature of media change comes to the fore again in the debate on printed books and ebooks, culminating in continuing forecasts of ‘the ebook revolution’ and ‘the death of the printed book in the digital age’.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0  Bookfuturism is a term invented by science and technology writer Joanne McNeill for a Twitter list (https://twitter.com/jomc/lists/bookfuturism) following book aficionados. The term also shows similarities with the blog Bookfutures, written by Chris Meade, director of if:book London, a think tank for the future of the book. The term bookfuturism was given theoretical grounding by Tim Carmody, self-proclaimed bookfuturist, and writer on book technology and digital media. Carmody started a group blog called Bookfuturism (www.bookfuturism.com), and wrote “A Bookfuturist Manifesto” for The Atlantic. As he explains, bookfuturism plays with two dialectical oppositions: bookservatism and technofuturism:
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Now, even bookservatives acknowledge that things are changing. But they fear that these changes will result in catastrophe, for some part or whole of the culture they love. Because of that, they would prefer that book tech and book culture stop, slow down, or go back. … On the other side of the aisle are technofuturists. They’re winning most of the arguments these days when it comes to ebooks, so their rhetoric isn’t as wild. Technofuturists are technological triumphalists, or at least quasi-utopian optimists. These are the folks who believe that technology can solve our political, educational, and cultural problems. At an extreme, they don’t care about books at all: they’re just relics of a happily closing age of paper, and we should embrace the future in the form of multimedia and the networked web. (Carmody, 2010)
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0  Famously Plato had Socrates argue in the Phaedrus (2005) that writing is unresponsive, and it is bad for one’s memory, as it will make one forgetful. Similarly, in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris (1978) a scholar states, ‘The printed book will destroy the building’, where the cathedral as a physical, pictorial embodiment of the ‘fortress of the mind’ is seen as becoming obsolete with the coming of the printed book.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0  The importance of Eisenstein’s thought for the book historical discourse and scholarly inquiry more in general has been called ‘undeniably enormous’, and her seminal work The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, has been seen as ‘more than any other work … responsible for the rise of … print culture studies’ (Baron et al. 2007: 1). Although the various discourses on the history of the book overlapped and interacted, Eisenstein’s work can be seen as representing the materialist inspired Anglo-American stream of book studies, whereas Johns work draws heavily on the history of the European continental tradition of social-economic and cultural historical research in the wake of the Annales school.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0  This struggle to control the past will be discussed in more depth in the next section. Johns’ account of this struggle can be seen as an historical example of something I described earlier: namely, how a reinterpretation of the past directly influences the way we perceive the present and the future, and with that how we shape and structure that future. The representations of print’s history were founded on the differing accounts of contemporaries of what printing was and should be. Debate, dispute and struggle thus constructed and constituted print culture. As Johns puts it, ‘Societies therefore structure and legitimate themselves through knowledge of the past, creating present and future order out of an ordered representation of history’ (1998: 325).
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0  For more on Johns’ sensitivity and perceptiveness towards this point, see his article ‘Gutenberg and the Samurai: or, the information Revolution is History’ (2012).
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0  It is interesting to note, as Mark Nixon has done, that new historicism is an (almost) uniquely Anglo-American phenomenon, where in Europe this break with history was never that strongly felt. Through the emphasis on deconstruction and cultural materialism, and the Annales school tradition, they never abandoned but always sought out a broad concept of culture in European literary traditions (Mark Nixon 2004).
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0  Historian Leslie Howsam has been a proponent of a more feminist-oriented book studies, one that doesn’t simply focus on writing women into book history, but also draws on our responsibility as historians to gender both the book and book history: ‘I would like to see book historians focus on the gender identity of the book itself, both as physical object and as cultural product. We have seen the implications of a feminist analysis–in terms of patriarchy, power, discipline, possession, and other dimensions–on literary studies and on social history, as well as on the other humanities disciplines and on the social and physical sciences. Why should book history be immune?’ (1998: 1).
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0  The Media Archaeology Lab (MAL) founded in 2009 by Lori Emerson, is a prime example of this practice, where she describes MAL as ‘a place for cross-disciplinary experimental research and teaching using obsolete tools, hardware, software and platforms, from the past’. Similarly the Media Archaeological Fundus (MAF), directed by Wolfgang Ernst, is described by Ernst as a going ‘beyond bare historiography’: ‘The Media Archaeological Fundus (MAF) is a collection of various electromechanical and mechanical artefacts as they developed throughout time. Its aim is to provide a perspective that may inspire modern thinking about technology and media within its epistemological implications beyond bare historiography’. See: http://loriemerson.net/media-archaeology-lab/ and http://www.medienwissenschaft.hu-berlin.de/medientheorien/fundus/media-archaeological-fundus
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0  Especially in the case of historians like Adrian Johns and Roger Chartier, who have tried to emphasise different readings of book history—readings going against the grain of the dominant book historical visions of among others Elisabeth Eisenstein—based on the importance of the construction of fixity by historically situated persons and institutions, and on the active role of the reader in constructing meaning through their multiple readings.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0  For example, although there is an emphasis on archives and on writing systems and their cognitive-psychological influences, books and book history get no significant attention in two of the recent media archaeological overviews, neither in Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology?, nor in the collection Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, edited by Huhtamo and Parikka. Lisa Gitelman’s work is an obvious exception to this, especially Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (2014).
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0  In her posthumanist performative reformulation of the notions of discursive practices and materiality, she also extends and reformulates Judith Butler’s theory of performativity.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0  One might argue, however, that a concern for non- or post-human object materiality is already apparent in Foucault’s thought (most obviously in The Order of Things) (1966).
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0  The same is argued by Elisabeth Grosz when she states ‘Nature or materiality have no identity in the sense that they are continually changing, continually emerging as new’ (Kontturi and Tiainen 2007: 248).
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0  Here I argue against thinkers who follow a McLuhanite tradition, for instance, focusing on the salient features of a medium. For example, book historian Adriaan Van der Weel, writing in this tradition, argues that the interface of the book, in comparison to a digital interface, is finished. He also states the book’s interface is hierarchical, orderly and linear throughout (Van der Weel, 2012: 189, 198). Instead, I will argue here that the book keeps reinventing itself, both with respect to its materiality and to the discourse accompanying it, which continually (re)determines its meaning and identity. It becomes clear more practically, from for example the history of artists’ books and the various experiments with the book’s materiality, that the (printed) book’s interface is not finished. As Johanna Drucker has argued:
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 A book is an interface, for instance, though its reified condition is equally pernicious, persistent and difficult to dislodge. We are aware that digital interface seems more mutable and flexible than that of a book, but is this really true? The interface is not an object. Interface is a space of affordances and possibilities structured into organization for use. An interface is a set of conditions, structured relations, that allow certain behaviors, actions, readings, events to occur. This generalized theory of interface applies to any technological device created with certain assumptions about the body, hand, eye, coordination, and other capabilities. (2013)
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 The literary market also keeps reinventing the book in response to changing (reading) practices. See the introduction of new formats such as the dwarsligger (a book form, where the layout of a page from a conventional book is printed sideways on two pages of eight to twelve inches-pocket size), which has become highly popular in the Netherlands (see: http://www.dwarsligger.com/). Besides that, we will increasingly see hybrids of print and ebooks, such as augmented books. Another interesting example of a hybrid book was created as part of the Elektrolibrary project, where a paper book was connected to a computer, so that the book becomes a printed interface to the digital world. See also see Visnjic (2012) and http://vimeo.com/47656204. In this respect I will follow Johanna Drucker’s critique of (too much) media specificity from the context of performative materiality. As she states, ‘When attention to media specificity slips into a literal approach to the interpretation of materiality it falls short of providing an adequate basis for critical analysis of the ways materiality works’. Instead of a literal approach, she follows a performative approach towards analysis, in which a work is no longer seen as static but as processual. Here media are seen as being produced out of an intra-action or an affectual relationship between the medium’s affordances and its uses as part of interpretative processes (Drucker 2013).
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0  Although one could argue that the web has a (hyper)textual basis and that its design was clearly influenced by the book, for instance in its use of book metaphors, i.e. web pages, browsing, bookmarking, scrolling etc.