With his “Medieval Letter People“, the marvelously named Eric Kwakkel opens my eyes yet again to the materiality of the letter in books and book art – and prompts this renewed but brief hunt for abecedaries.
The human body is one of the most common objects encountered in art, whether in paintings, sculptures or other objects. Things have not changed much since medieval times, when artists loved to fill their work with human figures – commonly saints or individuals affiliated with biblical stories. Among the great diversity of depictions, there is one type that stands out in that the body is used (or rather, abused) to express something other than itself. These particularly fascinating and often amusing depictions are found on the medieval page. We see people bent and stretched into unnatural shapes in order to change them into something for which the book was created: letters (Fig. 1).
Kwakkel teaches at the University of Leiden, about ten miles from where I am writing. His online essays wear their learning lightly on the screen and bring the past to life, repeatedly connecting it with our not-so-different present thinking. Seeing the date of the letter G above made me wonder, how did we think about the ABCs during the overlap between illuminated scribal books and the printed book? Kwakkel’s entry on the model or pattern books from which scribes and illuminators would learn to form and decorate those introductory letters adds to my curiosity. Even as late as 1530, eighty years after the invention of movable type, these model books were still being created in parchment. For how long do technologies overlap and co-exist?
In 1529, Geoffroy Tory — “born typographic” — published Champfleury, more treatise than abecedary, to explain the design of type according to the Golden Mean. As his subtitle declares, Tory was not bending the human form to the letter but rather explaining The Art and Science of the Proportion of the Attic or Ancient Roman Letters, According to the Human Body and Face – finding the ideal shape of the letters in the human form and face.
The 1927 translation into English, magnificently designed by Bruce Rogers, one of the preeminent typographers of the twentieth century, can be found online in the University of Delaware’s ABC: An Alphabet Exhibitionand even on CD from Octavo Editions, which also includes the original French and so brings the overlap from the born typographic to the born digital – at least in the medium if not the author.
As more recent evidence supporting Kwakkel’s assertion “things have not changed much since medieval times”, I offer up the New York Museum of Modern Arts’ 2012 exhibition “Artists’ Alphabets”, which celebrated book art abecedaries.
One entry in particular – Stop the Violence: Character Studies by photographer Francois Robert – contributes to this medieval heritage of the flesh made into word: his letters are formed of human bones.
Tien-Min Liao, a New York-based designer whose work surely deserved a place MoMA’s 2012 exhibition, offers a far gentler and more gestural ABC for my last specimen. Early in 2012 before the MoMA exhibition, she created her alphabet in what she calls a “typographic experiment” to explore the relationships between upper-case letters and lower-case letters and record how they transform into one another.
Inking shapes onto her fingers, hands and arms, she manipulated or “gestured” them into the corresponding shape of an upper-case letter. Then, without removing or redrawing the inked-on shapes, she adjusted her gestures or the perspective on them to change the upper-case letter to a lower-case of the same letter. As shown in her illustrations below, she even created an italic version of her “Handmade Type”.
The videos she created to show the transformation of each letter are exceptional, delightful. The banner headline on her site runs forward and backward, turning the HANDMADE into handmade and vice versa.
Unlike my other specimens, though, Tien-Min Liao’s abecedary is available only online. Without my imagining it as a book as well – bound in linen, with a metal handclasp closure or in a solander box including ink, brush and a CD with instructions on handmaking my own alphabet and with a Digital Object Identifier to keep up with her work – the technological overlap has now run backwards or full circle: the flesh become letter, the fleshly letter become digital.
“The Lindisfarne Gospels is one of the most magnificent manuscripts of the early Middle Ages. It was almost 400 years old when the Domesday Book was compiled, 500 years old when Magna Carta was witnessed, and over 700 years old when Gutenberg invented movable type.
It was written and decorated at the end of the 7th century by the monk Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721. Its original leather binding, long since lost, was made by Ethelwald, who succeeded Eadfrith as bishop, and was decorated with jewels and precious metals later in the 8th century by Billfrith the Anchorite.
The Latin text of the Gospels is translated word by word in an Old English gloss, the earliest surviving example of the Gospel text in any form of the English language, it was added between the lines in the mid 10th century by Aldred, Provost of Chester-le-Street.
Today the manuscript is once again bound in silver and jewels, in covers made in 1852 at the expense of Edward Maltby, Bishop of Durham. The design is based on motifs drawn from the decoration of the manuscript itself.
This is an eBookTreasures edition which includes all pages from the manuscript and audio narration and interpretation on selected pages.” — via The Lindisfarne Gospels – Complete, published by ebooktreasures.
The British Library‘s “Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts” blog is a reliable source of visual delight and provocation to think about the interplay of the print and digital worlds. It also prompts the application of Ezra Pound’s critical technique of juxtaposing works, demonstrated so well in his The ABC of Reading.
I have read A Degree of Mastery from cover to cover twice. Once in New York between 2002 and 2005 when I was teaching “Professional Book and Information Publishing” at NYU and wanted readings to help provide students with a sense of the history, art and craft of the book. The second time here and now in Windsor looking for the “right something” to include in “Books On Books.”
On both occasions ebooks and digital publishing pervaded my thoughts, but only on the second time around did these questions and observations I want to raise now shape themselves as they have.
Annie Tremmel Wilcox weaves a memoir of her apprenticeship under the renowned bookbinder and conservator William Anthony. She weaves it with her diary entries, excerpts from an exhibit brochure “Saving Our Books and Words: The Conservation and Preservation of Books,” newspaper articles, correspondence, passages from “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use” by Toshio Odate, step by step descriptions of mending torn pages and crumbling leather spines and plainspoken observation of fellow workers, conference attendees, librarians, government officials posing with restored documents, children making “books” from striped computer paper with wallpaper sewn on for covers and, of course, Bill Anthony, the “Johnny Appleseed of bookbinding.”
“Weaves” is the precise word for the structure of her book’s narrative, and it would be the right word for her ebook, if there were one. As I re-read it, this game of word substitution yielded questions that make this memoir a useful means to bookmark the evolution of the book.
Writing about some of the tools she learns to use — lifting knives, translucent bone folders, the spokeshave and others — she says of Anthony’s, “His tools were smarter than mine. They knew the correct way to cut paper or pare leather. By using them I could feel in my hands how the tools were supposed to work.” (48) For Wilcox and her reader, Bill Anthony is the master “shokunin,” craftsman or artisan. And when she quotes from Odate “For the ‘shokunin,’ utility and appearance must be enhanced by the tool’s ‘presence,’ that is its refinement and dignity….,” this reader asks,
What are the tools of the ebook maker? From whence comes their refinement and dignity — their “presence” — with which the “shokunin” imbues his creation as a result of his commitment to his craft? In what tools of the ebookmaker does “the spirit of the tool that records the ‘shokunin’s’ ability through the years to face the uncertainties of life, to overcome them, and to master the art of living” reside?
Too Zen? Perhaps.
An English grad student, Wilcox relished handling the University of Iowa‘s Sir Walter Scott Collection, its Leigh Hunt Collection and The Works of Rudyard Kipling. Confronted with earlier slapdash and botched work on certain volumes of the Kipling, she writes, “Certainly these volumes of Kipling are found on the shelves of numerous libraries across the country, but the integrity of ‘these’ volumes as a complete set has been lost.” (179) What constitutes the “integrity” of an ebook or its constituents? Are ebooks so “immaterial” that such a question is nonsensical?
The author’s apprenticeship included collaboration on the exhibit “Saving Our Books and Words.” In addition to coauthoring the exhibit’s brochure, Wilcox contributed to completing Anthony’s special project of developing for the exhibit a unique collection of models demonstrating “the evolution of the codex – the form of the book as we know it.”(181) In the brochure she touches on the immateriality and materiality of the Center’s work: “Simply defined, preservation is the attempt to save the intellectual content of books while conservation is the attempt to save both the intellectual content and its vehicle — the covers, paper, endbands, etc. The former is concerned with saving what the human record contains without regard to the forms it winds up in. The latter focuses on the artifact itself, attempts to save this book, this sheet.” (192)
What is the “form” of the ebook as we know it? Is the ebook as much “vehicle” as “content”? What are its equivalencies to the page or to what “binds” the “text block”? What does it mean to “conserve” an ebook? Of a digital copy, what are the materials; what is the artifact to be conserved?
Wilcox ends her memoir with the completion of her “masterpiece,” the restoration of the incunabulum that Bill Anthony assigned her before his death and which she completed after it with the help of “The Restoration of Leather Bindings” by Bernard Middleton, author of the standard text “A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique.” The work assigned was Pope Pius II’s “Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum,” printed by Johannes De Colonia and Johannes Manthen in Venice in 1477, which when restored was “not a deluxe edition, but … had great integrity.” In the year 2547, of what will the preservation and conservation of today’s e-incunabula consist? Will some apprentice conservator understand the “form” of these ebooks “in the cradle” and, master of smart tools, restore them to their integrity?
With Ann Tomalak’s essay, perhaps we can see that future through her present lense on the past. Give it a read.
Elsewhere I have commented on this JISC-funded project rising like a medieval cathedral from busy hands at the universities of Sheffield, Leicester, Birmingham, Glasgow, York and Queen’s (Belfast) will warm the enlightened taxpayer’s cockles. It is now coming to a summary conference to be held at the University of Leicester on 11 January 2013.
Everything about this ambitious project to enable full-text searching of literary manuscripts, historical documents and early printed books owned by libraries, archives, universities and publishers and now online is transparent and open to public scrutiny as it happens.
The researchers’ plan is to enable users to generate visualised search results using maps of medieval Britain, add their own annotations to the data for public consumption and contribute to a knowledge base that will surround and suffuse an outstanding body of primary sources: Manuscripts Online: the resources.
You can follow the Project Plan and meeting minutes, preview site designs and the scholars’ tweets about the work and witness what appears to be a project run “by the book.”
Here’s a previously missed infographic for the evolution of the book – a bit skeletal but with the elegance of the format. And while we are at it, let’s add some bibliographic and webographic “evolution” entries:
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120812
Yesterday, the 11th of August 2012 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hypercard. Alerted by Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica in May, gurus lined up to comment on Bill Atkinson‘s contribution in the 80s to Apple and the basics of hyperlinking techniques we now take for granted.
With the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger became one of the Web’s leading light-shedders (gurus) and provocateurs. Most important in this context, he was in the audience when Bill Atkinson presented Apple’s Hypercard to the MacWorld conference in 1987. Weinberger writes, “HyperCard was a groundbreaking, beautiful, and even thrilling app. Ahead of its time for sure. But the time it was ahead of seems to me to be not so much the Age of the Web as the Age of the App. I don’t know why there isn’t now an app development environment that gives us what HyperCard did. Apparently HyperCard is still ahead of its time.”
Tennant, too, has written several books and a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and currently works at OCLC. Most important, he “was there” as an early user of the Hypercard system and HyperTalk programming language on which it is based. As Tennant puts it, “HyperCard was where I learned how to DO the Web. It was where I learned the importance of screen real estate. It was where I learned the law of 7, plus or minus 2. It was where I learned how important graphics are in creating an engaging site. It was where I cut my teeth on interactivity.”
Apps, screen real estate, Miller’s law, graphics and “cutting teeth” on interactivity — all are part of the new toolkit for making books.
Timelines are, of course, for looking further back as well as forward. Earlier this year, April 2012 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the publication of
and the online publication of short but extensively hyperlinked extracts from the print book as well as the online publication of The Electronic Hypnerotomachia, which contains the facsimile text and illustrations. The online publication of extracts from Lefaivre’s book illustrates the linking prefigured by the “card stack” approach of HyperCard. What MIT Press and TU Delft, Lefaivre’s affiliation, host on their servers are not ebooks or even e-incunabula of the sort we experience today, but they are clearly forerunners to them.
In twenty-eight more months, December 2014, we will see the 515th anniversary of the original work’s publication by Aldine Press (Venice, December 1499). The founder Aldus Manutius did not normally publish heavily illustrated books. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was the exception and the only commissioned work that Manutius undertook. The exception reflects favorably on the overall success of his business and supports the view that Venice had become the capital of printing and publishing very shortly after the invention of printing by moveable type.
The book unveils an inscrutable, almost comic-book-illustrated story, glittering with made-up words in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic (including proto-Greek, -Hebrew and -Arabic fonts). In addition to the page displays sculpted into shapes such as goblets, this one volume displayed the technological mastery of and improvement on the new Roman (as opposed to the heavy Gothic) typeface Bembo. According to Norma Levarie in The Art & History of Books (New York, 1968), this singular volume revolutionized typography in France in less than twenty-five years.
Somewhat like software releases, though, the 1499 edition came with bugs. The colophon to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili falls at the end of a full page of errata.
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
“The Book Industry Study Group (BISG), a leading U.S.-based trade association representing the entire book supply chain, announced today the publication of a new Policy Statement endorsing EPUB 3 as the accepted and preferred standard for representing, packaging, and encoding structured and semantically enhanced Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.”
For the record and from the Library of Congress:
Coincidentally, Amazon UK reported today that it is now selling 114 Kindle ebooks for every 100 print books it sells.
The EPUB format is not natively readable on the Kindle device or in the Kindle application. Customers can add conversion apps easily to their devices to make EPUB readable on a Kindle, but as consumers seek the advantages of an industry standard, how will Amazon respond?
Feel free to suggest new additions to the timeline!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120725
As we are still in the Age of e-Incunabula, what better than a trip half way around the world to Japan to see one of the world’s largest collections of Western incunabula — and an excellent site to bookmark?
The National Diet Library’s site refers to itself as an exhibition based on the book “Inkyunabura no Sekai” (The World of Incunabula) / written by Hiroharu Orita, compiled by the Library Research Institute of the National Diet Library. Tokyo: Japan Library Association, July 2000 (in Japanese).
The exhibition provides a timeline of incunabula from the second half of the 4th century when the shift to the codex occurred to 1980 when the British Library began entering data on its collection of incunabula into the ISTC. The site provides much more than this chronology.
Images from the collection, statistics on the type fonts used, coverage of design and how the quires (sheets of paper folded, forerunner of book signatures and files in EPUB!) were arranged, and the binding process — all are covered straightforwardly and often in entertaining detail. Look on this site and consider how far we have to go with our ebooks and apps!
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120719
Not as interactive as the Counterspace timeline for typography below, but certainly as densely informative, and it extends to typography online.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120717
Another timeline, this one focused on bookbinding. Is .zip the binding for an ebook?
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120710
On the heels of the question above comes an outstanding interactive infographic on a critical element of the book and ebook: typography.
Ebook Timeline Updated – 20120706
Yet another ebook timeline, and this one is broken down into interpretive categories, “The Age of Writing” and “The Network Era,” which is thought-provoking. Are we in “The Age of the Tablet”?
Start of the Ebook Timeline
In 1936, “Chronology of Books & Printing” appeared in its revised edition, published by Macmillan in New York. In 1996, Cor Knops picked up the torch and started a Book History Timeline from Sumerian clay tablets (he could have started with the caves at Lascaux!) through to 1997 with the first issue of “Biblio Magazine” but with little acknowledgment of ebooks.
Forged together, the chronologies would have to include “As we may think” by Vannevar Bush in 1945, Ted Nelson’s coining of “hypertext” in 1963-65, the Apple Newton in 1993 (how many publishers and authors have kept track of the free downloads of their Newton ebooks?) and much more.
Another extension of the ebook timeline appears in this book by Marie Lebert, which fills in important gaps, misses others and offers more than a few overemphasized continental developments. Her timeline takes us through 2009, which means that the signal events in 2011/12 of ebook sales’ outstripping those of print in some markets are still to be added.
Even the “book arts” are having to go back to the future, sort of, to survive.
In the Renaissance, the arts and manuscripts were supported by the patronage of the rich and powerful, intent on securing fame, honor or redemption by association with lasting works.
Along comes the democratizing printing press, and eventually (a very long eventually), patronage is replaced by secured copyright and a working market. Now the democratizing Web has arrived, and content, including art, should be free, so we are told or simply shown by the taking. Is that the future of the book?
The book arts (and book art) are worth a bookmark in the evolution of the book. They hark back to the brilliant works of art like those exhibited earlier this year from the British Library’s collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated codices collected by the kings and queens of England over 800 years.
In the BL’s ‘Turning the Pages™’ system and ebook versions, we see how the affordances of the web and ebooks can enhance our experience of those works.
In a previous post, we looked at the Center for the Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago‘s offering awards of “two $10,000 commissions for new artworks for the iPad [which] will have physical counterparts that intersect, modulate, or inform the digital components of the artwork.” From print to digital in one case, from digital to print in the other. The book, its arts and its art as an object have been and will be the focal point of cultural investment.
The work of Brian Dettmer, gracing the cover of Christine Antaya’s edited volume Book Art: Iconic Sculptures and Installations Made from Books(Die Gestalten Verlag, 2011), embodies why this is so. Dettmer’s book art declares that despite or because of our crossing the digital divide, the book’s legacy as a carrier of ideas and communication remains secure in the creative realm. Take a look.
These are the kind of artists as well as masters and mistresses of the book arts that the Center for Book Arts in New York seeks to support.
Crowdsourced funding won’t provide contributors with lasting fame by association, although there are rewards in the form of invitations to openings and Artists’ Talks as well as a small letter-press printed gift. Here’s hoping that those who value the arts and books (digital and print) for their own sake will dig into their pockets.
The colophon – that last page at the end of a manuscript or book – has served so many purposes such as giving the title of the work, identifying the scribe or printer, naming the place and date of completion or imprint, thanking and praising the patron, bragging, blaming, apologizing, entreating, praying and much more that its origin could be traced back to almost any last mark in the earliest human records.
This device so infrequently used in books today, why should we bother ourselves with it? Fine enough for J. F. Kennard and A.W. Pollard, familiar to historians of the book, to have written small tomes about it in 1901 and 1905. Fine enough that it has appeared at the end of “fine books” from publishers like David Godine and the end of most of O’Reilly & Associates’ widely used IT books.
But that it shows up on websites, too? Just enter “colophons on websites” in your favorite search engine, and you will find for example:
Each of the website colophons above has its functional doppelganger among the early printers’ colophons, but more on that in a future post.
No doubt the colophon found its way into websites before 2008, but perhaps its presence has something to do with the writings of a Scot named Bill Hill (aptly so, if you recall the July 29th entry below). In 2008, he waxed enthusiastically about the colophon because of its historic association with type fonts:
“Why not introduce the venerable concept of the Colophon to the Web? Could it be used to drive a new business model for fonts which would benefit the font industry, web developers and designers – and the people who visit their sites?” He even suggested making the colophon a compulsory standard.
From today’s websites back to Dietrich, the first Abbot of Saint Evroul, who oversaw the scribes in the scriptorium there, the colophon courses like a meme or common protocol. It tugs at the self-reflective and communal in us. It looks backward over the work it culminates (a word etymologically related to it) and looks forward to the work’s future readers. More so in Dietrich’s time, it often looked backward over the life’s work of the scribe and forward to his future reward.
In case the image above (a page from Kennard’s book, “Some Early Printers and Their Colophons,” describing Dietrich’s exhortation to his scribes) is not legible, here is the relevant bit:
“Once upon a time there was a wicked monk. At his death the devil claimed his soul. He thought he had a sure thing. Now, it happened that just before his death the monk had completed the copying of a great fario volume. This book the angels brought to judgment-seat of God, and for each letter written in the book one sin was forgiven. When the recording angel had added up the two sides of the account, behold, there was one little ” i” left over, and the monk’s soul was saved.”
That little “i” left over – the colophon – will be a useful point from which to explore the evolution of the book and how its predecessors and its successors were and will be read.
On her blog “Felt & Wire,” Alyson Kuhn shares her foray into the origins of the word “colophon.”
In ancient Greece, Ionia to be precise, the city Colophon stood on a summit. The colophon, the final page stating the title of the work, who made it, when it was made, how it was made, for whom it was made, etc., stands at the summit of the book, justifying its being named for that city. It is the maker’s signing off from the summit of the foregoing text. That “signing off” can be construed as the “finishing touch,” which might refer to the reputation of the Colophonian warriors for being the deciding factor in many a battle, hence the phrase of Erasmus ‘Colophonem adidi’ – ‘I have put a finishing touch to it.’
The name of Kuhn’s site — “Felt & Wire” — reflects her passion for paper. She tag-lines it as “Impressions from the Paper-Obsessed,” which explains why her entry does not go back as far as the first appearance of colophons on clay tablets — nor ahead as far as their regular appearance in websites (an example of which can be found here).
But there is a functional logic for going back as far as those biblical “colophons.” They are recurring phrases related to the “toledoth“passages that appear in the Genesis tablets. Toledoth is Hebrew for “generations” as in “These are the origins [or histories] of Noah,” which a convincing group of Hebraic scholars translate in the possessive. As in “The foregoing book relating these stories belongs to Noah” or “This is Noah signing off.” So the toledoth perform some of the same finishing functions as colophons.
There is also, according to the Edenics site, an etymological reason for going back to the Hebrew. The word “colophon” itself has its roots in the Hebrew word “Gimel-Lamed,” meaning “wave” and “a prominent man-made heap.”
Certainly many books fit that etymological definition (a prominent man-made heap) and deserve a colophon whether they have one or not!
Looking forward, though, it is endearing that so many websites bear the colophon device and, in doing so, raise the questions, “Should we think of these websites as books?” “How might the use of traditional parts of the book in websites or ebooks tell us what the book will be beyond the Age of e-Incunabula?”
As if to prove the relevance to the Web of the “six degrees of separation” hypothesis, the search for “colophon” leads to an article in About.com referring the reader to guidelines for publishing on the web that come from the National Genealogical Society. And that brings us back to the toledoth (the “begats”) passages in Genesis!
Like the Ebook Timeline entry below, this Books On Books entry for the colophon will be regularly updated. From what better vantage than the colophon to look back for the origins of the book and forward for its future? More to come on colophons.