Cultures of the Book: Bibliography

The common theme of this bibliography is the technological adaptation of the written word from antiquity to the present and the interplay between intellectual, cultural, and social change that enacts itself around the written word. The following breakdown of broad subjects is arbitrary but functional.

1. Greco-Roman Antiquity. The seminar will read Plato's Phaedrus and "Plato's" Seventh Letter (authenticity disputed). The introduction of writing in classical is a controverted topic; lately, see Barry Powell, Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet (see BMCR review for the controversy). For the impact of the written word, see recent and tendentious but interesting studies by Jesper Svenbro, Phrasikleia, and A. Thomas Cole, The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece, the latter following in the footsteps of Eric Havelock, who made several contributions, perhaps most ambitiously in Preface to Plato; see now in his footsteps, K. Robb, Literacy and Paideia in Ancient Greece. But there are other pragmatic studies of related topics, esp. by Rosalind Thomas, Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens and Literacy and Orality in Ancient Greece. (Homer's "orality" is of course a rich topic, but I suggest it perhaps is most prudently left aside by novices to the topic.)

Roman contributions are less ardently examined, but W.V. Harris, Ancient Literacy, is a masterful summary, and it has already received the tribute of supplementary discussion in a symposium published under the title Literacy in the Roman World.

Primary sources are abundant, but the rhetorical writers of hellenistic and Roman antiquity are perhaps the most rewarding, and Cicero's de oratore and Quintilian's institutio oratoria would richly repay study. See also the syllabus below for an earlier course I taught on these topics.

See also the fascinating WWW page, Images of writing in ancient Greece (from a student at Penn).

One precious collection of evidence of ancient practices emerged from the mud of Herculaneum. See now Marcello Gigante, Philodemus in Italy: The Books from Herculaneum (trans. D. Obbink; University of Michigan Press, 1995).

Seneca the younger took a dim view of those who collected books for ostentation: his comments are available in Latin and in English.

A text of particular interest that I would commend to the eager student is Plutarch's On Listening (De recta ratione audiendi), available both in volume 1 of the Loeb edition of Plutarch's "Moralia" and in a recent Penguin of Plutarch's essays. The question I would ask is, how do the goals of listening differ for Plutarch from what we would expect? The treatise tells a young man how to listen to lectures: that's a genre of advice text familiar enough to us, but there are some very distinctive features. What does this tell us about that culture's relation to the written and spoken word?

2. Christianity and Late Antiquity. A basic text is Augustine's On Christian Doctrine, on which I have written. The most recent survey of early Christian textual practices is Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven 1995); Gamble offers a convenient repository of much information, but does not do justice to the richness of the material. The introduction of the codex book (see C.H. Roberts and T.C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex) is associated with Christian textual practices but has much wider ramifications. The emergence of the canon of scripture (see B. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, but now supplement with G. Hahneman, The Muratorian Canon). Numerous textual practices of this period merit attention, particularly the emergence of the "commentary" on scripture, the circulation of sermons and their reuse by other authors, the making of lists of approved extra-canonical authors, the use of texts to extend papal authority (Liber Pontificalis, papal letters, and the liber diurnus collection of form letters), and the use of the monastic rule as a way of managing a community. See also the syllabus below for an earlier course I taught on these topics. My own first book was a study of Cassiodorus, an influential maker of the Christian virtual library in Latin late antiquity; the full text of that book as a "postprint" is now available.

3. Medieval Manuscript Culture. The two best books are M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (n.b., use 1993 edition) and Rosamund McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word. See also a McKitterick-edited collection of essays, Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe; new and quite interesting is Michael Richter, The Formation of the Medieval West: Studies in the Oral Culture of the Barbarians. More ambitious is M. Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, and more theoretical but foundational is Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy. A fascinating case study of textual culture in the service of forgery is now offered by Richard Landes, Relics, Apocalypse, and the Deceits of History: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034. There is also good work being done on the physical books of the middle ages. Of particular interest is the Glossa Ordinaria: see C. De Hamel, Glossed Books of the Bible and the Paris Book Trade. Here the materials are superabundant: for one palmary example of what you can do with one book to explore these topics, see M.T. Gibson, ed., The Eadwine Psalter. M. Carruthers, The Book of Memory, is venturesome about the physical book and its uses, but is problematic in its use of primary sources. Paul Saenger of the Newberry Library has written numerous useful things in this area, most famously his article on silent reading at Viator 13 (1982) 367-414. "Books of Hours" are of particular interest and importance. An article lately published and reference that I have not seen: Steven Justice, "Inquisition, Speech, and Writing: A Case from Late-Medieval Norwich," in Representations no. 48 (Fall 1994), pp. 1ff.

4. The Age of Print. Many of you will read Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy, a now classic tour de force of interpretation of the impact of print. More traditionalist readings of the same transformation include Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as Agent of Change, and L. Febvre and H.-J. Martin, The Coming of the Book. Martin's new History and Power of Writing takes a broader historical view (see a review of this book from Bryn Mawr Medieval Review). M. Giesecke, Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit, is more recent and makes useful comparisons to the impact of electronic technologies. But rooting theory and interpretation in facts has proven difficult. For one excellent exercise in that direction, see L. Jardine, Erasmus: Man of Letters. There is also a lot of good work done on specific printers (Amerbach, Aldus Manitius, etc.). McLuhan, meanwhile, is the godfather of a school of theoretical interpretation (going back to Harold Innis and including especially Walter Ong and, for the classical period, Eric Havelock) of the differences between "orality", "literacy", and the various forms of textual literacy. Much of what McLuhan said has become commonplace, though his specific works remain a focus of strong resistance among serious scholars.

5. Ancients vs. Moderns. The most provocative entry to the question of how modernity constructed itself vis-à-vis antiquity is Jonathan Swift's Tale of the Tub and The Battle of the Books, suggesting the problematic status of old and new learning in the eighteenth century, as a focus for discussion of the history of the early modern printed book. Here the numerous works of Robert Darnton, Roger Chartier, and Carla Hesse are fundamental, but I would also call attention to Lynn Hunt, ed., The Invention of Pornography, an important collection of essays on how the conditions of publishing help explain the rise of a specific genre of book production. Joseph Levine's The Battle of the Books is a good recent study of the "quarrel" in England with theoretical awareness, and Stanley Rosen's Ancients and Moderns is a quarrelsome philosopher's reception of that debate. Just where to situate the debate is of interest, and its French side should not be ignored, but I am also fond of Hans Blumenberg's The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, which is more a meditation on the medieval and Renaissance move to modernity which is only consciously problematized later in the "battle of the books". Why do we continue to read such old books? Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity, may seem at first off-target for this seminar, but is in fact an important continuation of the debate that is already raging full-blown in Swift.

6. Scholarship and Textual Criticism. One product of the age of the printed word was the rise of a particularly austere and scientific strain of textual criticism, embodied in the "method of Lachmann" of the nineteenth century and practiced par excellence by classical scholars. A.E. Housman's Selected Prose offers an easy way into some of the issues from a theoretician and practitioner of that mode, but he is far from transparent or ingenuous. The technique and its history can be explored in the works of M.L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique, and S. Timpanaro, La genesi del metodo del Lachmann. There is curiously little serious reflective literature on this topic, and much of what can be said needs to be inferred from the works of practitioners. For the present fate of these ideals, contrast the works of Jerome McGann with the more conservative G. Thomas Tanselle (numerous titles by both), and I would be glad if someone sought out the essay in which Edmund Wilson attacked the MLA's project of critical editions of modern American authors.

7. The Electronic Word. Now where do we go? We will read together Richard Lanham's The Electronic Word -- also available in Voyager edition for the Powerbook for the venturesome, and a sample chapter provided by the publisher is available on the network. There are numerous other good recent items here: authors to pursue include Jay David Bolter, George Landow, and O.B. Hardison, Disappearing Through the Skylight. Cautionary voices also appear, as Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: see the review of this book by Dean Blobaum of the University of Chicago Press. I'm also grateful to have here Two papers by Robert M. Fowler of Baldwin-Wallace College, on the notion of "canon" and on "orality" in contemporary society.

Of a hundred ways you might go, let me suggest that taking up Lanham's discussion of the agonistic quality of legal "truth" by following Bernard J. Hibbitts, "Making Sense of Metaphors: Visuality, Aurality, and the Reconfiguration of American Legal Discourse," Cardozo Law Review 16(1994) 229-356; and see also his "'Coming to Our Senses': Communication and Legal Expression in Performance Cultures," Emory Law Journal 41(1992) 873-960.

Theories of writing and Language: The unnaturalness of writing is easy to forget. Roy Harris, Signs of Writing (London 1995) is good at pulling together all the "tough cases" he can find to make the reader realize how difficult it is to say just what writing is.

Non-western materials. Here is where the abundant writings of the anthropologist Jack Goody on literacy should be consulted, or the fascinating study of Marcia and Robert Ascher, Code of the quipu: a study in media, mathematics, and culture, on the still-undecoded Peruvian system of recording information in knotted cords. Egyptian hieroglyphics offer another path, particularly perhaps in the late antique tradition of Horapollon, but also from the Rosetta Stone to the present. I am fond of B. Messick, The Calligraphic State, on modern Yemen, which survived as a handwriting-based culture into contemporary times by reason of never having been colonized by Europeans. New and interesting in many ways is G.N. Atiyeh, ed., The Book in the Islamic World (Albany 1995) -- see, e.g., the explanation why Islam was very suspicious of printed books . . . But that book leads on to Penn's G. Makdisi, The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West (1981).

There is also an abundance of meso-American material: take Bruce Love, The Paris Codex or Eloise Quiñones Keber, Codex Telleriano-Remensis: Ritual, Divination, and History in a Pictorial Aztec Manuscript and other recent works from the University of Texas Press's series of volumes on manuscript sources from the earliest colonial period, supplemented by Sabine MacCormack's Religion in the Andes, an impressive cross-cultural study. See also Gordon Brotherston, Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas through Their Literature (Cambridge 1992) for a broad view. On a much smaller scale, Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, Life in the imperial and loyal city of Mexico in New Spain, and the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico (Austin 1954), is a series of dialogues written in Latin in Mexico City in the 17th century, here translated into English with a facsimile of the Latin, by which the local learned worthies of the Spanish aristocracy practiced their Latin with description of local life and culture: a precious document in numerous respects.

And of course Asian as well, from several cultures: for the interplay of Europe and China, there is much in Jonathan Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. The relevance of such issues to current political and economic conflict is made clear in William P. Alford, To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: intellectual property law in Chinese civilization (1995) -- on the cultural origins of U.S./Chinese arguments about bootleg CD's of Hootie and the Blowfish. The possibilities are endless.

Much more ancient is the period surveyed by Gregory L. Possehl (chair of Penn's anthrpology department), Indus Age: The Writing System (Philadelphia 1996), on the "Harappan" pictographic script from the third millennium BC.

It's also important to study cultures in their encounters with each other: tracking the textual history of Greek philosophy through Arabic and back to Latin around the Mediterranean, e.g., or the textual adventures of Ramon Llul, the Balearic wizard, could be fruitful in this way.

WWW resources. One of your first responsibilities will be to explore the WWW for materials of use for this course. The easy and cheap way to begin is to go to my own home page and look there at my own Publications page (which has numerous items I've written recently) and at the page of "Scholarly Links of Interest", which leads on to many resources I have found. Your job will be to find more, and make use of what you find.