Backward We Go, from Hand-Press Print to Manuscript Text!
This week, we will begin work on manuscript books. With this step, the course has moved to the most primitive but longest used technology for creating, using and preserving text. The basic tools have varied a little for more than three thousand years, but as Dennis Baron's essay in Writing Materials will explain, at each stage the costs went down and writing became more "democratized," from being an arcane ritual activity of priests to an everyday act recording thought for ordinary merchants and scholars. Writing instruments began with brushes in Asia, and wood or metal styli in the Middle East, changing to the reed pen in ancient times in both Egypt and the Greco-Roman world, and finally the quill pen, which took hand written text from the early medieval period to the modern era. Quill pens were still in use during the nineteenth century when Austen, Dickens, Darwin, and Queen Victoria wrote. Modern pencils, however, began to be manufactured in the Renaissance where they were needed to cope with the first great "information explosion" caused by the printing press. Pencils remained prone to breakage until none other than Henry David Thoreau ("Mr. Walden") helped improve the process by which "lead" was manufactured. Naomi Baron's chapter in Writing Materials deals with the training the Renaissance and Enlightenment school systems needed to turn a scribbling child into someone who could artfully shape the alphabet into legible, or even beautiful words. Being a "great writer" also might mean being able to write beautiful documents, i.e., to be a "calligrapher" (Greek "kalos," beautiful + "graphy," writing).