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Agent of Change

Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein

edited by Sabrina Alcorn Baron, Eric N. Lindquist, and Eleanor F. Shevlin

Publication Year: 2007

Inspiring debate since the early days of its publication, Elizabeth L. Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe (1979) has exercised its own force as an agent of change in the world of scholarship. Its path-breaking agenda has played a central role in shaping the study of print culture and "book history"—fields of inquiry that rank among the most exciting and vital areas of scholarly endeavor in recent years. Joining together leading voices in the field of print scholarship, this collection of twenty essays affirms the catalytic properties of Eisenstein's study as a stimulus to further inquiry across geographic, temporal, and disciplinary boundaries. From early modern marginalia to the use of architectural title pages in Renaissance books, from the press in Spanish colonial America to print in the Islamic world, from the role of the printed word in nation-building to changing histories of reading in the electronic age, this book addresses the legacy of Eisenstein's work in print culture studies today as it suggests future directions for the field. In addition to a conversation with Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, the book includes contributions by Peng Hwa Ang, Margaret Aston, Tony Ballantyne, Vivek Bhandari, Ann Blair, Barbara A. Brannon, Roger Chartier, Kai-wing Chow, James A. Dewar, Robert A. Gross, David Scott Kastan, Harold Love, Paula McDowell, Jane McRae, Jean-Dominique Mellot, Antonio Rodr’guez-Buckingham, Geoffrey Roper, William H. Sherman, Peter Stallybrass, H. Arthur Williamson, and Calhoun Winton.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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pp. iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix

The editors thank Paul M. Wright, editor, and Bruce Wilcox, director, of the University of Massachusetts Press, as well as John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and Ralph Eubanks, director of publishing at the Library of Congress, for their generous support of this project. We also wish to thank all of the contributors for being a part of ...

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pp. 1-12

Elizabeth l. Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe (PPAC)1 was controversial when it was published in 1979, and it continues to be so. But it has exercised an undeniably enormous influence on scholarly inquiry, leaving an imprint on a host of disciplines — not only obviously connected...

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Part I: Agents, Agency, and Print in Early Modern Europe: Introduction

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pp. 13-20

In the preface to The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early- Modern Europe (PPAC), Elizabeth Eisenstein characterizes her book as a “large- scale synthetic work” whose “inevitably inadequate, necessarily tentative treatment” of print and its effects is nonetheless far better to attempt than risk the continued neglect of this important topic (xvi–xvii). She again draws...

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Chapter 1- Errata Lists and the Reader as Corrector

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pp. 21-41

The errata list counts as one of the trappings of the book that first appeared with printing.1 It ranks alongside other innovations linked to printing, such as the title page, signatures, and foliation or pagination, in contrast to features (such as the table of contents, the alphabetical index, and the use of headings and textual divisions) that have antecedents in medieval manuscripts. While errors of course occurred in manuscript production and...

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Chapter 2- Counterfeit Printing as an Agent of Diffusion and Change: The French Book-Privilege System and Its Contradictions (1498–1790)

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pp. 42-66

In The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early- Modern Europe (PPAC),1 Elizabeth Eisenstein demonstrates not only that the introduction of printing was the signal for an intensification of written production but also that printing led to progressive and deep cultural change. A print culture began to emerge that required more and more inexpensive and widely available printed books. Nevertheless, ...

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Chapter 3- On the Threshold: Architecture, Paratext, and Early Print Culture

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pp. 67-81

This essay is the product of an imaginary dialogue, of the sort favored by Renaissance writers and facilitated by printing itself, between two authors who never refer to each other but who have much to say to each other about a topic of enduring interest. The authors are the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein and the narrative theorist G

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Chapter 4- Moving Pictures: Foxe’s Martyrs and Little Gidding

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pp. 82-104

In the history of printing, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments or “Book of Martyrs” has come to seem more important than ever during the quarter century since the appearance of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early- Modern Europe (PPAC). As understanding of the relationships between ...

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Chapter 5- Humphrey Moseley and the Invention of English Literature

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pp. 105-124

English literature was invented early in the winter of 1645. But before that date is committed to memory, I should, in fairness, admit that at least two other competing narratives of its invention exist: one, that literature was invented some two hundred years earlier, sometime in the late fourteenth century, when the word “literature” first entered English from the...

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Chapter 6- “On the Behalf of the Printers”: A Late Stuart Printer-Author and Her Causes

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pp. 125-139

“Whoever is for making Printing a Free Trade are Enemies to God, their King, and their Country.” So declared the printer-author Elinor James (c. 1645–1719) in her petition To the Honourable House of Commons. Gentlemen, Since You have been pleased to lay such a heavy Tax upon Paper, n.d. (c. 1696–8), a broadside that she not only printed but also wrote and distributed herself. James in fact wrote and printed more than ninety broadsides ...

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Chapter 7- Fixity versus Flexibility in “A Song on Tom of Danby” and Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel

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pp. 140-155

Elizabeth Eisenstein’s endorsement of textual stability or “fixity” as a primary advantage of transmission through the press over manuscript transmission has been challenged in separate studies by Adrian Johns and David McKitterick.1 Both dissenting writers, arguing from different perspectives but within a broadly McKenzian framework, would see the claim for the...

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Part II: Exchange, Agency, and Adaptation in the Cosmopolitan World of Print Introduction

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pp. 157-168

Expanding on the early-seventeenth-century formulation of Sir Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Eisenstein distinguished the printing press as ultimately the most important of the three Renaissance technological innovations he thought had “changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world.”1 More precisely, Eisenstein considered that printing ...

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Chapter 8- Reinventing Gutenberg: Woodblock and Movable-Type Printing in Europe and China

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pp. 169-192

“Gutenberg revisited from the East” is the title of the introduction Roger Chartier wrote for a special issue of Late Imperial China on printing. He calls for “a more accurate appreciation of Gutenberg’s invention” because it “was not the only technique capable of assuring the wide- scale dissemination of printed texts.”1 Moreover, as a historian of books and a ...

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Chapter 9- Scotland: International Politics, International Press

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pp. 193-215

In 1594 Andrew Melville composed a Latin pastoral celebrating the birth of King James’s son and heir, Prince Henry. Melville was no ordinary figure, but Scotland’s leading court poet, its leading minister, and, as rector of the University of St. Andrews, its leading educator. The poem, Principis Scoti-Britannorum Natalia, was also far from ordinary. The Natalia envisioned...

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Chapter 10- Change and the Printing Press in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America

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pp. 216-237

The first known printing press in the western hemisphere was established in Mexico City in September 1539 by Juan Pablos (1500?–60).1 An Italian from Brescia, Pablos represented the Cromberger firm of Seville, one of the largest printing establishments in Spain during the sixteenth century.2 A printer by the name of Esteban Martín is known to have resided in Mexico...

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Chapter 11- The Southern Printer as Agent of Change in the American Revolution

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pp. 238-249

When historians discuss the role of the printer in the American Revolution, they usually look at political orientation: how the printer aided or impeded the progress of that movement. The locus classicus of this attitude — and strongly influential in its development — is the well-known remark of Thomas Jefferson to Isaiah Thomas about William Rind and Virginia: “Until the beginning of our revolutionary ...

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Chapter 12- The Printing Press and Change in the Arab World

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pp. 250-267

In 1937 the Arab American historian Philip Hitti published his History of the Arabs, which quickly established itself as a classic; through its many subsequent editions up to the present, it has introduced generations of students and general readers to the broad outlines of Arab history. Its final chapter, dealing with the past two centuries, and the changes brought...

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Chapter 13- Print and the Emergence of Multiple Publics in Nineteenth-Century Punjab

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pp. 268-286

Harsukh Rai and Dayal Singh Majithia, two prominent personalities of late-nineteenth-century Punjab (in North India), came from radically different backgrounds. Harsukh Rai was a Bhatnagar Kayastha (a caste of scribes) from Bulandshehr whose father had been appointed municipal commissioner by the British. With the help of the colonial government, Rai...

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Chapter 14- “ Ki ngā pito e whā o te ao nei” (To the four corners of this world): Maori Publishing and Writing for Nineteenth-Century Maori-Language Newspapers

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pp. 287-299

In 1842, early on in the colonizing of New Zealand, the British government launched Te Karere o Nui Tireni (The New Zealand messenger), the first newspaper published in the Maori language. Appearing nearly thirty years after the Maori language had acquired a written form, the paper marked the beginning of a long line of such publications. From the debut of Te Karere o Nui Tireni in 1842 to the early decades of the...

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Part III: Agency, Technology, and the New Global Media Revolution: Introduction

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pp. 301-314

When The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe (PPAC) was published in 1979, the “information superhighway” was still an unpaved road, and the desktop computer in its infancy, Radio Shack’s Tandy, the Commodore PET, and the Apple II having been introduced to the world only a few years before.1 Although the breadth of PPAC’s powers as a reactive...

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Chapter 15- “Little Jobs”: Broadsides and the Printing Revolution

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pp. 315-341

I begin with a counterintuitive proposition: printers do not print books.1 It is the process of gathering, folding, stitching, and sometimes binding that transforms printed sheets into a pamphlet or book. Certainly, some printers may have undertaken or paid for all of the latter processes. But that is not what printing is about. It never was. The first dated text that survives...

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Chapter 16- What Difference Does Colonialism Make?: Reassessing Print and Social Change in an Age of Global Imperialism

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pp. 342-352

The relationship between print and colonialism has become increasingly important in scholarship over the past two decades, not just because of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s bold argument about the revolutionary impact of the printing press on “Western Civilization” and the flowering of the “history of the book” in European history but also as a result of several...

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Chapter 17- The Laser Printer as an Agent of Change: Fixity and Fluxion in the Digital Age

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pp. 353-364

I teach the booksmiths of the coming generation in a laboratory space converted from the hard sciences to the pursuit of publishing. In this brick-walled room of tall windows and durable black countertops, gooseneck faucets, and disengaged gas-jet fittings, there is an apt melding of old and new, art and science, alchemy and craft. Books are made here: they are conceived,...

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Chapter 18- The Cultural Consequences of Printing and the Internet

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pp. 365-377

The primary value of Elizabeth Eisenstein’s work is in understanding the cultural consequences of the printing press in late medieval and early modern Europe. But we also found her work useful for thinking about policy related to the Internet in today’s world. Policy making, at its best, is more art than science, and policy making under conditions of serious uncertainty is doubly difficult. Such is the situation in policy making for the Internet. Not...

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Chapter 19- Seeing the World in Print

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pp. 378-396

“So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book. . . . Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” So Meg Ryan muses wistfully at the opening of the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail (1998). Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, owner of an old- fashioned children’s bookstore on Manhattan’s West Side, whose cozy world is shattered when Fox and Sons, a...

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Chapter 20- The Printing Revolution: A Reappraisal

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pp. 397-408

The magnificent set of contributions gathered in this volume permits us to assess the manifold influences long exercised by Elizabeth Eisenstein’s great work. Furthermore, it leads to new assessments of the real issues behind hastily made critiques and overly abrupt objections in the midst of heated controversies — even the most recent ones.1 The first of these reassessments concerns the notion of print culture and...

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A Conversation with Elizabeth L. Eisenstein

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pp. 409-419

In lieu of a formal afterword, we conclude this volume with a short conversation with Eisenstein, in which we posed to her some questions we have not seen answered elsewhere...

Appendix A: Publications by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein

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pp. 421-425

Appendix B: Reviews of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change

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pp. 426-429

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 431-435


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pp. 437-442

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760659
E-ISBN-10: 1613760655
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558495920
Print-ISBN-10: 1558495924

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Printing -- Social aspects -- History.
  • Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. Printing press as an agent of change.
  • Book industries and trade -- History.
  • Printing -- History.
  • Books -- Social aspects -- History.
  • Books -- History.
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