Codex GigasThe codex was possibly as much of an advancement of the written word in its time, as the printing press was later during the Middle ages. What is a codex? The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition), definition is as follows: “A codex (from the Latin caudex for “trunk of a tree” or block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, or similar materials, with hand-written content.”

Today I am posting two videos by Princeton’s Anthony Grafton. In one He describes the phenomena at the root of books and book making–the transition from scrolls to codices. In the other video he discusses the development of book printing.

I hope these videos will help you see the “old” or what is past, with new eyes and help you learn somethings you didn’t already know about the technology behind books.

First, before watching the videos, did you know that the codex was the first form of what we now call a book? Before the codex, scrolls and wax tablets were the media used for recording or keeping written information–before that, stone tablets. Scrolls, not to mention stone tablets, were bulky, heavy, and could not hold nearly as much information as a codex could. Wax tablets were not for keeping information long-term.

 The invention and use of the codex revolutionized the ability to share, transfer, and store knowledge and information.  Besides the invention and use of paper and the invention of the printing press, the codex was probably the most important technological advancement in the development of written media.
In codex form, both sides of the paper, parchment, papyrus, vellum, etc.., could be used for writing. Written material could be much more easily referenced and found. Professor Grafton notes other advantages in the video below as well.

“Published on Sep 5, 2013. Great moments in media history! Princeton University’s Anthony Grafton on the shift from the scroll to the modern codex back in the 2nd to 4th century – in INT’s ENLIGHTENMENT MINUTES. The origins of modern communication (before YouTube!)!” (found on YouTube).
The printing press changed the world in a major way. We cannot know the full extent of the impact of this invention. Anthony Graft shares some interesting facts about some of the initial challenges publishing entailed. He also challenges the advances that have been made in regard to the web, asserting that in no way do they reflect the full potential of that media.

 “Published on Sep 8, 2013. A history timeline for major changes in media – Anthony Grafton in INT’s ENLIGHTENMENT MINUTES. Princeton University professor Tony Grafton explores the history of major changes in media and communication – and parallels in history to our own video age” (found on YouTube).

What will be the next invention or use that will bring the written word forward in ways equal in its time to the codex and the printing press? Is the web such an invention? Do you agree with Professor Grafton that “We are very far from having leaped to a point where design on the world wide web…really exploits the possibilities of the new medium and shows us more of the things that it can do”? (taken from the first video above).

I agree with Professor Grafton. Beside and beyond that, I believe the possibilities are endless.


2 thoughts on “Technology!

  1. It’s an interesting thought that the advance of technology through the codex and into print really hasn’t shifted much when converted into electronic form. Though crafted and produced through a different medium, writing still takes the same form and we consume it in the same way as we have for several centuries through printed text. Grafton has some really thoughtful insight on the matter of traditional publishing and the effectivity (in some cases lack of effectivity) of print and its growth into the form of publishing that we have today.

    Is it arrogant to think that we’ve hit the ceiling in the technology of writing until we figure out how to, I don’t know, telepathically transmit knowledge?
    Perhaps we’ve reached the top of the ladder as far as this form of technology goes. I don’t think telepathy will come in our lifetime, if ever.
    As evidenced by the scientific advances of the last few decades compared to the advances made in the last several centuries, technology has come to a stuttering halt in forward momentum. It seems to me that this is because people are consistently looking towards an inward and self motivated use of knowledge and failing to see the outward potential of the same knowledge and tools in order to better the lives of others. This pertains to more than just writing and publishing though. Insert any given form of technology and the same issues apply. I think that Grafton touched on this subject even if he did so inadvertently.

    Thought provoking and informative post! This guy knows his stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it is great how much research you did on this post! I had no idea what a codex was until reading this. I think that is interesting and a part of me thinks it would be cool if we still used root books. I appreciate the approach you took to this post and how you went to the very beginning of how books were published. It will definitely be interesting to see how advance books get with the influence of technology.


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