Design History

Literature and books

The history of books begins with the invention of writing and printing. The history of printing dates back to ancient Persia and Mesopotamia when cylinder seals were used to certify clay documents which is linked to cuneiform writing on clay tablets.

The invention of wood block printing in China c.200CE and later moveable type in 11th century spread book production in East Asia. This type of printing was generally limited to Asia with occasional reports brought back to Europe by missionaries and traders which seem to have influenced development of printing technology in Europe.

Paper was invented in China c.1st century AD with the use of bamboo, bone, silk, wood and shells before this. The oldest extant printed book is the Diamond Sutra dating to 868AD and the Tang Dynasty. Bi Sheng invented the process of moveable type printing (1041-1048AD), so text could be copied by using formed character types – the earliest were made from clay or ceramic. This is the method improved on by Johannes Gutenberg in 15th century.

In Ancient Egypt papyrus was used for writing possibly as early as the First Dynasty – but first evidence is from the Fifth Dynasty (c.2400BC) and the account books of King Neferirkare Kakai. The stem of a redd (calamus) was sharpened to a point and used for writing. So the earliest history of books predates what would conventionally be called books today it began with tablets, scrolls and sheets of papyrus described above.

In Mesoamerica information was recorded on long strips of paper, agave fibres or animal hides then folded and protected by wooden covers. These were thought to have been in existence between 3rd century and 8th century CE (Classical Period).

Romans used wooden wax-coated tales or pugillares they could write on/erase using a stylus.

Papyrus was replaced by parchment with production beginning c.3rd century BC. Legend suggest invented by King of Pergamon – Eumenes II – comes from name ‘pergamineum’ became parchment.

From a political and religious viewpoint books were censored early on cultural conflict led to mass destruction of books e.g. 303 Emperor Diocletian had Christian texts burnt. Censorship unfortunately continues today. Other form is books reserved for the elite – book was not a medium for expressing liberty.

The spread of books and attention of cataloguing and conservation as well as literary criticism developed during Hellenstic Period with the creation of large libraries responsing to the desire for knowledge exemplified by Aristotle. (The library of Alexandria).

Paper as a writing medium only become widespread during the 3rd century traditionally traced back to the Chinese during the Han Dynasty when official Cai Lun created a sheet of paper using mulberry and other bast fibres along with hemp waste, old rags and fishnets. An important development was the mechanisation of paper manufacturing by medieval papermakers.

The printing press brings the book into the Industrial Age. The cost of each individual book was lowered drastically meaning the distribution increased but the majority of books at this point were still in Latin.

The book in codex form and printed on paper as today date from the 15th century.

During the Enlightenment in the 18th century more and more books were printed resulting in an early form of information overload.

Steam printing press invented c.1820 and new paper mills caused book prices to drop. Increased readership among the general population not just the elite/wealthy. Several bibliographic features like the positioning and formulation of titles and subtitles were affected by this new production method.

The first typewriters were made in the 19th century and became common in offices from 1880s until the computer became commonpalce in the late 20th century. Desktop publishing is common and has been since 1990s and the invention of the internet and digital media further reduced futher production and distribution costs.

There were feats that these technological advances would lead to the death of traditional printed books. This had proven unfounded and books have proven resilient with sales in recent years taking an upturn,

Electronic or eBooks had limited success at the start, but in recent years populariy has exploded with many physical and digital e-readers. Since the Amazon Kindle was released in 2007 the format has increased due to the ease of accessibility and cost.

Audiobooks or spoken books as they were first called were created in 1930s to provide blind and visually impaired people access. In 1935 Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) was first to deliver talking books to blind on vinyl records.(British based?) They changed medium in 1960s from vinyl to cassette tapes, and in 1980s to CDs. Audiobooks became industry standard term in 1995. The internet enabled greater accessibility and portability. Audible website is a prime example of this with thousands of books and podcasts available on the site.