Agent of Change

Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein

Sabrina Alcorn Baron
Eric N. Lindquist
Eleanor F. Shevlin
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk8sv
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  • Book Info
    Agent of Change
    Book Description:

    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 EarlyModern Europe (1979) has exercised its own force as an agent of change in the world of scholarship. Its pathbreaking 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 nationbuilding 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, Kaiwing Chow, James A. Dewar, Robert A. Gross, David Scott Kastan, Harold Love, Paula McDowell, Jane McRae, JeanDominique Mellot, Antonio Rodr’guezBuckingham, Geoffrey Roper, William H. Sherman, Peter Stallybrass, H. Arthur Williamson, and Calhoun Winton.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-065-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Elizabeth l. eisenstein’sThe 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 fields such as the history of technology but also disciplines such as anthropology, geography, literary studies, women’s studies, and many more whose ties to the printing press are less readily apparent. Perhaps more than any other book, it is responsible for the rise of...

  5. Part I. Agents, Agency, and Print in Early Modern Europe
    • Introduction
      (pp. 13-20)

      In the preface toThe 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 attention in her conclusion to the work’s provisional character, noting that her “conjectures” are “based on uneven knowledge of pertinent data, much of it drawn from unreliable general accounts, and all of it relevant to very few regions. Too...

    • Chapter 1 Errata Lists and the Reader as Corrector
      (pp. 21-41)
      Ann Blair

      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 could be multiplied from one exemplar to many copies (for example inpeciacopying), the errors in printed books were immediately multiplied in many hundreds of copies. Corrections ideally...

    • Chapter 2 Counterfeit Printing as an Agent of Diffusion and Change: The French Book-Privilege System and Its Contradictions (1498–1790)
      (pp. 42-66)
      Jean-Dominique Mellot

      InThe 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, because of contemporary structural constraints, this new dynamic of expansion could not operate at full capacity. Soon it came up against the fundamental problem posed by the ambiguous status of the printed book, which, as...

    • Chapter 3 On the Threshold: Architecture, Paratext, and Early Print Culture
      (pp. 67-81)
      William H. Sherman

      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 Gérard Genette, and the topic is what title pages, prefaces, and other liminal devices can reveal about what we imagine we are doing when we pick up and make our way into a printed book. With two classic studies, both published in 1979 and...

    • Chapter 4 Moving Pictures: Foxe’s Martyrs and Little Gidding
      (pp. 82-104)
      Margaret Aston

      In the history of printing, John Foxe’sActs and Monumentsor “Book of Martyrs” has come to seem more important than ever during the quarter century since the appearance of Elizabeth Eisenstein’sThe Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe(PPAC). As understanding of the relationships between script and print, texts and readers, word and image has increasingly engaged our attention, Foxe’s great work is telling us more and more. Eisenstein was pointing the way toward future fields of study when she wrote about the ability of “ordinary men and women to participate...

    • Chapter 5 Humphrey Moseley and the Invention of English Literature
      (pp. 105-124)
      David Scott Kastan

      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 French and referred generally to the field of humane learning, available to, and in some ways defining, an early modern cultural elite. “In the beginning literature was just books,” as David Bromwich has said,¹ or at least in that beginning. Literature,...

    • Chapter 6 “On the Behalf of the Printers”: A Late Stuart Printer-Author and Her Causes
      (pp. 125-139)
      Paula McDowell

      “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 petitionTo 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 and pamphlets over a period of at least thirty-five years from 1681 to 1716. A self-educated tradeswoman with a press in her own home,...

    • Chapter 7 Fixity versus Flexibility in “A Song on Tom of Danby” and Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel
      (pp. 140-156)
      Harold Love

      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 fixity of the printed text as a retro-projection of nineteenth-century attitudes that we cannot assume to have been shared by earlier authors and readers. Both also reflect a retreat from the dichotomizing assumptions of studies, including some of my own, reliant on Walter J. Ong’s partly anthropological and partly...

  6. Part II. Exchange, Agency, and Adaptation in the Cosmopolitan World of Print
    • Introduction
      (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 played a crucial role in creating a cosmopolitan world, which by the dawn of the Enlightenment exhibited characteristics she viewed as more “ecumenical” and “tolerant,” if not strictly secular (PPAC443). These qualities are distinctly “modern” and progressive, transcending both parochial ways of thinking and territorial frontiers. But as the opening quotation shows, she...

    • Chapter 8 Reinventing Gutenberg: Woodblock and Movable-Type Printing in Europe and China
      (pp. 169-192)
      Kai-wing Chow

      “Gutenberg revisited from the East” is the title of the introduction Roger Chartier wrote for a special issue ofLate Imperial Chinaon 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 cultural historian interested in the study of print culture, Chartier recognizes the importance of images and illustrations in European books. His approach to the history of books transcends the narrow focus on the “printed word” characteristic of the works of conventional book...

    • Chapter 9 Scotland: International Politics, International Press
      (pp. 193-215)
      Arthur Williamson

      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. TheNataliaenvisioned James and Henry succeeding to the English Crown, creating a united Britain, and, now empowered with “Scoto-Britannic champions,” turning the tide in the great struggle against Spain. At the head of the Protestant communities, the new Britain would overthrow the Habsburg global empire...

    • Chapter 10 Change and the Printing Press in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America
      (pp. 216-237)
      Antonio Rodríguez-Buckingham

      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 City in 1535, and some scholars believe he exercised the trade there. AnEscala espiritual para llegar al cieloof Saint John Climax and aCatechismo mexicanodated 1537 have been attributed to him, but neither a copy of these...

    • Chapter 11 The Southern Printer as Agent of Change in the American Revolution
      (pp. 238-249)
      Calhoun Winton

      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. Thelocus classicusof 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 disputes, we had but one press, and that having the whole business of the government, and no competitor for public favor, nothing disagreeable to the governor could be got into it. We procured Rind to come from Maryland...

    • Chapter 12 The Printing Press and Change in the Arab World
      (pp. 250-267)
      Geoffrey Roper

      In 1937 the Arab American historian Philip Hitti published hisHistory 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 about by modernization and westernization, opens with a brief account of the import of a printing press by the French into Egypt in 1798. Subsequent pages give prominence to the establishment of other presses in Cairo, Beirut, and elsewhere. Clearly, for...

    • Chapter 13 Print and the Emergence of Multiple Publics in Nineteenth-Century Punjab
      (pp. 268-286)
      Vivek Bhandari

      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 moved to Punjab and established a printing press in Lahore immediately after the British annexation of Punjab in 1849.¹ Dayal Singh Majithia was the son of Sardar Lehna Singh, a prominent lieutenant of Ranjeet Singh, the ruler of Punjab province until 1849. On his father’s death, Dayal Singh inherited one...

    • 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
      (pp. 287-300)
      Jane McRae

      In 1842, early on in the colonizing of New Zealand, the British government launchedTe 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 ofTe Karere o Nui Tireniin 1842 to the early decades of the twentieth century, more than forty additional newspaper titles were published in the Maori language. Some were published by the government, others by churches or philanthropists, and still...

  7. Part III. Agency, Technology, and the New Global Media Revolution
    • Introduction
      (pp. 301-314)

      WhenThe 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 ofPPAC’s powers as a reactive agent was quickly evident, a recognition of its applicability to the current communications upheaval would need to wait roughly another fifteen years until the computer revolution had permeated nearly all facets of everyday life....

    • Chapter 15 “Little Jobs”: Broadsides and the Printing Revolution
      (pp. 315-341)
      Peter Stallybrass

      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 from Gutenberg’s press is not a book but an indulgence. Most indulgences are printed on only one side of a single piece of paper. They were usually printed as multiple settings of the same text, which the compositor...

    • Chapter 16 What Difference Does Colonialism Make?: Reassessing Print and Social Change in an Age of Global Imperialism
      (pp. 342-352)
      Tony Ballantyne

      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 historiographical shifts in the study of empires and colonialism. “Print culture” has emerged as a significant analytical concern for a small but significant group of historians whose research focuses on the history of communication within and between empires;¹ this concept has also moved to the...

    • Chapter 17 The Laser Printer as an Agent of Change: Fixity and Fluxion in the Digital Age
      (pp. 353-364)
      Barbara A. Brannon

      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, edited, set in type, paginated, reproduced, and bound. But nowhere in the studio is there a drop of ink to be found. There is no smell of solvent. No clink and clatter of metal types. Not even the reassuring...

    • Chapter 18 The Cultural Consequences of Printing and the Internet
      (pp. 365-377)
      James A. Dewar and Peng Hwa Ang

      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 only is Internet use a new and rapidly changing social phenomenon, but the technology underlying the Internet itself is changing at the speed of Moore’s Law,¹...

    • Chapter 19 Seeing the World in Print
      (pp. 378-396)
      Robert A. Gross

      “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 comedyYou’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 Borders-style superstore, opens just a few blocks away. The Shop around the Corner is a neighborhood fixture, where Kelly presides as “the Story Lady,” reading aloud to children, greeting customers by name, and knowing just which book they...

    • Chapter 20 The Printing Revolution: A Reappraisal
      (pp. 397-408)
      Roger Chartier

      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 one of the most fundamental effects that Elizabeth Eisenstein attributes to the “printing revolution”: the distribution of texts on a level unknown in the time of manuscripts. This effect is indisputable. With Gutenberg’s invention, more texts...

  8. A Conversation with Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
    (pp. 409-420)
    Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, Baron, Lindquist and Shevlin

    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.

    Editors: What were the challenges you faced in undertaking such an ambitious project on a topic generally viewed at the time as arcane?

    Eisenstein: The main challenge was how to present my ideas in an acceptable form. After publishing “Clio and Chronos,” I had written a long letter to Robert K. Merton about his book,On the Shoulders of Giants,explaining why I thought the aphorism in his title had...

  9. Appendix A: Publications by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein
    (pp. 421-425)
  10. Appendix B: Reviews of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change
    (pp. 426-430)
  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 431-436)
  12. Index
    (pp. 437-442)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 443-443)