Monday, March 01, 2010

Electronic Scribes

My medievalist sidekick recently received a gift of a book from a person to whom he had given some assistance in the past regarding some historic family papers. She had been working on a book about her family history, and now it was complete. What was interesting was the publisher which provides a range of services for self publishing. Without running an advert for this firm, and there may be others out there performing very similar services, it seemed they were offering enormous flexibility for authors, from those who want to run off a few copies for their family or local Girl Guide group or whatever to those heading for global domination. And there were options for those who could do various parts of the job for themselves, and those who needed formatting and layout work, graphic, distribution or whatever.
It seems we may have finally got to a point where the medieval scribe can meet modern technology. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century meant that books could be duplicated rapidly and accurately, providing many more people with access to them. The more recent publishing models of the large publishing houses have meant that many authors have been excluded from the world of publishing because their market was small or highly dispersed, and the cost of storage of large piles of paper books meant that even the most worthy of books were rapidly remaindered. Mainstream publishing firms have been dinosaurical in their resistance to adoption of modern technology, and even their approach to so-called print on demand has been more in the nature of suppressing competition rather than attempting to supply a new market.
Here's hoping that there are some more publishers out there who are prepared to unite the author and scribe and their quill with the wonderful new world of electronic distribution and storage. The technologies of printing and distribution then no longer have to act as a damper on creativity, driven by industrial processes that only work on a large marketing scale. Now all we have to do is convince the dragons of academialand that it is perfectly possible to combine this technology with peer review and suchlike quality control measures, and people might even buy books on paleography again, or any other subject with a specialised readership and dispersed distribution.
Meanwhile, toiling away on Medieval Writing, the latest addition to the site is a nice and very historic little sample of Caroline minuscule, not hard to read, but very important to the history of reading and writing as an art.


Anonymous said...

Is that the Vulgate section? It is nice, but an odd right-slanted ductus, isn't it? Even in the display script, a little bit. Makes me wonder what the scribe was resting on.

Dianne said...

Now that's the kind of thing we can never know!