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Writing and Reading as Technology (10): Elizabeth Eisenstein on the Printing Press and the End of the Information Famine

Here’s the great Elizabeth Eisenstein on the impact of the printing press on a lost world of information underload, and an interesting lens for viewing the printing revolution:

Chaucer said his clerk needed twenty books to full his shelf. It took ten scribes to feed one clerk. It’s sort of a little like the agricultural revolution. It takes ten farmers to feed one city folk. Then after then agricultural revolution it’s one farmer feeds twenty city folk.

And it was the same sort of thing as far as scribes providing book provisions for friars and for laymen, lay professionals. In other words, it’s an economy of scarcity that you’re dealing with… and people are starved, in a sense, for more books.

On the other hand it means they read very intensively what works they have. I came across a comment from… Oxford, where all the books on medicine and on Theology had gone. The friars had taken them for their houses of studies, and so the professor there, the Don, didn’t have any books to rely on.

Elizabeth Eisenstein – From Scribal Scarcity to the Disruptive Text – extract from a longer interview

The whole video is eight minutes long.

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