Knowledge Organisation

01.12.1986

Kim H. Veltman

Review:

Michael Giesecke, Der Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit. Frankfurt:

Suhrkamp, 1986.

Written for McLuhan Studies, Toronto, Vol. 2, (1992) but never published. This book offers a magisterial review of the early history of printing in Germany, particularly vernacular texts, from the time of Gutenberg's initial experiments (c. 1440) until 1600. It is a fundamental contribution because it analyses in detail how printing changed western culture both in terms of social organization and through a transformation of concepts of knowledge.

Giesecke's point of departure is that societies depend on information systems and that these can be changed with the media for communication. He acknowledges McLuhan's ideas in this respect, but where McLuhan was intuitive and suggestive, Giesecke has spent nine years carefully reading both primary sources and secondary literature. Where McLuhan was anecdotal, Giesecke has produced a theoretical model to explain how and why Gutenberg's activities constituted a basic change. Section two demonstrates that the printed book required a complex network of both technological tools (paper, type, printing press) and social organization (typesetters, proofreaders and of course authors). He shows that this process was much more complex than one might have thought. The early printers included many traditional ligatures. For example, to print the 42 line Bible, Gutenberg included 299 forms rather than a simple alphabet of 52 forms (26 capital and 26 miniscule letters). Hence printed books were part of a complex information system and could be catalysts to changes in systems.


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