Printing, or the capacity to reproduce text and image mechanically, has rightly been hailed as a technology with far-reaching impact. But the technology takes more than one form and originated in more than one historical context.

In this third module of The Book: Histories Across Space and Time, you will learn how early printed books in mid-fifteenth century Europe were first modeled on medieval manuscripts, but soon developed new conventions that remain familiar to us today. This module also explores printing in East Asia, by wood block and movable type, and the late dominance of manuscript production in the Islamic world. 

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In the first units of this module we compare and contrast manuscripts and printed books produced mainly in Europe from 1470-1700, looking at continuities and differences in layout, format, and the methods, materials, and economics of production. We also discuss examples of illustrated books and of handwritten annotations in books, including marginal annotations by readers and the marks of censors.

Two shorter units in this module focus on printing in East Asia, especially China, to highlight the features of woodblock printing which was common there, and on the Middle East, especially the Ottoman context, where a vibrant manuscript culture remained dominant until 1800. Taken together, this module gives an overview of three different contexts and technologies of book production before 1800.

Each unit features rare manuscripts and printed books in the Harvard Libraries, which viewers can investigate in more depth within the courseware and on their own.

HarvardX pursues the science of learning. By registering as an online learner in an HX course, you will also participate in research about learning. Read our research statement to learn more.

Meet The Faculty

Ann M. Blair

Ann M. Blair

Henry Charles Lea Professor of History

Ann Blair is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Harvard, where she focuses on the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe, with special interests in book history, the historical relations between science and religion, and French history. She is most recently the author of Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (Yale University Press, 2010), and her current research examines methods of working (reading, writing, and note-taking) among scholars and authors from 1500 to 1650.

At Radcliffe, Blair is studying the role of helpers in the intellectual work of humanist scholars and early modern authors. Despite representations and self-representations to the contrary, scholars and authors regularly relied on others, including servants, family members, and students, to perform tasks which were considered more or less mechanical—from taking dictation and making clean copies to indexing, taking notes, or drafting texts. She seeks to elucidate the social and intellectual dynamics of these hierarchical yet close working relationships and the complex practices of assigning thanks, blame, and authorial credit in manuscript and in print.

Blair earned her bachelor’s at Harvard University, her master’s at the University of Cambridge, and her doctorate at Princeton University. She has received grants from the Bunting Institute, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation. In March 2014, she delivered the A.S.W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography at the University of Pennsylvania.

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