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Elizabeth Eisenstein - From scribal scarcity to the disruptive text
Washington D.C., April 2007 
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In this first clip, Eisenstein describes the conditions of scarcity that characterized the book as artifact in the age of the scribe. Thereafter she describes the printed word's role in the reformation, and how this served to transform the Catholic church's view of print - towards which it had initially been positive - and sparked attempts to control its influence.

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00:00:05 Chaucer said his clerk needed twenty books to fill his shelf
00:00:13 It took ten scribes ... to feed one clerk
00:00:23 it's sort of a little like the agricultural revolution
00:00:26 it take ten farmers to feed one city folk
00:00:31 after the agricultural revolution
00:00:34 it's one farmer feeds twenty city folk.
00:00:37 and it was the same sort of thing as far as
00:00:40 scribes providing book provisions
00:00:43 for friars and for lay men, lay professionals,
00:00:48 In other words, it's an economy of scarcity
00:00:51 that you're dealing with
00:00:53 and people are starved, in a sense, for more books
00:00:56 On the other hand it means they read very intensively
00:01:01 what works they have
00:01:04 I came across a comment... let's see, it was in Oxford,
00:01:11 where all the books on medicine...
00:01:14 and on theology... had gone.
00:01:20 The friars had taken them for their houses of studies,
00:01:23 and so the professor there, the don, didn't have any books to rely on.
00:01:31 There's nothing new about saying that printing was important in the reformation
00:01:35 what's interesting to me is though, the way
00:01:39 printing becomes an emancipatory force for the first time.
00:01:45 I don't think the church thought of it as an emancipating force
00:01:51 until the split came with Luther, the Lutheran revolt,
00:01:56 and the lutherans saw it as a way of emancipating
00:02:02 the population from the hold of Rome
00:02:06 emancipating the Germans from the domination of the Italian pope.
00:02:12 and this theme was then taken over by Protestants in other countries
00:02:17 and in England of course it was very much that printing was...
00:02:22 a way of emancipating the English after Henry 8th and under Edward etc
00:02:31 So for the first time, I think, from the Reformation on...
00:02:36 printing becomes associated with rebellion...
00:02:40 and emancipation.
00:02:44 Then the church begins to change its position
00:02:47 and becomes much more ambivalent about this wonderful thing
00:02:51 and the Council of Trent creates the index of prohibited books
00:02:57 and different institutions to control
00:03:04 a technology they had previously welcomed.
00:03:07 So that the split is what creates
00:03:11 a different attitude in many different regions towards printing.
00:03:19 There's the governor of Virginia, Governor Berkeley,
00:03:23 who wrote to his overseers in england in the 17th century saying:
00:03:27 "Thank god we have no printing in Virginia,
00:03:29 and we shall never have it as long as I'm governor!"
00:03:33 But of course they were using printed books in Virginia
00:03:36 because they came from maryland, they came from all over,
00:03:39 he just didn't want the printing press there because he thought it was a source of heresy
00:03:43 and this was a reaction to the english civil war and the pamphlet wars,
00:03:48 they were called "paper bullets" in that period.
00:03:51 The pamphleteer is an interesting figure, there's no question.
00:03:57 The pamphlet wars are something that -
00:04:00 I mean you get certain manifestos in the age of the scribe,
00:04:03 there's no doubt about that...
00:04:05 and political documents and so forth
00:04:09 and you have wars, civil wars,
00:04:13 you have the empire versus the church in Germany
00:04:21 But you don't t have the kind of continuous
00:04:27 arguments going on between one faction and another
00:04:32 that you have with these pamphlet wars
00:04:34 where the fallout does lead to people,
00:04:41 which I say,
00:04:43 converting to different causes.
00:04:51 The big cost is the reams of paper
00:04:54 which you have to have in advance
00:04:57 that's the big outlay.
00:05:01 But the press itself is a small wooden press
00:05:05 you know, people used to put them on rafts
00:05:07 and float down to another town if they were in trouble with the authorities.
00:05:11 It was very moveable.
00:05:14 A piece of moveable property, and the printing shop,
00:05:17 depending on whether you have ten presses or one press...
00:05:24 There were printers that were almost holes in the wall...
00:05:28 if they were printing subversive material,
00:05:33 they could sort of hide their presses very quickly
00:05:40 it's a technology that involves large spaces and a lot of outlay,
00:05:47 or a very small operation.
00:05:50 Sort of a one-man thing.
00:05:55 These things were operating in basements or attics or garrets,
00:05:59 however you'd like to call them.
00:06:05 The case of the Copernican theory is a good one,
00:06:13 because the printers were the ones who were hunted down
00:06:16 if they printed the forbidden text.
00:06:22 So, we think of persecuting the authors, but it was really the printers.
00:06:29 And it did sort of quiet,
00:06:31 It succeeded to a certain extent, it seems to me.
00:06:35 in dampening initiative in Catholic countries.
00:06:39 In no European country that I can think of was there such thing as a free press.
00:06:45 But after the war of Dutch independence,
00:06:52 there were so many - Holland did not have a state church -
00:06:56 and there were so many different little provinces and communities
00:07:03 that you could actually take your press
00:07:05 if you were in trouble in one community
00:07:08 down to your cousin in another town and set up printing there.
00:07:12 And they, I mean that's the way it...
00:07:14 So they didn't have a free press as far as institutional controls went
00:07:19 but they had a free de facto press, because
00:07:24 institutional controls were not centralized.
00:07:27 and that's a sort of miniature of Europe as a whole.
00:07:32 Protestant Europe,
00:07:34 whereas in Catholic Europe things were pretty well centralized.
00:07:38 The key example is the index of prohibited books of course,
00:07:42 The church making an effort to see that throughout Europe
00:07:48 Catholics would not print... or sell... or purchase
00:07:59 anything on this list,
00:08:03 which while rich patrons could manage to avoid through black markets and things
00:08:14 ordinary people couldn't and printers were prosecuted.
00:08:17 And in fact I have a case of one dutch printer
00:08:21 who looked at the index of prohibited books and used it for his publication program,
00:08:26 because he knew these were titles that would sell well.
00:08:30 It's a ricochet but it would only work as a ricochet if Europe was divided.