Print: Good and Not So Great

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"The reuse of a given woodcut may have been aimed at pointing the reader to a given topic (such as a town or personage) rather than at conveying a particular profile."

--From page 132 of Elizabeth Eisenstein's essay "Some Features of Print Culture" in Tribble and Trubek's Writing Material


Much of Eisenstein's essay was interesting, but this particular topic in the quote above was most interesting.  Although it makes sense that, at first, there would be few illustrations in a printed book because of the time and expertise it would take to create one, I am surprised that printers would simply insert pictures into the text.  Even though Eisenstein clarifies this idea in the quote above by suggesting they were meant to represent topics, not different places or people, it seems that someone could be easily confused, especially if he or she were not very familiar with books, just as much of the public would have been when printed books were first created.  

At first, I was horrified by this idea, but when I thought about it, we still do this today, except today it is out of laziness rather than scarcity; Clipart and Google images allow for this trend.  We have all used these programs to obtain images for a variety of reasons, I am sure.  However, think of how many people have used these generic images for silly reasons, such as to make a PowerPoint slide more colorful.  Then and new, we are all guilty of using generic pictures to represent topics and ideas, both positively and negatively.  

I was also surprised by another of Eisenstein’s quotes: “There is simply no equivalent in scribal culture for the ‘avalanche’ of ‘how-to’ books which poured off the new presses” (133).  This trend seems to have continued today with a variety of books in this genre.  From diet and self-help how-to books, to those that Eisenstein writes were popular when the printed press was first created, including how to play musical instruments.  In fact, as I am writing this at Barnes and Noble, I am listening to a lady taking about how her book is not a “self-help,” “diet,” or “how-to” book, but instead really teaches you how to turn your life around.  It sounds like a “how-to” book to me.  It seems that with both of these ideas that Eisenstein brings up there comes a probability of the spread of misinformation.  Ironically, while print helped more information to be spread, it also allowed for the greater spread of misinformation, and continues to allow us to do so today.  

See what my classmates have to say about Eisenstein.

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