[Humanist] 31.189 the codex pushed to its limits?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jul 20 07:11:20 CEST 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 189.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 13:27:43 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the book pushed to its limits

For those who follow Jerome McGann's argument about the codex 
pushed to its limits by the Kane and Donaldson edition of Piers Plowman, 
the following will be of interest, from Mary A. Rouse and Richard H. Rouse, 
"The Development of Research Tools in the Thirteenth Century", 
in Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts 
(Notre Dame 1991):

> The entirety of these thirteenth-century scholarly tools comprises
> the foundation of all later attempts to provide access to the written
> heritage. Historians of printing and psychologists of communication
> generally attribute the appearance of indexes and the introduction
> of alphabetical arrangement to the invention of the printing press.
> The press, by producing 500 or more uniform copies of a single text,
> enabled one to join a uniform apparatus to the text. Thus, Walter Ong
> said in 1977, "Once a fixed order is established in print, it can be
> multiplied with little effort almost without limit. This makes it
> more worthwhile to do the arduous work of elaborating serviceable
> arrangements and -- what is all-important -- of devising complex,
> visually serviceable indexes. A hundred dictated handwritten copies
> of a work would normally require a hundred indexes, . . . whereas
> five thousand or more printed copies of an edition of a given work
> would all be served by one and the same index." The logic of this
> argument is sound; literate society certainly complicated things by
> inventing the subject index over two hundred years before inventing
> the press. The fact remains that indexes and other finding tools were
> invented because there was need for them -- not because it was easy,
> or practical, to make them at a certain time. In devising these
> tools, medieval man pushed the manuscript book to the very limits of
> precision; and in the final analysis the uniformity and much greater
> precision of the printed book were essential before the reference
> tool could advance further. It is certainly true, as well, that many
> works were alphabetically indexed for the first time upon first
> printing: Both the methods and the motives, however, were inherited
> from the Middle Ages. The chapter summaries and subject indexes to
> the works of Saint Augustine in the early modern Maurist edition
> (reprinted in Migne's Patrologia) are those devised in the thirteenth
> century by Robert Kilwardby, because the Benedictines of Saint Maur
> considered them the best available.
(pp. 254-5).



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney
University and North Carolina State University; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20)

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