Böcker om papper

Jag läste en recension av tre böcker om papper.1 Mest lovande verkar Lisa Gitelman, Paper knowledge: toward a media history of documents vara. Gitelman är mediahistoriker och Paper knowledge tycks röra sig bland högt och lågt i papprets historia:

Her first chapter studies the overlooked world of nineteenth-century job printing, the production of items such as blank books, trade cards, letter-headed papers, posters and invitations, which were usually printed on small iron hand-presses for a local market. This was a world in which you could get yourself a job as a “ruler of blank books”. So much for mass production.

The next stop on Gitelman’s tour is the America of the 1930s, when scholars were worrying about how research materials were to be preserved, catalogued and made available, and about how best to circulate the fruits of their research given that academic monographs did not sell. (Plus ça change.) They responded by experimenting with numerous reproductive technologies, including carbon papers, mimeographs, hectographs, photo offsets and microfilms.


Gitelman moves on to reconstruct the culture of the humble photocopy, which is still (just about) with us, focusing on the leaking of the Pentagon papers in 1971 and the circulation of the “Commentary on the Sixth Edition Unix Operating System” (“the most photocopied document in computer science”). Her last chapter brings us to the present day, and to the PDF or “portable document format” which has become a ubiquitous element of our online experience. The PDF represents an attempt to stabilize the digital landscape, creating a visual presentation that will not vary across platforms, and so can be trusted to behave with some of the regularity and reliability of words on paper.

  1. Jason Scott-Warren, ”Up and away”, TLS 17 april 2015, s 22f. []
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