Handwriting and the book Chapter uri icon


  • Cambridge University Press 2015. As is true for those working in many fields in the humanities, to write a chapter on handwriting and the book would have been much more straightforward twenty or thirty years ago. Handwritten manuscripts then occupied a very specific position in the study of literary texts. If they were created after the establishment of the printing press in Europe in 1450 and the subsequent revolution brought about by cheap print, manuscripts were understood as the first steps towards a printed book, drafts preceding print, of interest in understanding the creative processes and (if existing in multiple versions) supplying the variants to be compiled in preparing the best possible modern print edition. If they never achieved the status of a printed book, however, post-1450 manuscripts, especially those of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, were understood to have been created under adverse circumstances, whether that be official censorship by church or state, lack of access to a press, or lack of preparation by the author (traditionally imagined as a solitary individual) to engage with the world of print or fitness to enter the world of commercial letters. The changing focus of textual studies and bibliography over the last twenty years has confirmed that handwritten texts and printed ones do indeed occupy such roles and relationships and these remain fruitful areas for further study. Nevertheless new scholarship has increasingly drawn our attention to the complexities of the relationships between the handwritten and the printed text and between the writers and readers of both, highlighting how the concept of manuscript as a technology overtaken and made obsolete by print obscures the extent to which print indeed can generate, sustain and organize handwriting. The habits of looking at post-medieval European and Scandinavian manuscripts in particular as somehow longing to be in print, and of looking at print as being a marker of commercial success and thus readership, obscure and oversimplify the complexities of not only the post-1450 physical objects themselves, but also the varied ambitions of a books creators and readers and of the subsequent preservers of textual objects.

author list (cited authors)

  • Ezell, M.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Ezell, Margaret JM

editor list (cited editors)

  • Howsam, L.

Book Title

  • The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book

publication date

  • January 2014