04 December 2008

bookshelves as information technologies

If you haven't already, check out the great post at Mercurius Politicus on the role of bookshelves as a kind of early modern information technology. I particularly love this example because it encourages thinking beyond the actual medium of transmission (book, page, map, whatever) or the systems for organizing that medium (alphabet, index) and into the environment of its reception.
We shouldn’t underestimate the functionalist aspect of shelves. As private book collections grew, they needed to be stored somewhere. But for Montaigne, Cotton and Pepys, bookshelves also provided different experiences of reading. They allowed Montaigne to wander through his collection, whereas for Cotton they helped to close it off to others. Pepys, meanwhile, derived both pleasure and status from his bookcases.

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