WHY am I reading?

Note: This page is still being worked on! Bear with me.

Do some of my answers seem off to you? Let me know! I’m constantly redefining my own notions of codicology and book history, and I’m open to criticism and debate (so long as it’s civil).

First, the basics: What is codicology?

Dictionary.com defines codicology as “the study of manuscripts.” I guess this is one of those times when you just can’t depend on Dictionary.com.

Wikipedia has done a little bit better by defining codicology as “the study of books as physical objects, especially manuscripts written on parchment (or paper) in codex form.” That means that study of any and/or all of the materials and techniques that go into producing codices (books as we know them today) falls under codicology. Some people also include palaeography, which is the study of old writing, in codicology, but some people don’t. I do. Deal with it.

And what’s the difference between codicology and book history?

There’s a lot of overlap. Codicology is the study of books as physical objects – codicologists study book production as more isolated objects than do book historians. By this, I mean that codicologists tend to deal solely with those involved in book production: parchment-makers; scribes; binders; jewellers and metalworkers (for those extra special bindings!); etc. Book historians tend to look at the books as they influence and are influenced by different societies. Book history includes the study of how, when, and why books are read, and that kind of thing.

The final main difference is that codicologists don’t analyze texts like, say, an English professor would. Sure, palaeographers transcribe and edit old texts, but they’re not there to make judgements about texts’ underlying meanings or anything. On the other hand, book historians might analyze texts in light of the social contexts in which they were written or read. Even in their case, though, textual analysis isn’t usually considered a huge part of the job.

So why do I call my blog a BOOK HISTORY blog and not a CODICOLOGY blog? Because, in short, book history seems to be the more all-encompassing term, and I’m interested in pretty much everything book-related.

So why should I care about book history?

Book history is not just all about books. By that, I mean that book history studies everything related to books, in addition to the books themselves. Writers, readers, parchment-makers, library-builders, binders, metalworkers, lumberjacks (although I’m pretty sure the “lumberjacks” area of book history has yet to be comprehensively explored), whatever. In order to thrive in book history, one has to have a basic understanding of social circumstances, political and economic influences, and legal issues of the contexts one is studying. Books really just serve as one potential lens through which to view history.

Studying books can also tell us a lot of about methods of knowledge transfer, which is particularly relevant to the current shift towards the digital. For hundreds of years, books have served as the primary medium for knowledge transfer. Considering books as information containers can reveal a lot about the way we produce, acquire, and process information, and can help us make sense of our current situation.

But, in the end, it all comes back to books. And some people – like me – just love books.

I suppose if you’re not one of those people, then this blog might not be for you.

But read it anyway.

Because I work hard on it.


2 Comments on “WHY am I reading?”

  1. Mira says:

    I love books as physical objects, too, and my heart gladdens every time I see books in an art museum :)


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