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edX: The Book: Print and Manuscript in Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East (1450-1650)

 with  Lianbin Dai and Ann M. Blair

Printing, or the capacity to reproduce text and image mechanically, has rightly been hailed as a technology with far-reaching impact. But the technology takes more than one form and originated in more than one historical context.

In this module of The Book: Histories Across Space and Time, you will learn how early printed books in mid-fifteenth century Europe were first modeled on medieval manuscripts, but soon developed new conventions that remain familiar to us today. This module also explores printing in East Asia, by wood block and movable type, and the late dominance of manuscript production in the Islamic world. 

In the first units of this module we compare and contrast manuscripts and printed books produced mainly in Europe from 1470-1700, looking at continuities and differences in layout, format, and the methods, materials, and economics of production. We also discuss examples of illustrated books and of handwritten annotations in books, including marginal annotations by readers and the marks of censors.

Two shorter units in this module focus on printing in East Asia, especially China, to highlight the features of woodblock printing which was common there, and on the Middle East, especially the Ottoman context, where a vibrant manuscript culture remained dominant until 1800. Taken together, this module gives an overview of three different contexts and technologies of book production before 1800.

Each unit features rare manuscripts and printed books in the Harvard Libraries, which viewers can investigate in more depth within the courseware and on their own.


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Harvard University and HarvardX are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which no member of the community is excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in our program. All members of the HarvardX community are expected to abide by Harvard policies on nondiscrimination, including sexual harassment, and the edX Terms of Service. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact harvardx@harvard.edu and/or report your experience through the edX contact form.

1 Student
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Cost Free Online Course
Pace Self Paced
Subject Anthropology
Institution Harvard University
Provider edX
Language English
Calendar 3 weeks long

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Patrick Huang completed this course.
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