Inside Books: Lisa Gitelman Looks at the Evolution of Printed Matter

In Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents, Lisa Gitelman, chair of the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, offers a history of the written document.  Drawing on examples from 150 years of publishing, Gitelman shows how technology has transformed our experience of the written word.

From memo to menu; library card to green card, Gitelman explores a vast array of printed matter and examines how documents are created – and recreated. (“One of the things people do with documents is copy them,” Gitelman writes.) Reproducing documents through letterpress printing, photocopying, and beyond have changed our understanding of the document.

In the first half of the book, Gitelman reflects on the history of the document and the waning of old technologies.  In the second half, she looks at the portable document format (PDF) and the emergence of new forms of documents.  She notes that the PDF and the PC’s ubiquitous “My Documents” folder illustrate how the concept of document continues to evolve.