Paper Knowledge

Toward a Media History of Documents

Paper Knowledge

Sign, Storage, Transmission

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Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 11 photographs Published: March 2014

Author: Lisa Gitelman

Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Media Technologies, Science and Technology Studies > History of Technology

Paper Knowledge is a remarkable book about the mundane: the library card, the promissory note, the movie ticket, the PDF (Portable Document Format). It is a media history of the document. Drawing examples from the 1870s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and today, Lisa Gitelman thinks across the media that the document form has come to inhabit over the last 150 years, including letterpress printing, typing and carbon paper, mimeograph, microfilm, offset printing, photocopying, and scanning. Whether examining late nineteenth century commercial, or "job" printing, or the Xerox machine and the role of reproduction in our understanding of the document, Gitelman reveals a keen eye for vernacular uses of technology. She tells nuanced, anecdote-filled stories of the waning of old technologies and the emergence of new. Along the way, she discusses documentary matters such as the relation between twentieth-century technological innovation and the management of paper, and the interdependence of computer programming and documentation. Paper Knowledge is destined to set a new agenda for media studies.


“Four intriguing essays make up this tantalising and ambitious short book. . . . The strength of this bold volume is in its argument that we can learn a great deal if we focus, not only on what information they contain but what institutional and social function they serve; not what they’re about but what they do.” — Colin Higgins, Times Higher Education

“Gitelman practices a kind of conceptual archeology without obeisance to the master, in an argument that stands well on its own. . . . By the time you reach the book's final chapter, on the rise of PDF, the relationship between the history of ground-level print culture and that of its Ivory Tower analog seem linked in so many suggestive ways that the advent of digital culture seems like just one part of an intricate pattern.” — Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"In all cases, Gitelman offers a meticulous reconstruction of the historical context of the media changes she foregrounds and in many regards this book is a real Wunderkammer. At the same time, however, the author always scrutinizes the past in order to show what it can mean for us today, and here the political dimension of the book comes to the fore. For Paper Knowledge is also a passionate discussion of what knowing and showing are about, namely the possibility to producing, sharing, debating knowledge in a society to opens this knowledge to all of its members and whose structure, thanks to technology, is no longer determined by those who know and show and those who don't." — Jan Baetens, Leonardo Reviews

"A well-rounded exploration of publishing technology and how it transforms every aspect of our lives, from the way we are governed to the way we read books and news." — Alexander von Lünen, Somatosphere

“The proliferation of marriage certificates and death warrants holds few terrors for Lisa Gitelman, who finds richness rather than ennui in them. Her ingenious essay in media archaeology, Paper Knowledge, takes as its central category the document. The document is a material genre; the words matter, but so too does their physical instantiation, which is often accompanied by a baroque flummery of water-marks, seals and signatures. And the document is remarkable as a product of print that does not ask to be read. Instead, documents are used to hold us in place within a web of bureaucratic institutions.” — Jason Scott-Warren, TLS

“Every chapter in Paper Knowledge stands on its own as a complete history. Each chapter provides the reader with a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between printed document and the global economy. … Paper Knowledge turns the focus of Media Studies from the Big Cultural Object and applies the same rigor to printed objects that were never designed to be noticed in the first place. And these forgotten objects carry with them the history of how we really understand the richness of media in our lives.” — John Rodzvilla, Publishing Research Quarterly

“Gitelman’s richly detailed excavation of institutional artifacts that shape material and semiotic processes (such as the ‘job printed’blank form and the PDF file) encourages rhetorical critics to stop flattening media into texts and start fleshing out documents as media with specific histories and utilities, transient technologies that leave a substantial wake in their passage through social worlds.” — Joan Faber McAlister, Quarterly Journal of Speech

“The history of documents carries great significance, perhaps more than any of us could have realized, and Gitelman’s comprehensive scholarship in this book establishes a new agenda, one that celebrates the past and charts the course of the document. This book provides educational support for researchers in information science, media history, and the digital humanities.” — Melony Shemberger, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator

“For young scholars navigating the worlds of online and print publishing, and all the meanings and values placed on those outputs, Gitelman’s reflections prove immensely insightful at a defining moment when paper no longer rules.” — Mél Hogan, Archives and Manuscripts

“[P]rovides an engaging alternative to the normal information science of marginally incremental, quantitative reports. … Gitelman's offering could be interpreted as one more sign that a rather fundamental paradigm change is emerging in Information Science through a broader acceptance of the material and social aspects of becoming informed. ...Maybe, just maybe, we are recovering from a narrow obsession with information-so twentieth century!-towards a broader engagement with documents, media, society, and becoming informed.” — Michael K. Buckland, Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology

“Gitelman offers keen insights into the constitutive nature of documents in modern social life. Merging wittiness, casualness, and rigor, she crafts a nuanced picture of the document and some ofits key genres. … A must-read for media studies and digital media; useful for those interested in communication, cultural studies, and sociology. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." — W. Alvarez, Choice

"Gitelman not only makes a compelling case for how and why media scholars should take up the challenge of studying and historicising mundane cultural artefacts, but she also calls for a more nuanced understanding of the history of textual reproduction with implications for how we make sense of the digital present... Gitelman's provocative study lays the groundwork for future research and urges scholars to think through the implications of textual reproduction and of a world that continues to be structured by documents that know and show." — Dimitrios Pavlounis, Media, Culture & Society

"If Paper Knowledge offers one crucial insight to the conversation about print and technology it is that 'print culture' as a category is highly problematic because it presupposes certain kinds of print and leaves too much out." — Nicole Howard, Technology and Culture

"Paper Knowledge offers a well-told and brief but broad base of knowledge, with which readers might better understand their document-driven world, and perhaps go on from there to explore Gitelman’s ‘paths not taken’ and things left undone." — Jaidree Braddix, Publishing Research Quarterly

"[A] fascinating work of cultural history of a brevity which belies the wealth of information it contains. It is also impeccably written, a pageturner about page-turning whose wit enhances the keen, detailed arguments it advances." — Matthew Levay, Year's Work in English Studies

"Lisa Gitelman provides a provocative set of microhistories that expand our conceptualization (and confusion) of the history of physical and electronic documents....The intended reader is not just the historian but everyone thinking about the future of the humanities." — Jonathan Coopersmith, American Historical Review

"Lisa Gitelman's virtuosic excavation of media from the recent past replaces lofty generalizations about 'print culture' with a fine-grained sense of different technological and intellectual moments. Her historical narrative has something to teach not just about the past but also about the future, because her reconstructions of 'job' printing, microfilm, photocopying, and the PDF add up to a prehistory of what we now call the digital humanities, one that challenges not just received wisdom about the past but the media theory that underpins scholars' present-day practices." — Leah Price, author of How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain

"In this thoroughly media archaeological book, Lisa Gitelman folds media history and discovers its edges by diving deep into the flatland of documents, reading technologies of duplication and dissemination from nineteenth-century 'job' printing to today's PDF. With implications for archival and information science, comparative media, digital humanities, and the history (and future) of texts, Paper Knowledge will be read, referenced, and reproduced—which is exactly what we want our documents to do." — Matthew Kirschenbaum, author of Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lisa Gitelman is Professor of English and of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. She is the author of Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture and Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era and the editor of "Raw Data" Is an Oxymoron and New Media, 1740–1915.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction. Paper Knowledge 1

1. A Short History of ________ 21

2. The Typescript Book 53

3. Xerographers of the Mind 83

4. Near Print and Beyond Paper: Knowing by *.pdf 111

Afterword. Amateurs Rush In 136

Notes 151

Works Cited 189

Index 205
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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