Library of Congress International Summit of the Book: Part 2

“Perspectives on the History of the Book: A Conversation with Elizabeth L. Eisenstein” followed the keynote speech by Ismail Serageldin. This was possibly the most entertaining session of the day. Eisenstein, author of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, is a very intelligent, very witty woman. I was excited to find out she would be speaking, since we read an excerpt Agent of Change in my Introduction to Book History class.

In preparation for this talk, I read the abridged version of Agent of Change, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe.

During the conversation with Daniel DeSimone, Rosenwald Curator, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, she stated (not for the first time) that she wrote Agent of Change without a thesis – to her, the work was an exploration of the printing press and its effects on Western (European) society. A way to understand the larger historical narrative and its relationship with the invention of the printing press.

It was fascinating to hear her speak, to be able to apply what I’d learned in class and what I’d recently read of her work, to what she said. I enjoyed learning more about the woman who wrote such a controversial and foundational work in the field of book history.

A few of my favorite Eisenstein quotes:

  • “The Ottoman Turks did not accept print for 300 years.”
  • About the so-called “Wicked Bible,” which instructs the faithful that they “shalt not kill” and they “shalt commit adultery”: “There was a misprint.”
  • “No one wants to talk about the Grand Narrative, which I think is tragic.”
  • “There’s nothing deader than a floppy disk.”

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