Preserving Culture through the Written Word

Guest post by Tim Melton

In terms of publishing, we seem to be in a great period of uncertainty. Clearly, the advent of digital publishing through eBooks has in many ways invalidated the old print model. There are still some, though, that argue that print literature will never completely disappear, particularly due to the fact that books inherently capture the histories in which they were created. This sense of antiquity, these scholars argue, is something that digital literature will never be able to perfectly replicate.

In our Publishing class (ENG 311) this Winter Term, we’ve spent the last week discussing advancements in technology and society throughout history. One particularly interesting section of one of our readings – from An Introduction to Book History, by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery – discusses the sharp drop in literacy during the Middle Ages (also known as the Dark Ages). However, literature at this time did not completely fade away; it was preserved by monastic scholars who arduously copied and preserved older texts. Their efforts helped pave the way for the Renaissance, a renewal of interest and appreciation for classical works. Even then, new technologies were emerging to make literature easier to access, but there was still a belief that older works intrinsically held value because they provided valuable insights into ancient cultural beliefs and perspectives. For a more in-depth look at Renaissance transitions in literature, check out this article.

So now we must ask: are we ourselves in our modern version of the Dark Ages? Will we experience another Renaissance – the belief that print literature has value in the face of the more convenient digital literature? These, of course, are not questions that can be accurately answered at this time; still, they deserve our attention I recommend anyone interested in the future of book culture watch this round-table discussion.

Personally, I see no reason that digital eBooks will ever be truly rejected in favor of print books, nor the other way around. I believe both formats have potential benefits for society, but only when we are able to justify the function and value of each platform.

What sort of changes do you think will happen (or continue to happen) in literary production? Is there any way that print literature could take back its former relevance, or must be accept the new digital age? Feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below.

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