In “Bookrolls as Media,” Johnson argues that a medium is part of a symbiotic relationship in reading cultures. The bookroll, in particular, defined how involved readers were in the act of reading, lending itself to harder tasks than just turning a page. Johnson explains that the ability to use a bookroll allows a person to be a part of an exclusive group, “almost by design to instantiate the orderly exclusion of the less educated” (118). The bookroll shows that media defines social groups and is “deeply embedded within society, culture, politics, ideology” (119).

Important Aspects

Johnson begins “Bookrolls as Media” by creating a visual of bookrolls, which are far removed from what we would use as text today. This format, however is purposeful, as “we begin to sense that the bookroll, far from being a neutral support, simply a literary text written on a papyrus roll, was, rather, a signal feature in the cultural landscape” (107).

As the reading continues, the social implications of the bookroll become the focal point. As with all media, the users are defined by their social standing. Those that cannot use or access the medium are often in the lower spectrum of sociocultural systems: “the very image of the bookroll … seems almost by design to instantiate the orderly exclusion of the less educated” (118).

In the final paragraph, Johnson states, “If we want to change the disciplinary paradigms, then we need to start with the questions that interest us—that fascinate us” (121). Here, he speaks of engagement in media – what it means to be truly interested in a work. We should strive to place value in texts outside of “the  context of a class” (121).


Though Johnson makes a point of stating that place changes the experience of a text, it seems to detract from the point as a whole. If the argument centers around the ability to use a text and its implications on sociocultural systems, how would my ability to travel to Nietzsche’s summer residence affect the argument as a whole?

Describing the bookroll and how text is displayed on it helps the reader understand how it shaped the culture of the society, but going back and explaining that the Greeks and Romans used more punctuation and form seems to add unneeded information. It seems to show that the texts could be more widely used and understood, but since scholars revert the form to the original unformatted, un-spaced text, usability then decreases to the users of the original form.

Larger Implications

If mediums have a large effect on the structure of society, how will greater access to all types of media change the world society? Will it bring people together or drive an unsurmountable gap between those who have access and those who do not?