In “How the Page Matters,” Bonnie Mak first explains the “technological supersession” (1) of the page in forming the book (or, codex). She outlines the various iterations of the page (papyrus to parchment to tablet, etc.), relating each new evolution as “evidence of its social history” (2). Through its history, she explains how the physical matter of the page—the layout, typeface, formatting—influenced the meaning of the ideas being presented.
Most of her important points followed the idea of the increasing availability of knowledge. The customization of pages was done according to the “genre of text being transmitted” as well as the “intended quality of the product” (4). The quality is of particular concern to Mak, as the quality of pages reflected social, political and economic environments of the era in which they were created. As a culture of literacy spread, so too did paper; the paper favored by the wealthy was “thinner, smoother, and whiter” than was the paper designated for use by poorer people. The layout of pages was also influenced by the socioeconomic class of the audience—writing for an informed audience, like those “official documents and bulls,” as well as “letters, contracts and bills of sale,” intended for use by the “papal chancery…accountants,” etc. (7) continued to be produced on scrolls long after the adoption of a codex for wider audiences.
The layout of pages was equally as important for the cultural shifts in academia. The transmission of ideas through oral performance, with ‘wisdom’ from teachers copied directly by students, began to change with the increase in literacy. The tablet, “composed of a wooden rectangular frame…filled with a thin layer of tinted wax” was particularly useful in “school exercises,” because it could be “smoothed over and erased” (5). Thus the tablet form of the page indicates an increase in learning through writing—rather than simply learning to write, the copying of other writing, students could now write and erase. Much later, the increasing use of blank space in pages indicates a shift from reading aloud to reading silently, because of the enhanced “legibility and comprehensibility of the page” (9). Instead of reading communities, readers were now engaging more directly and personally with the designers of text; the blank space invited quiet readers to “contemplate, consider and question ideas…even…to add their own thoughts to the page.”
The increase in literacy was also proliferated by an increase in activities such as reading and writing (silently, not performing) being legitimized. Mak illustrates this point with a brief examination of the Controversia de nobilitate. The second monologue in the text is an argument for the legitimacy of books, and the library in particular, as being more indicative of social status and “virtue” than simple inheritance. Books, and particularly the reading of many books (the assimilating of many ideas, that is), become connected with social mobility—“with books,” Flaminius claims, “I have placed all my hope” (12). His hope is not only for nobility or a “virtuous character,” but for increased social status through marriage: Flaminius makes this statement in hopes to win the hand of a nobleman’s daughter, Lucretia.
On the subject of nobility, one area I’m curious about is the widespread use of animal skins for writing in England—Mak mentions this specifically on page 7. Skins seem like a needlessly expensive and labor-intensive material, and I wondered where they were getting these animals? Did they have a special herd? Or were they stealing peasant’s animals?
Secondly, I’m not too sure about Mak’s use of the phrase “supercession.” Honestly she seemed to contradict herself a lot, but this was the worst—were forms of the page “superceding” one another, or were they “evolving?” Evolution implies branches, so that seems more like what she’s talking about, yet she specifically says “the history of writing technologies…[is] to be understood in terms of technological supersession” (1).
Finally, in thinking about digital writing, I was wondering—what committee decided I had to write everything in Times New Roman or Arial or Cambria, when Comic Sans is JUST as legible; computer maker, Microsoft designers, or the consumers? And why, out of all the not-TNR/A/C fonts available, was Comic Sans in particular vilified as the least “Academic” of all types?
WHY DOESN’T WORDPRESS LET ME USE COMIC SANS??????