Rachel Roumeliotis

The once and future book

Alex Gillespie looks to the past to help understand publishing tomorrow

Alex Gillespie is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto focusing on medieval book history. I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with her to talk about the advent of the book, what the book means to us, and how looking back can help us decode the future.

As an editor and avid reader I’m a big fan of books both the actual object and the multitude of stories, histories, and information that one can find within, but didn’t know very much about their history. So when I had a chance to talk to Alex Gillespie I was thrilled. My first question to Gillespie was – “When did the book first appear?” But as she mentions here the first question really should be – What is a book? According to Gillespie and other scholars, pre-book objects appear before the current era in the form of rolls while wax tablets, believed to have been around since the eighth century BC, are a big step closer to a current day book and where the term book comes from originally. What we think of today as a book, “stitched together folded pieces of paper…it’s not really a technology that takes off until…probably the second century AD.”

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