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Tracing the Origins of a Book

by | Oct 12, 2021 | IT & Technology

In today’s time, all of us are acquainted with what a book is. Children mostly associate it with an object that provides them help in homework. To the layman, it is a compilation of a series of pages that have some information in it.

 In the literal and the most inclusive sense, the term book refers to any written or printed form of document of a particular length yet light enough to be easily portable. 

Ancient Greece and Rome:

The study of the identification of the authorship, the editions of a piece of a work, the dates of issue of that work and its certain physical properties is known as bibliography. You might have seen this piece of writing at the end of research paper writings.

If we talk about the origins of the book or as a matter of fact any piece of writing, it dates back to Ancient Greece and Rome where the book was actually in the form of a double papyrus roll. Tracing its origin to the Ancient Egypt Empire, papyrus reed was used to make papyrus. 

This reed grew profusely in the Nile delta. Its stems were cut into strips, then soaked and later paste was used to impregnate them. These steps were in the form of manuscripts since they were written by hand.

 The text was inscribed in columns and when a person read this manuscript, he had to unwound the papyrus from the right-hand roll and simultaneously wound it on the left-hand roll. 


Interchangeably With Parchment:

The 5th century of the middle-ages saw a change in the development of books when papyrus rolls were replaced by vellum codex or parchment. The latter was made from the skins of cattle wherein the skin was stretched and later cleaned to serve the purpose of writing. 

On the other hand, vellum is sometimes used interchangeably with parchment but to be specific, it is a fine type of parchment that is made from the skin of a calf or its kid. Codex was made when the parchment was cut into leaves and these leaves were stitched together to represent something like the modern book. 

Since codex is most close to the modern book, it had great advantages because text was inscribed on both sides of the leaf. In the earlier times, codex usually contained the biblical texts since they were long ones. 


As the forms of writing kept on developing in the middle-ages, therefore there were many monasteries which had scriptoria, a place where texts were copied by scribes and these texts were dictated by a reader.

 This was done so that mass production of copies of text could be done to facilitate more reading. Later on, to make manuscripts more attractive, they were adorned with various bright colored paintings, sketches, and ornamental scrolls. This made the manuscripts look more attractive and readable. 

Parchments were usually very expensive, therefore; they have to be reused for writing a new text. The written surface of the parchment was scraped off and then further writing was done on the new surface.

 This process gave way to the writing on palimpsests. In the case of palimpsests, using ultraviolet light, you could see the multiple layers of the text written on the parchment.

Invention Of Paper:

Chinese were the first one to invent paper in as early as the first century AD. Europeans came in contact with paper after Arabs brought them there in the 8th century. Thereafter, paper replaced parchment and was put into extensive use. This paper was made from cotton rags and linen in the earliest times.

 Later, as technology developed it was used for making paper from either vegetable fibers or from the pulp of wood. With the invention of paper, the process of printing too developed at a fast pace. The Chinese used carved woodblocks for the process of printing in the early 6th century.

 Johannes Gutenberg was the first to introduce printing machines in Germany. This machine was a movable metal that printed using ink. After the introduction of the Gutenberg printing press, the idea spread to entire Europe like a wildfire and the process of printing became cheap as well as large copies of a single book could be printed and spread among a large group of leaders.

 The books that were produced just during the start of the printing before 1500 were called incunabula, the term as used in various research paper writing.

Later on, with the advent of the Golden era of Literature under Queen Elizabeth, there was a high demand in reading and thus in writing. And thus, the printing press gained prominence. The process was further accelerated by the Industrial Revolution wherein proper machines were used to print. Paper was produced by these machines first using steam and later by electricity. Machines also made the work of binding the book and reproducing illustrations easier. Now that we are into the developing times, the prominence of the electronic media and the easy and immediate availability of the book on the same has yet again made the printing industry look backward. But it is not to be forgotten that nothing can replace the essence of the hard copy of the book.

Now, this was all about the development of the book, but we also need to remember a few terms attached to this concept.

 A book edition refers to the total number of copies of the book. There may be reprints of this edition over a span of several years. These reprinted versions are known as a second edition, third edition, and so on. You might have seen such things in various editions of the book, at the very start of the text. 

The format of a book refers to the shape of the book, the size of the page, and other such features of the book including the cover and the quality of the material used in printing. 

So now we know that a book is a lot more than just an object that provides us with homework.