The End of Print ca. 1930

Fildena super active avis Lisa Gitelman was recently here at McGill and she gave an amazing talk on the history of scholarly communication. She talked about a moment beset by a crisis in PhD employment, a publishing crisis, and a larger economic downturn. She was talking about the 1930s.

chloroquine phosphate brands in india Even more interesting than the historical parallels was the interesting point she made about the valorization of “typescript” during the period. Gitelman was tracing a history of digitization back into other reproduction technologies, microform and typescript being the two big ones. The aim of typescript, as it was understood by its academic proponents, was that it could serve as an alternative to the culture of print — to print’s monopoly on academic and public communication more generally.

Print didn’t end in 1930. But it did mark the beginning of a period that saw forces arrayed to circumvent it as the text technology of choice. Why it didn’t fully happen — why academic publishing didn’t go entirely typescript — tells us something about the probable future of print as it relates to academic writing. The promise of typescript was that it was an alternative to print. It was associated with a non-public, yet still accessible way of disseminating information. It didn’t catch on for reasons that had to do with the way the humanities have traditionally derived at least part of their identity as participating in a public intellectual life (far different than say the sciences, either natural or social). Unlike the sciences, which define themselves as a purely self-contained community, the humanities are far more open ended in their self-identification.

If digital communication does in fact become a norm — if ebooks eclipse print books the way electronic magazines and newspapers have — then print will become like typescript, an internal, not entirely public form of communication. To adhere to its longstanding “public” mission, the humanities would then have to embrace the digital — or paradoxically become more “scientific.”

The big if of this equation is whether the digital will in fact eclipse print. So far, that hasn’t happened. As long as it doesn’t, then the digital remains the analogue of typescript — something that never quite feels like a publication.  Good for the sciences, maybe, but not the humanities.