Book mixes ancient print with post-it notes

By Lisa Nguyen

Print technology has revolutionized the transmission of knowledge, transforming the once exclusive literary process into an open marketplace of ideas.

The Chinese published the earliest known printed book in 868 CE, The Diamond Sutra. Johannes Gutenberg produced his own printing press using metal movable print in 1440, catapulting the convention of printing into main stream Europe.

The University of Calgary is joining this repository of distinctive materials with its most recently acquired Breviarium Ratisponense.

“The Breviarium is considered a hybrid text demonstrating the need to transmit information while respecting the traditional style of manuscript,” said special collections liaison librarian Apollonia Steele.

The 12th floor of the MacKimmie Library also houses rare works like a hand-written Italian manuscript printed in 1400 and a leaf from the Gutenberg bible the Biblia Latina, the first known critical explanation of the bible.

The Breviarium Ratisponense is a 528-year-old religious text intended for the priesthood. The U of C owns one of the eight remaining volumes from the 400 copies commissioned by the Bishop of Regensburg. The university purchased the Breviarium to honour Apollonia Steele’s exceptional career with the university. She has been working with special collections for the past 30 years.

“The process of printing came to life as the clergy took a pragmatic approach to create a bound work with the purpose to fulfill the needs of the clergy,” said Steele.

There are 131 printed pages and as the religious service developed, 52 hand-written manuscript pages were added. Hand-written illuminations and illustrations are seen throughout the text which indicate that the printing process evolved through the imitation of past techniques.

Information transmission has become more standardized as it progressed from manuscripts to printed works to digitization explained libraries and cultural resources vice-provost Tom Hickerson. New processes for printing replace outdated ones, but many fundamental remnants of past methods remain. Page markers resembling archaic “post-it” notes and lowercase letters representing primitive hyperlinks to an area of annotation are details that trace our literary history, explained Steele.

“I believe that the university has a cultural role and responsibility to preserve works in all forms over the extension of time, from cave drawings to future blogs, in order to represent the continuum of human experience,” said Hickerson.

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