Book as Artifact, Artifact as Book

Medieval and Early Modern Europe saw a boom in information availability and circulation. With the invention of the printing press, the development of the Renaissance, and the Protestant Reformation’s emphasis on individual responsibility to knowledge, the desire for and production of information across the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries is something comparable to the internet boom of the twentieth and twenty-first. Textual materials that were produced during this time provide unique insight into the specific communities in which they were created, and are therefore invaluable to students, researchers, and educators alike. Thanks to the efforts of preservation institutions such as Southwestern University’s Special Collections and Archives, we have the opportunity to not only study the textual information that is provided by these documents, but also characteristics about these communities that reflect the very fibers of human connections that make society function. 

As historians we analyze the way in which these objects influenced the communities they were produced in, and affected and reflected the larger cultural shifts of the time by showing us what type of information was circulated, among whom it was shared, and how it was distributed and received. Additionally, we can trace artistic developments over time by studying the types of paper, ink, binding materials, and the illustrations that accompanied the books. In Special Collections, we are historians and caretakers of material culture. As historians of the written word we are then left with the burning question each time we encounter a document or book: was this impactful because of the information provided by the content of the written words, or because of how, when, and where the information was provided? 

The materials in this exhibit exemplify this balance. These items forever changed their respective worlds, as books as well as art; as information as well as material culture. They also highlight the importance of Special Collections as a field within the greater Library Sciences, as it offers those eager to learn access to history in a way that promotes a more full and complete learning experience. By understanding the way in which these items impacted their respective societies, and continue to educate us today we can use these examples to truly see what it means to have Book as Artifact, and Artifact as Book.


Jax De La Cruz-Luera '20