Breaking the Book: Contrasting Paradigms of Print Culture


  • Michael Upshall Consult MU


I opened Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (2015) (which, paradoxically, I read in digital form on a smartphone) with a lot of anticipation. Laura Mandell is a scholar of eighteenth-century literature, and an enthusiastic pioneer and advocate of digital collections such as Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) for studying early English texts. Therefore, I expected this book to have insights into how digital texts differed from print, and how academic discourse can make effective use of digital resources, for example to analyse texts. What the book contains, however, is much different. Rather than being an assessment of digital texts, Breaking the Book is much more ambitious: it emphasises changes in print culture for much of the book, only considering digital publishing towards the end. Mandell asks, “how does the book machine work,” by looking at the history of the printed book. The book concludes with a manifesto for print humanities – not, in fact, a manifesto for digital humanities at all, but a claim for how digital print can transform “the book machine.” Nonetheless, a reader will see this book more as a contribution to the history of the printed word than a study of digital humanities.