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Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  75 ratings  ·  16 reviews
Paper Knowledge is a remarkable book about the mundane: the library card, the promissory note, the movie ticket, the PDF (Portable Document Format). It is a media history of the document. Drawing examples from the 1870s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and today, Lisa Gitelman thinks across the media that the document form has come to inhabit over the last 150 years, including ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 28th 2014 by Duke University Press Books (first published 2014)
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Magdalena
There are few things in this world for which I'm capable of going down the rabbit hole of ever more esoteric knowledge, losing myself in the arcana of what they mean, what they do in the world, how they do those things they do. Almost all those things are in this book. To see them treated with this level of seriousness by someone other than me gave me hope. You'll laugh, but this book changed the course of my life.

Also, it's just plain old fascinating.

Also, I can't believe I forgot to add it to
...more
Paul
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book on what could have been a very dry subject.

The topic as you would expect is well researched and explored thoroughly. What for me made this book eminently readable is the anecdotes and stories plucked from the various histories to illustrate and enforce the points made. They help infuse greater insight and make the book more interesting than perhaps it has the right to be!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all.

It's taking it's place on my bookshelf,
...more
University of Chicago Magazine
Lisa Gitelman, AB'83
Author

From the publisher: "Paper Knowledge is a remarkable book about the mundane: the library card, the promissory note, the movie ticket, the PDF (Portable Document Format). It is a media history of the document. Drawing examples from the 1870s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and today, Lisa Gitelman thinks across the media that the document form has come to inhabit over the last 150 years, including letterpress printing, typing and carbon paper, mimeograph, microfilm, offset
...more
Douglas
Feb 01, 2020 rated it did not like it
Mundane history punctuated by flimsy thinking.
Trevor Owens
Great book! See my interview with the author here https://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2014/...
Zara Rahman
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a wonderfully niche book for me - I didn't find it quite as fascinating as I had thought, though. And (though I guess I might be one of few) I found the chapter on PDFs to be slightly lacking - I had expected more of a discussion about it being non-machine readable (=closed data), but the chapter was more around how it came to be, and the role they have played up until now.

There were some really interesting nuggets of information though, especially around photocopying - I've interacted
...more
John
May 21, 2016 rated it liked it
This is probably the best treatment of "documents" and document culture to date... I've read a number of them. Gitelman gets to an appropriate socio-technical perspective through four case studies: 19th century job printers; early 20th century business typescripts; 1970s photocopy culture (via the Pentagon Papers case); and finally, the reign of the PDF. From a scholarly point of view, this is really first rate. It's unfortunate that it's written in such a dry, distanced tone, though... she's ...more
Pierre Lauzon
Jun 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Certainly a very deep study, reflecting much thought an research on the origin of what a document is and how it originated. I found the history of the Portable Document Format (.pdf) especially interesting, why it was originated and how it has evolved into the ubiquitous universal format it is today.

Lisa Gitelman is a very specialized researcher and this book reflects specialized research. Not for everyone, but very good if you want to delve deeply into what a document means historically and
...more
Elizabeth
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
As with all of Gitelman's books, this one does an excellent job situating its subjects (i.e., documents) within the historical circumstances they emerged to look at the co-constitutive nature of documents and their producers/receivers. Despite her focus on artifacts, Gitelman never loses sight of the people who surround them, and her choice of particular document types (from job printing to PDFs) sheds light on parts of "print culture" (a term she problematizes) that are routinely ignored.
amy
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The next title I'm reviewing for Hack Library School. Not sure if it's a) clear b) worth noting, but I choose the titles; am not assigned them.

UPDATE: Review published!
Chris
Mar 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good discussions of xerox and pdf. Chapters not as thematically unified as they could be, but an interesting read. Somewhat more institutionally oriented, but doesn't shy away from exploring the social implications in an institutional context, even if more could be done in that area. Ironically, the pdf offered by the publisher isn't terribly well-organized.
Julia
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I was most pleased to receive this book, which I enjoyed. I appreciated the fact that it was very, very through in it's approach, reseach, and points-of-view. I feel very bad about my late review - I thought I had previously reviewed it already!
Miriam
Jun 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
An academic approach to documents and printing. Several chapters were quite informative including the one about printing blank books.
Mills College Library
302.2244 G536 2014
anon
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
talked about it here: http://www.5cense.com/14/378.htm
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Lisa Gitelman is Professor of English and of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. She is the author of Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture and Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era and the editor of "Raw Data" Is an Oxymoron and New Media, 17401915. ...more

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