Rhodes and Sawday 2000

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Rhodes, Neil and Jonathan Sawday, eds. The Renaissance Computer: Knowledge Technology in the First Age of Print. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Introduction: Imagining the Renaissance Computer, by Rhods and Sawday (1-17)

"A new world -- a paper world -- had come into existence some fifty years before Columbus's encounter with the 'New World' of the Americas. This paper world was a place of the imagination and the intellect rather than a geography of curious beasts, people, and plants. It growth was phenomenal. (1)

by 1500, over 280 European towns with a printing press; 20 million books possibly in circulation in Europe by 1500

"The experience of our own new technology has enabled us to re-imagine the impact of new technologies in the past." (2)

each book "a unique cultural artefact" in the medieval period; "it might possess a quasi-mystical power, which made it worthy of something more than mere consumption" (3)

"The databases of the Renaissance computer are the great collections of knowledge assembled by the humanists: rhetorical thesauri, dictionaries, mythologies, histories, atlases and cosmologies. These were passed over to the printers to emerge as 'encyclopedias', 'mirrors', 'anatomies', 'theaters', 'digests', and 'compendia', terms which suddenly proliferated in the sixteenth century. These collections became far more than mere repositories of knowledge. In the seemingly limitless world of production, distribution, and retrieval spawned by print culture, a new model of the human mind itself began to emerge. In much the same way, the advent of digital technology as helped us to re-imagine the operation of the brain, so that we now use metaphors of the web or net to describe both our modern information systems and the mind's own 'operating system'." (9)

Renaissance Computer is "Janus-faced, looking both forwards and backwards. Promising access to a new means of exploring and understanding the world, its tendency, initially, was simply to gather together ever-expanding catalogues of what was already known. Only much later would these catalogues of the known world be searched in order to make new and unforeseen connections whose validity would be texted in the laboratory or in the observation of the operation of the worlds itself." (11)

"Is the modern distinction between author and reader (producer and consumer) at the point of collapse? Did the earliest progenitors of the paper world experience a similar frisson of anxiety and optimism as they contemplated the miraculously identical products of the new instrument which Martin Luther, for one, was to exploit so brilliantly?" (12)