This course book was conceived as the written version of the lectures prepared by Professor Johanna Drucker for the History of the Book and Literacy Technologies given in the Information Studies Department at UCLA.


The history of the book is an expansive topic, especially when considered as the history of literacy technologies. Many areas contribute to this field, such as the study of writing, publishing, production, reception, institutions, cultural practices, controls, censorship, distribution, and specialized disciplines like paleography, epigraphy, bibliography and critical editing. No single work or text can hope to cover—or even adequately touch on—all of these realms. Therefore, this course book makes no claim to completeness. In a dozen lectures, it merely attempts to introduce a concise overview of the development of “the book” and “literacy” broadly construed. The text is meant as an anchoring spine on which any number of additional topics and studies can be attached. But it is also intended to work as a stand-alone introduction in which each chapter is organized around a theme or several topics as well as a chronological period. The focus is mainly Western, though some attention is given to Egypt, the Far East, and pre-Columbian cultures. But the larger sphere of inscriptional and notational practices in Africa, among other indigenous peoples, and in cultures now vanished but who left written records behind has been addressed mainly within the polemic of the Preliminaries, with its suggestion that bibliographical practices should be re-conceptualized from a global perspective.The time frame is extensive, beginning with the origins of mark-making and communication in images and finishing with digital technologies and networked environments.


The images for this course book were all taken from materials in the Young Research Library’s Special Collections at UCLA. My goal was to spotlight our rich holdings from the outset. A nearly infinite number of topics could be developed as units within this framework. The exhibits section is meant to provide a place for thematic, or topical focus. Spotlight exhibits take up a single work or a handful of works. Work by students in my classes will augment this coursebook for as long as I teach, in order to provide venue for their work. The task of keeping resources and references updated when they consist of networked links is almost impossible, and over time, links will go dead. But the references remain, and can be searched on the WayBack machine or searched for updated versions. I make no apology for dead links, they are part of working in a networked environment. Likewise, print sources may or may not remain available depending on where in spatial and cultural geography one is located. Part of the goal of this project was to create a centralized resource for my students in their ongoing study of the basic history of the book. For more specialized topics and studies, more specialized resources are necessary.

Citation and Use

Use of this material is under a BY-NC-D Creative Commons license. In other words, the work may be used freely, cited, shared in verbatim form, but no derivatives or commercial work can be made from it. A work as general and broadly conceived, and as brief and condensed, as this course book is bound to suffer from errors of emphasis, even fact. Anyone finding such errors should contact me with appropriate suggestions for revision. I can easily be located in the UCLA Directory.


This project has been through multiple iterations, technically and conceptually, since it was first conceived. Jessica Thomas was an enormous asset in the first versions of the project when we thought we would create it using Drupal. Stephen Davison, Lisa McAuley, and other members of the Digital Library staff assisted at various moments. Hector Lopez, in Information Studies, provided back-end support for getting the project onto an IS server. The staff in the YRL Special Collections, most particularly Octavio Olvera, provided steady assistance and support, as did Giulia Rose Marinos, who photographed and processed much of the material. The blessing of Gary Strong and then Ginny Steel, Head of the UCLA Library, was essential. Robert Montoya provided liaison assistance and also steered a team of interns who were doing endless tasks to transfer the intellectual content from Drupal to html for the Exhibits. Karly Wildenhaus carefully and expertly managed the design and modification of the HTML and CSS. Other students contributed to the project along the way, and will ahead, and they are mentioned in author attributions of various sections, as appropriate. In addition to my students, Jane Drucker is always in my mind as a reader for my work, including this project. Finally, a note of gratitude to the Breslauer Professorship which supports this work through funds associated with my Chair.

Johanna Drucker
Breslauer Professor, Information Studies
January 2018