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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
Writing in Printed Books

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Writing in Printed Books

John Brinsley. Ludus literarius: or, the grammar schoole. London, 1612

Renaissance readers were encouraged to use the blank spaces in printed books for their manuscript notes. Popular printed textbooks not only encouraged pupils to make notes in the margins but also stimulated the use of blank books, the sale of which increased massively in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many books, particularly almanacs, were sold with interleaved blank pages to provide more space for the reader’s activities as a writer.


The supposed opposition between writing or drawing by hand and printing is manifestly contradicted by the wide range of books and forms that were specifically designed to be filled in by hand. From the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) on, various histories were published with blank leaves on which the printed past could be continued into a handwritten future (for example, see John More's A table from the beginning of the world to this day (Cambridge, 1593). Similarly, almanacs were regularly sold with blank leaves for recording daily information. Most of the famous seventeenth-century diarists began by recording notes in printed, interleaved books. The pages of blank books designed for recording heraldic devices (known as "Ordinaries") were printed with blank shields in which owners could draw coats of arms or paste in engraved ones.


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John Brinsley. Ludus literarius: or, the grammar schoole. London, 1612 (Detail)


Printed textbooks such as Brinsley's Ludus literarius instructed children in the importance of writing notes both in the margins of printed books and in blank books. In the marginal note shown above (a detail from the book on the left), Brinsley describes how to memorize a sermon: by transcribing as much as one can remember into a blank book, and leaving space in the margins and between the lines for incorporating brief summaries, headings, divisions, and scriptural citations.

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