The Book in the Age of …

An antique faded book.

The 1786 edition of Oeuvres du marquis de Villette is the first modern book composed entirely of plant-based papers. The volume features pages made from thistle leaves, nettles, and dandelion roots among plants, and represents a small sample of the many innovative but commercially unsuccessful experiments conducted by French papermaker Pierre-Alexandre Léorier Delisle in his lifetime (1744-1826). Charles-Michelle Villette, Oeuvres du marquis de Villette (1786). 13 cm x 6 cm. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Since the invention of the codex in antiquity, to the emergence of today’s global publishing industry, transformations of the book are entangled with evolutions of modernity. Following the argument of Marshall McLuhan, Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press yielded not only a Bible, but also created a “Gutenberg Galaxy”: a “global village” populated by a “typographic” human and connected by media—at first printed books, and then later radio, television, and the Internet. While technological innovations have since rendered some media obsolete, the book—in its many forms—remains a prominent instrument of global culture.

Today, the book is a commonplace. An arsenal of modern production technologies have made books cheaper and more widely available than ever before. At the same time, the contemporary significance of the book is not widely understood. Although pundits regularly proclaim the imminent death of print and the waning of literary culture, in fact, more books are printed and sold now than at any point in history. Approximately one hundred titles were published in 1450; today, more than one hundred are published every hour in the U.S. alone. If the illuminated manuscript was a product of the medieval world, what new form of book might correspond to the technologies and politics of our era? Or, to put the question more bluntly, what is the book in the age of globalization?

The Book in the Age of … presents the outcomes of an intensive research seminar on the history and future of the book co-taught by Irma Boom, Phillip Denny, and Rem Koolhaas at Harvard GSD. In the course of the spring 2023 semester, the seminar assembled a collective history of the book and developed a dozen original conjectures for its future evolution.

VIS 2461 Bookmaking

Irma Boom, Phillip Denny, Rem Koolhaas

Robin Albrecht, Nour-Lyna Boulgamh, Ilana Curtis, Justin Hailey, Marya Demetra Kanakis, Han Na Kim, Tomi Seyi Laja, Yeonho Lee, Michael Kurt Mayer, Sarah Nicita, Lauren Safier, Samanta Zhuang

Student Exhibition Team
Ilana Curtis, Justin Hailey, Michael Kurt Mayer, Sarah Nicita, Lauren Safier