The word “book” in English is derived from Northern European languages, and has
been noted to especially be rooted in the Danish word, bog which means “birch
tree”. In Denmark, the birch tree was most plentiful and was used for engravings
(see Donaldson 12). The Latin word for “book”, liber was used by the Romans to
describe the thin layer of wood between the bark and the tree trunk. They used
this layer of peel to write on before parchment and paper.
The Oxford English Dictionary offers the following in the way of the etymology of
A common Germanic word, differing however in gender and other points in the
various languages. With Old English bóc monosyllabic feminine (plural béc)
compare Old Frisian and Old Saxon bôk (plural bôk) feminine and neuter (Middle
Dutch boek neuter and often masculine, Dutch boek masculine), Old High
German buoh (plural buoh) neuter, also masculine and feminine (Middle High
German buoch, modern German buch neuter), Old Norse bók (plural )
feminine (Swedish bok, Danish bog), all in sense of ‘written document, book’.
These forms indicate an Germanic *bôk-s strong feminine, the plural of which
was in Old High German and elsewhere sometimes made neuter (after the
analogy of neuter monosyllabic plurals), and this gender extended to the
singular. The original meaning was evidently ‘writing-tablet, leaf, or sheet’:
compare Venantius Fortunatus Carm. vii. 18, 19 ‘barbara fraxineis pingatur runa
tabellis’, also Old Saxon thia bôk the writing-tablet, ‘pugillaris’ Luke i. 63 (in
Heliand 232, 235), Old English bóc charter: in plural tablets, written sheets,
hence ‘book,’ a sense subsequently extended to the singular. Gothic does not
show *bôks, but an apparently derivative form bôka strong feminine, in sense of
‘letter’ of the alphabet, plural bôkôs litteræ, γράμματα, writing, document, book.
Generally thought to be etymologically connected with the name of the beech-
tree, Old English bóc, béce, Old Norse bók , the suggestion being that inscriptions
were first made on beechen tablets, or cut in the bark of beechtrees; but there
are great difficulties in reconciling the early forms of the two words, seeing that
bôk-s ‘writing-tablet’ is the most primitive of all.
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines “book” as such:
book n. 1 a a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along
one side and bound in covers. b a literary composition intended for publication.
2 a bound set of blank sheets for writing or keeping records in. 3 a set of tickets,
cheques, etc., bound up together. 4 (in pl.) a set of records or accounts. 5 a main
division of a literary work or the bible. 6 a libretto etc. 7 a telephone directory
(my number’s in the book). 8 a record of bets made and money paid out at a race
meeting by a bookmaker. 9 an imaginary record or list (broke every rule in the book). v. 1 tr. a engage (a seat etc.) in advance; make a reservation of. b engage
(a guest etc.) for some occasion. 2 tr. a take the personal details of. b enter in a
book or list. 3 tr. issue a railway etc. ticket to. 4 intr. make a reservation.
(Canadian Oxford Dictionary 100)
TIMELINE (Use thumbnail images for timeline)
4000 BC – First instance of recorded ideographic, syllabic and alphabetical lettering;
i.e., Egyptian Hieroglyphics are written on ancient monument (preserved in the
Ashmolean Museum at Oxford).
283 BC – The founding of the celebrated library at Alexandria by Ptolemy Soter. It held
more hand-written books than any other library before the invention of printed
books. At one point the library held 700 000 volumes. In 640 AD, however, the
Arabs burnt the books, the fire from which served to heat all the baths in the city
for over six months straight.
1 Cent. AD – The “Codex” is invented. The codex was the first form of the book as we
know it today. The word comes from the Latin caudex and means a bound
collection of gathered sheets of paper or vellum in the form of quires.
4 Cent. AD – The square form of the book was adopted as the accepted shape. Covers
were also made more elaborate and artistic, often bejeweled with precious
stones, painted with extensive borders and detail and gilded before being
encased in individual silken boxes.
872-915 – The first recorded use of the word bócland from which our current word
“book” was derived. Bócland refers to a written document that portrays a
charter of land.
1456 – The first book, “the Gutenberg Bible” is printed using a movable type printer
invented by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany (1450).
1474 – The printing press comes to England. William Caxton sought training in printing
in Cologne and brought his knowledge to England in 1471. There he succeeded
in printing the first book (which he also authored), entitled, The Game and Playe
of the Chesse.
1500-1600 – Books are chained to their shelves in European college libraries as well as
in churches to prevent theft and to allow for general, shared use of volumes.
1600s – The invention of the “horn-book” for European school children. The horn-book
was a printed board of oak containing on its surface the nine digits, the alphabet
and sometimes a prayer. It had a horn covering to protect it from getting ruined
and a handle for convenient carrying.
1640 – The printing press comes to New England. Using the printing press brought to
Cambridge, Massachusetts by then deceased Rev. Jose Glover, locksmith Stephen
Daye prints 1 700 copies of The Whole Booke of Psalms Faithfully Translated into
1752 – Bostonian John Bushell brings the first printing press to Canada.
1867 – The federal dominion of Canada is formed on Confederation, July 1 st.
1957 – The Canada Council for the Arts is created.
1971 – Michael S. Hart creates the first digital library of books, pioneering the invention
of the e-book. 1976 – Saul Bellow is first Canadian ever to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
HISTORY of The BOOK
The Gutenberg Novelty
The book as we know it has had a long and interesting history. Most notably was the
turning point in 1456 at which time Juhann Gutenberg invented the printing press. Up
to that point, people had relied on scribes to hand-write and copy manuscripts word for
word. Gutenberg’s first printed book was the Bible and with it, he changed the medium
of the book from a rare and expensive novelty to a common and abundant form of
communication that came to accelerate globalization much in a similar way to how the
invention of the internet has brought cultures closer. Today, the Gutenberg bible is
considered the most expensive book in the world. Three copies were sold to three
different parties in 1978. The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz bought one copy for $1 800
000. The West German Library in Stuttgart bought another for $2 000 000 and the
University of Texas bought a third copy for $2 400 000, which is the highest price ever
paid for a single book (see Donaldson 20).
From Intensive Reading to Extensive Reading
Historians Robert Darnton and Rolf Engelsing agree that a marked change in reading
practices occurred between the Middle Ages and the latter half of the 18 Century.
During this early period, people had little access to books and owned only a few titles
such as the bible, an almanac and a devotional work. The books and their readings were
shared in groups and the activity of reading took place orally. Because there were so
few books, people read the same ones over and over and contributed to extensive
interpretations of the readings. The act of reading included more than just the visual
sense and was meant to impress the words onto the minds of the readers/listeners.
Memorizing and thinking deeply about texts became important skills. By the 1800s,
however, there was a shift in culture from intensive reading to extensive reading. As
printing became more widespread and books were attained more easily and in higher
quantities, people came to value the number of books read over the quality of the
reading. Reading then became a hastier, solitary activity whereby people emphasized
quantity of books read over a quality, in-depth reading of a few books (see Birkerts 71).
*transversal reading (lettura tranversale)
The Case of Menocchio
Menocchio was a 16 Century miller who owned only a few books. In Historian Carlo
Ginzburg’s book, The Cheese and the Worms, he psychoanalyses the character and the
thought processes of Menocchio based solely on the books he held in his possession
and which he read repeatedly and intensely. At the time, education as we know it was
not accessible to all, and nor were large quantities of books. As the only form of media
that carried recorded information, the few books each household kept would shape the
attitudes, consciousness and beliefs of the people who had access to them. At the end of
the 16 Century, Menocchio was burned at the stake during the Roman Inquisition.
There was a trial held to interrogate the miller about his belief that the earth was formed as a result of chaos, rather than the traditional Catholic understanding that God
made the earth. His many readings of the same books came to shape his interpretations
and influence him to question and reflect upon religion and society. At the time, books
were thought of as the most powerful and even dangerous medium of information in
“It’s Bibliomania!” The 18 and 19 Century Boom in Book Proliferation
The 1800s saw a widespread European craze for books that can only be retrospectively
considered as a sort of bibliomania (see Donaldson 19). Until the 18 and 19 th
Centuries, people had limited exposure to books. The reasons for this include a lower
rate of literacy since public education was yet not obligatory and fewer printed books
available for distribution. Indeed, since the earliest known reading civilization in 625-
587 BCE Assyria, people did not bring individual copies of books home with them, but
rather went to libraries to borrow and share books on site (see Murray 4). But
beginning in 1650, European values underwent a major cultural shift. The Age of
Enlightenment swept across the continent until the beginning of the 18 Century.
Philosophical writings by Spinoza, Locke, Kant and others inspired a new way of
thinking—namely, one that was based on reason rather than tradition or religion.
Academies were created to aid the secular governments in scientific research, which
resulted in a blending of the classes. Rates of literacy began to increase and books were
disseminated to the rural and peasant areas. The state-run libraries proved too limiting
for the demand for reading and reading material, so some independent publishers took
it upon themselves to print quantities of classic literature, bibles, philosophy books,
pamphlets and almanacs en masse. One example is La Bibliothèque Bleue. This French
publisher played a big role in the proliferation of books to commoners in villages and
towns in France. With the spread of literacy came the spread of knowledge and thus
people began to question their loyalties to the tradition of oligarchies in power. This
wave of Enlightenment found its way to New England, or what is now the United States
of America, where readers engaged with philosophies that would fuel their rebellion
against the British at the time of the American Revolution.
By the 1800s, more and more publishers were making books en masse available to the
public. In 1882, people had become “book collectors” and valued books as necessities in
their households. The explosion of private, personal collections of books as opposed the
public, library collections at this time is what is referred to as cultural bibliomania (see
Printing in North America
In order to understand printing in Canada, one must understand the politics of the time.
When the first printing press arrived in North America, the national borders that
separated Canada from the United States had yet to be defined. But with the spread of
Enlightenment ideas, thirteen colonies in North America decided to rebel against the
British Empire and declare Independence in 1776. The American Revolutionary war
(1775-83) ultimately led to the formation of The United States of America and the
remaining colonies, the Canadian provinces, remained loyal to the Mother Country.
Books and the capacity to print books on their own since 1640 helped the Americans to spread knowledge and form a solidarity in rebellion. The mixed French, English, Scotch,
Irish and Aboriginal population in what is now Canada had more difficulty in seeing eye
to eye with one another. Firstly, the population was much smaller than the Rebels of
the USA and so forming strength in numbers proved harder. Secondly, the Loyalists had
less access to books, no printing press at the time and were treated unequally by the
state. The “two solitudes” of French and English Canada reached a point of no return
from 1755, at the time of the Acadian Expulsion, to 1760 when the British had
conquered both Quebec and Montreal. However, the British did not grant Catholics any
civil rights until the 1830s, so for almost a century, French, Scottish and Irish Catholics,
along with all the Aboriginals they had converted, did not have a voice in the political
decisions that concerned them. Excluded from contributed to newspaper media, these
Catholics did not always identify with the British protestant Loyalists. Instead of
rebelling like their fellow New World pioneers south of the border, however, many
formed smaller groups of like-minded individuals who then carried out political reform
and debate with Britain.
(Add image of The Halifax Gazette)
Books Make their Way to Canada
After one hundred years of printing books and newspapers in the United States, the
printing press made its way to Canada in 1752. Printer John Bushell came to Halifax
from Boston and opened the first printing shop there. It is thus that the Halifax Gazette
was born. At the time of the American Revolution, in 1776, two more Bostonian
Loyalists fled the then British colony of Massachusetts. Publishers and journalists at the
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News, Margaret Draper and her young
apprentice John Howe made their way to Halifax. After dominating the printing
industry in Nova Scotia for several years, Howe’s son, the Honourable Joseph Howe
bought and ran the Novascotian newspaper. Shortly thereafter, he became premier of
Nova Scotia and John A. MacDonald’s federal government (see Fauteux).
From then and there the wave of both printed documents—at first newsletters,
calendars, sales notices, order forms, certificates, army bills, pamphlets and finally
books—and printing presses spread across Canada.
The following are the dates of arrival for the printing press in Canada (see
Fauteux). It is important to remember, however, that most of the provincial and
territorial boundaries in Canada had yet to be defined. The locations below are listed as
what they are known as today. Discrepancies include, Quebec which was then called
New France and Lower Canada, Ontario, which was then Upper Canada, and especially
the prairies and the territories. The first press in the west was manufactured in what is
now known as Manitoba, but at the time, it would have been in the Northwest
Territories. Since the borders kept changing over history, the location of the press is
simply noted as Red River. In 1877, the Oblate Father R. P. Grouard transported a
printing press to Deer Lake and later on to Peace River, both of which were then
located in the Northwest Territories, but are now considered northern Manitoba. In
1888, Father Grouard transported the printing press by Eskimo dogsled to many tribal
communities in the far north of the territories (see Fauteux 177). 1752: Halifax
1686 or 1764: Quebec*
1785: New Brunswick
1788: Prince Edward Island
1841: The Prairies and the Northwest Territories
1858: British Columbia
1897: The Yukon
*The records containing the history of the Quebec printing press are still under debate.
Printing in Quebec: A Phenomenon of L’oubli
In Canadian book history studies there persists the mystery of when and from where
the first printing press came to the province of Quebec. Historians are divided into
those who believe that colonizers from France brought the press to what we now call
Quebec and what was then in 1686 called New France; and those who believe that the
English brought the first press to Quebec after conquering the country. Like the
Franciscans in Mexico and the Puritan ministers in New England, the original
missionaries to New France wanted to print and diffuse information of the gospel
freely. In the Journal de Jésuites from September, 1665, there is a statement about the
decision to write to France for a printing shop to be brought to the New World (see
Fauteux 64). There has also been evidence from the Census of 1667 that a printer
resided in New France, and, according to the Report of the Canadian Archives for 1910,
at least one document has been found containing the date of 1686 and its printing