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Paper: Paging Through History
Paper is one of the simplest and most essential forms of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art. It has created civilizations, fostered revolutions, and stabilized regimes. Consider, for example, history’s greatest press run, which produced 6.5 billion copies of Máo zhuxí yulu Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), or the fact that Leonardo da Vinci left behind only 15 paintings but 4,000 works on paper. Now, on the cusp of “going paperless” – and amid rampant speculation about the effects of a digitally dependent society – we’ve come to a world-historic juncture and must examine what paper means to civilization. By tracing paper’s evolution, Mark Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology’s influence, affirming that paper is here to stay.
Mark Kurlansky is a New York Times bestselling and James A. Beard Award-winning author. He is the recipient of a Bon Appétit American Food and Entertaining Award for Food Writer of the Year, and the Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award for Food Book of the year. His book, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, was an international bestseller and translated into more than 15 languages.
This is the final event in a series of five dedicated to exploring different aspects of the art of the book.
Curious about the history of papermaking? Visit the Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room to view examples of Hawaiian kapa and Polynesian tapa, two types of bark cloth, which were produced as early as 4300 B.C.E. The process by which these cloths were produced is believed to have been instrumental in the development of the papermaking process that emerged in China 4000 years later.
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