History of the Book Exhibit

Few inventions have impacted human history as much as the book. Books allow knowledge and wisdom to be shared across time and space. The story of the book is one of both innovation and continuity. Technological developments have changed the means of preserving writing over the centuries, beginning with the clay tables of ancient Mesopotamia and scrolls and papyrus around the Mediterranean. Paper was invented in China during the 3rd century BC, from which it gradually spread westward. Meanwhile, in the Americas, Mayans and other cultures invented their own writing systems, which they recorded on bark paper books. In Europe, medieval illuminated manuscripts reached heights of great artistic skill, before being supplanted by the explosion of printed material following Gutenberg’s introduction of the printing press around 1440. Books then became more and more common and inexpensive, eventually leading to the paperback revolution of the 20th century. Today, books have taken the next step to electronic formats, with e-books on a wide range of devices.

Whatever the form, however, the purpose of books has remained the same: to enable us to access the collected religious, scientific, historical, and literary heritage of humanity. We cannot know what developments may lie in the future, but we can be certain that books and the written word will continue to play a vital role in our lives.

The learn more about the History of the Book, visit the exhibit on display now in the St. Thomas University Library Atrium. The exhibit was curated by Library Staff Isabel Medina and Elliot Williams, with the assistance of Qiwu Cen, MA student in Arts Management.

History of the Book Timeline

To support this exhibit, we have developed a multimedia timeline that covers all of the time periods and events pertinent to the artifacts on display; includes much of the artifact label narratives that are part of the exhibit; and features additional photos, videos, and links for further exploration.

Copyright Notice

The images included in this Timeline are either in the public domain or used in accordance with the creator or owner’s stated license terms. Images that do not fail into this category are used under a claim of fair use.