Perception of the (original) text before and after Gutenberg

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


In his short "digital contribution" to the first ever Legal Records Jamboree at The National Archives on Monday 26 June 2023, Marton Ribary spoke about the scholarly “obsession” with the original text (Urtext) fuelled by the we perceive text in the Gutenberg era. Marton introduced the topic by saying a few words about the Index 2.0 project which aims at creating an interactive digital database of about 75,000 text critical comments on the juristic fragments preserved in Emperor Justinian’s historical sourcebook of Roman law, the Digest (533 CE) which are brought together in the Index Interpolationum (1929-1925). The so-called hunt for interpolations justified its mission by pointing to an imperial constitution in which Emperor Justinan urged his editors to adapt the selected juristic fragments for doctrinal consistency and eloquence. A few centuries later, Moses Maimonides (12th century CE) urged the readers of his autograph manuscript to correct mistakes in his code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, in a very similar fashion. The perception of the written text as an admittedly imperfect surrogate of the original idea was replaced by Gutenberg’s printed press which called the reproducible and unchangeable “original text” to life. The Gutenbergian perception was then projected to texts created and transmitted in the pre-print era, occasionally resulting in overblown text-critical obsessions with the “original”. Marton suggested that the current digital infrastructure is still used to protect the Gutenbergian perception, but there is a chance that we are at the dawn of a new era in which printed documents, computer codes, audio recordings and other media could become perceived again as mere surrogates of an original idea underneath.
Period26 Jun 2023
Event titleLegal Records Jamboree
Event typeWorkshop
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map


  • digital humanities
  • text perception
  • Urtext
  • printing press