A sweeping exploration of the shaping role of animal skins in written culture and human imagination over three millennia
"Richly detailed and illustrated. . . . An engaging exploration of book history."--Kirkus Reviews
For centuries, premodern societies recorded and preserved much of their written cultures on parchment: the rendered skins of sheep, cows, goats, camels, deer, gazelles, and other creatures. These remains make up a significant portion of the era's surviving historical record. In a study spanning three millennia and twenty languages, Bruce Holsinger explores this animal archive as it shaped the inheritance of the Euro-Mediterranean world, from the leather rolls of ancient Egypt to the Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom.
Holsinger discusses the making of parchment past and present, the nature of the medium as a biomolecular record of faunal life and environmental history, the knotty question of "uterine vellum," and the imaginative role of parchment in the works of St. Augustine, William Shakespeare, and a range of Jewish rabbinic writers of the medieval era. Closely informed by the handicraft of contemporary makers, painters, and sculptors, the book draws on a vast array of sources--codices and scrolls, documents and ephemera, works of craft and art--that speak to the vitality of parchment across epochs and continents. At the center of On Parchment
is the vexed relationship of human beings to the myriad slaughtered beasts whose remains make up this vast record: a relationship of dominion and compassion, of brutality and empathy.