A Codicology of the Interface

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  • Title: A Codicology of the Interface: Reading Practices and Digital Reading Environments
  • Author(s): Voytek Bialkowski
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Information, Medium & Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Book
  • Keywords: Interface Design, Digital Textuality, Book History, Codicology, Reading Practices
  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2011
  • ISSN: 1447-9516 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1447-9567 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/1447-9516/CGP/v08i02/36877
  • Citation: Bialkowski, Voytek. 2011. "A Codicology of the Interface: Reading Practices and Digital Reading Environments." The International Journal of the Book 8 (2): 101-106. doi:10.18848/1447-9516/CGP/v08i02/36877.
  • Extent: 6 pages


This paper is based on an ongoing thesis project incorporating concepts and methods from Human-Computer Interaction, Book History, Information Studies, and Digital Humanities. The goal of this project is to synthesize historical reading practices, material evidence, and literature towards the creation of a prototype digital reading environment. This paper will document some of the conceptual and technical aspects of the project, as well as provide grounds for the discussion of book architecture and digital reading interfaces. The history of reading is rich with examples of the ways in which books were constructed, consumed, and shared. Particularly during the Renaissance, readerly devices came into increasing use as methods for overcoming ‘information overload.’ Today, these various trends in marginalia, annotation, and binding practices can be leveraged to develop rich, user-customizable digital reading environments. Attention to the history of the book, specifically the material interventions into the physical forms of the book by readers, binders, and publishers, can allow for new conceptual approaches, and subsequently, more varied and modular approaches to the design of reading interfaces. Various textual features, such as manicules, trefoils, and other graphic, marginal devices, as well as trends in binding, such as interleaving, offer evidence of interfaces that are far more robust than those used in popular digital reading environments. Incorporation of these features as modular, customizable components into digital environments can provide insight into reading practices and interface design, by looking simultaneously to the history and the future of the book.