A Miracle of Books: From Gutenberg to Project Gutenberg (Blog post by Amanda Helm)

Photo of Amanda Helm costumed as Archangel MichaelJoan herself was an illiterate peasant in a time when readers were few and books were literally gilded treasures available to the rich and the church.  To me, the exquisitely illuminated manuscripts beautifully reflect the true treasure a book can be – life-saving knowledge, intellectual camaraderie, a journey to another land or another time, or a walk in another’s shoes.  But  costly production and laboriously slow hand copying made such knowledge scarce.  The Gutenberg press came along just a few years after Joan’s death. What a contrast this site captures!  Today books are cheap and widely available, and those who hunger for knowledge can finally get plenty to eat.  Not only can you buy a book for the price of an ale, rather than the price of a horse, but many books are available free to the public in their local libraries and online through Project Gutenberg and others like it.  Today, without paying a cent or even getting out of my chair, I, a mere middle class female, probably have access to more knowledge than King Charles VII had in Joan’s time, let alone Joan. This is progress indeed.  Almost every one of the resources available on this site is available free – at least free to New Orleanians through their local library – and many are also free to the global community not eligible for a New Orleans Public Library card.  Over half of the resources on this site are available instantly through your computer, as a borrowable or buyable e-book or streaming. Thirty percent are both free AND instant, and more than one third involve multimedia – and this is what’s available for a 600-year-old topic!  If someone could have told Joan about such a library, it would have seemed a fantastical fairy tale comparable to streets paved in gold.  Every now and then, just once in a while, humanity gets it right.

-By Amanda Helm

Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc

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