Research seminar
Michael Hagner
19 - 21 March 2015

It is a truism in history of technology that the “printing revolution”, as the American historian of the French Revolution Elizabeth Eisenstein suggests, profoundly transformed the generation, representation and circulation of knowledge.In arts, humanities and sciences the printed book has been the authoritative medium of scholarly communication for more than 550 years. Books are manageable individual objects with a long life span, and books are containers for preserving of what we think is part of the intelligibility of the world. The book has been as important for the advancement of human civilisation as the compass and gun powder and as the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan states, the book facilitated modern individualism and the predominance of Western culture. McLuhan also predicted that we are approaching the end of the Gutenberg Galaxy. Since the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, prophecies concerning the death of the book have been repeated again and again.

There is no doubt that we are witnessing a retreat of paper, while digital publications are on the rise. This development is strengthened by political initiatives such as Open Access in the sciences and the humanities, and by new business models that push e-books and tablets. This shift is profoundly changing the ontology of contents. Whereas the content of a printed book is exclusively directed towards human readers, assuming that these contents are intelligible to human minds, the content of a digital text in a certain format is also accessible to machinized “readers”. Hence, the content is transformed into data, which are analysed according to given algorithms.

These changes do not only challenge our phantasy concerning the value of knowledge and the idea of the “readability of the world”, proposed by the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg, they also remind us of reflecting the role of the printed book in a digital environment. Does it have a future, and if so, what role could and should that be? Are we already witnessing changes in book culture that might lead into new directions? Could the book of the future serve as a kind of boundary object, which has lost the exclusive dominance of the Gutenbergian book, but gives way to integrate different cultures, practices and values ranging from the arts to the sciences? Or should we regard it as a vaccine against the arbitrariness of the web?

Questions like these pertain to the book in general, that is, arts and humanities, artists’ books, photography, visual culture and the relationship between artistic and scholarly work. The examination of the role of the book is subject of the workshop at the Istituto Svizzero. We will tackle the history and ontology of the book, reflect about their function in the scholarly and in the artists’ world, and include publishers, book makers and artists who present their views both from practical and theoretical perspectives. We understand this broad perspective as a kind of boundary work, by which we offer a fresh view on the book in a situation of conflicts between paper and the digital, quantification and narration, commons and commodities.

Michael Hagner, born in 1960, is professor of Science Studies at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences at ETH Zurich. His research focuses on history of brain’s research, the role of images in scientific research and recently on the history of book in science.

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Roger Eberhard
Is a Swiss artist and publisher, founder of the b.frank book.

Christoph Schifferli
Supervises oScope Media, a company specialized in digital archives, dynamic web solutions and intuitive applications for multimedia devices. He collects books of art and photography.

Dagmar Varady
Lives and works in Halle. She studied design at Burg Giebichenstein Academy of Arts and Design in Halle and media art with specialization in inter-media at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig. She belongs to the generation of artists working intensely on the borderline between art and science.


Istituto Svizzero di Roma
via Ludovisi 48, Rome

Biblioteca Casanatense
via di Sant’Ignazio 52, Rome



Thursday 19 March
Istituto Svizzero



Welcome by Michele Luminati (ISR Director)


Michael Hagner, The Order of the Book:

Paper, Digitalization, and Disciplines


Ann-Kathrin Eickhoff, Artists Books in the ‘Sammlung Marzona’


Roger Eberhard, (Self-)publishing Photobooks in the Digital Age

Friday 20 March
Casanatense Library



Christoph Schifferli, The Dematerialization of the Art Book


Stefan Scheidegger, Writing in the age of machine translation


Saturday 21 March
Istituto Svizzero



Dagmar Varady, Crafting Digital Art: Practices and Problems


Fabian Grütter, Visual Design in the Office:
Standardizing Stationery Design


Michael Hagner, Books Unbound: Concluding Remarks


Gallery: Michael Hagner – The order of the book