Institute for the Study of the Book

Contact & adress

Friedrich-Alexander-Universitaet Erlangen-Nuernberg (FAU)
Institut fuer Buchwissenschaft
Katholischer Kirchenplatz 9
91054 Erlangen


Sekretariat / Office

Ute Müller
+49 9131 85-24700

E-Mail: buwi-sekretariat@fau.dee:

What does Book Science deal with?

The work of the Institute for the Study of the Book focuses on the system of written communication. The relevant media for this are writing and reading media, in which content is presented visually on a surface. The reception of the contents is carried out with the help of the cultural technique of reading as a process of decoding meaningful symbols. Reading as technique is not limited to letters in the narrow sense, but encompasses further complex visual representation forms of a static nature.

Writing and reading media such as the scroll, the medieval manuscript, the printed media like book, broadsheet and pamphlet, newspaper or magazine as well as electronic forms such as e-book, app or blog have assumed and continue to assume an important role in the organisation of societies. They served and serve to obtain information, education and entertainment, but also to work out social norms and values.

Abstracted from concrete material objects, the following formal objects, which characterize Erlangen’s book studies as an academic discipline, are at the core of its research and teaching:

The analysis of the use and reception of media, especially of reading and the reader

deals with questions around the recipients and the process of receiving written media. It examines the behaviour of readers, the environments in which and the conditions under which they read, the interaction of the traits of the written media with the reading process, as well as the social functions of reading and the attributions to written media and reading.

The analysis of institutions

deals with the laws, rules and usances that observe, promote, support, control or even regulate and restrict the system of written media communication. How were and are people prevented from disseminating certain information in the past and present, and what strategies have they developed to circumvent the barriers? Why can’t booksellers in some countries freely set prices for books?

The analysis of organisational services

focuses on the companies, structures and processes whose task it is to produce and distribute written media. Scriptorium and print shop, publishing house, book and press trade and libraries had and have certain tasks. What are these and why are the tasks distributed among the individual organisations as they are? Which actors have lost their importance over time, which will be added in the course of current developments? How complex are the processes of creating and distributing paper-based or digital written media?

The analysis of communicative performance

asks about the purpose and use of the various material objects: Which object is right for what? What are written and reading media suitable for? When is the codex form suitable, when the digital display, when the database with information? What is the difference between a book and a magazine, both printed and digital?

Analysis of the nature of written and reading media

observes the characteristics of the various material objects: Which material and functional traits do different carrier and transmission media such as parchment, paper or digital impulses have and how did and do readers deal with them? How is the typographic design related to the contents that are disseminated via written and reading media and how is the act of reading influenced by this? How do media types emerge and how do they change? What are the effects of these characteristics on production and distribution systems and on the possibility of using the artefacts? Last but not least: Which relationships can be established between content, media type, reader and buyer groups and their interests?

This means that »book communication« is a complex system

In summary, at the core of research and teaching in Erlangen are communication systems, understood as a complex interaction of

  • acting players who intellectually create or produce, distribute and receive communication;
  • writing and reading media as artefacts for the transport, storage and use of communication as well as a sign and symbol system of their own;
  • techniques and infrastructures for the production and logistic and acquisitional distribution of these media and for the circulation of communication, as well as
  • organizational services for the production and distribution of artefacts.

The communication system is of a publicist nature: the communication is basically intended for the public and not for individuals; it is supposed to diffuse in society. The Institute for the Study of the Book is primarily (but not only) dedicated to cultural communication and the cultural public sphere.

The communication system is influenced by institutions, understood as sets of rules of an external and internal nature, which promote or limit the behaviour of the actors involved and thus significantly influence the functionality of a concrete communication system.

These institutions as well as the actors are embedded in society and culture and shaped by historical developments.

What are the methods and epistemological goals?

The subject contours itself in Erlangen as an mélange subject with approaches from social sciences and humanities. It examines socially relevant, man-made phenomena in the form of material artefacts (media, infrastructures), institutions (e.g. regulation, usances) and behaviours (e.g. media use, decisions) and the interdependencies between them.

It necessarily works empirically: it examines phenomena and problem areas that actually exist(ed) in media-communicating societies and attempts to explain and frame them. The treatment of formal objects is led by the three levels of micro, meso and macro.

In order to be able to distinguish the novel and change from the merely supposed and to analyse the conditions of antecedence for the goals of knowledge, the subject also works historiographically and examines phenomena and solutions from other epochs.