Over on the wonderful blog Got Medieval is a discussion about what terms define the medieval period and about the slipperiness between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. What are the seven terms that define the Middle Ages? According to Got Medieval's students, "knights, things found on or around knights, and peasants" (my summary really doesn't do that classroom exercise justice; it's well worth reading). Got Medieval offers his own list, based on his tag cloud: "Beowulf, King Arthur, Marginalia, Manuscripts, the Bayeux Tapestry, Popes, and Latin."
A recurring feature on the blog is "Mmm... Marginalia", a highly entertaining look at medieval marginalia. I certainly wouldn't want to argue that marginalia or manuscripts should not be strongly associated with the medieval period. But what about books?
The first book printed with moveable type was Johannes Gutenberg's Bible, completed in 1455. Given the complexity of the task, it's likely that Gutenberg began experimenting with moveable type in the 1440s. Is that the Middle Ages or the Renaissance in Mainz?
I'm not quibbling with Got Medieval's list, or with the other lists that commentators devised (some of which do mention books on their list of defining traits of the period). But I do want to pause on that question of whether books are medieval. That split between medieval & manuscript versus renaissance & book reveals a great deal about how we conceptualize not only the two historical periods but also the traits of manuscripts and books.
More posts on that in the future. In the meantime, admire different copies of Gutenberg's Bible at the British Library, the Harry Ransom Center, Gottingen Library, and the Library of Congress.
UPDATE: Got Medieval fans: see my newest post updating this one!