The rise of paper

PhD candidate: Gopaiah Talari


To examine the development of paper, by examining costs and quality of paper and parchment.

Expected Results

Using electrostatic extract of protein from printed books and contemporaneous archival documents, the project will explore the dynamic interaction of parchment and paper. Historical data on prices of parchment and paper will be collected and then compared with the amount, quality and species used to prepare gelatin size in rag paper. These data will be compared with the animal origin of parchment in printed books (was the gelatin size sourced from parchment off cuts?). Is there a correlation between the dramatic fall in cost of paper relative to parchment in the 15th and the parchment being used to compete (on colour, material properties)? Does the weakness of rag paper at this time enable parchment manufactures to reduce their material quality whilst still remaining competitive?

My project

The shortage of parchment in the Late Medieval period was almost endemic in Europe, but in the 12th century a new kind of writing material appeared in Italy, introduced by merchants trading with Arabs: paper. In the first four or five centuries of its manufacturing in Europe, paper was neither cheap nor available in unlimited quantities. The raw material - rags - were a strategic commodity. Italians discovered that if the paper is dipped into a warm dilute gelatin solution, pressed and allowed to dry, it can be written on without fear of the ink bleeding. This gelatin sized paper was both tougher and stronger and therefore more reminiscent of parchment. Some three centuries after the introduction of paper, a second innovation: printing, transformed the Medieval world. Initially paper was neither sufficiently cheap nor abundant to be the only printed medium, and both media were used. During the earliest years printing was done on both vellum and paper. Vernacular texts were more commonly written on paper, whereas religious texts and legal documents were transcribed on the more expensive parchment. As part of this thematic section, two project (@DEVRO and @UoY) will explore the effect of production methods on parchment and gelatin, and direct evidence for these in early printed books.

Paralleling a study of the decline in parchment, a literary study will explore evidence for the cost of materials in the 15th and 16th C and will examine the relative use of these two media or administrative, secular and religious texts, written and printed books. There should be a correlation between the perceived importance and longevity of the text and the quality of the medium. What is the documentary evidence for the costs of the different media, and how does the evidence culled from primary and secondary historical sources compare with the direct evidence from the page? Gopaiah Talari will be trained to conduct species identification of parchment, and will do so as part of a project in collaboration with Prof. Stephen Milner (Serena Professor of Italian, University of Manchester).

Gopaiah Talari will work primarily with materials from the Windskill and Borthwick Archives (Legal Documents ) and Rylands Library (books printed on parchment and paper).


Planned secondments:

  1. Secondment period of 6 months at DEVRO (co-supervision), to work closely with Carla Soto and Gordon Paul.
  2. Secondment period in the conservation studio of the Borthwick Institute (University of York).

Gopaiah Talari will collaborate with Prof. Stephen Milner (Serena Professor of Italian, University of Manchester) and Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy and collections in the Rylands Library.

At: University of York

Supervisor: Matthew Collins