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Bookish Adventure in Indexing

Largely absent from popular and academic literature, the history of index has finally received proper attention in Index, A History of the (Penguin Books, 2021), a newly published study by Dennis Duncan, a writer, translator, and lecturer in English at University College London. Those who anticipate first-class historical inquiry, however, may be a little disappointed. Index, A History of the is not formal historical research but rather a collection of essays; readers are guided through an exhibit of manuscripts from prominent libraries and archives accompanied by thorough annotations. These annotations bring the indexes to life by connecting them with their creators, their users, and the entire “reading ecosystem.”

Duncan traces the birth of the index to the 13th century, which was marked by the rise of universities and the development of the sermon. Responding to the needs of learned society and the clergy, and to the growing demand for new ways of reading, Oxford scholar Robert Grosseteste prepared his Tabula, the first theological subject index, and French Dominican friar Hugh of Saint-Cher composed the earliest concordance of the Bible. These early efforts at identifying and categorizing ideas might seem too complex and confusing to modern readers. It took a long time for indexing tools to be fully developed and universally accepted by the publishing industry…

See full review at: “A Bookish Adventure in Indexing: Review of Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of the”, The Bulletin of the ISC/SCI, 43(3), Winter 2021, p. 15.

Posted in History of indexing