Communication scholars are reputed to be uncommonly susceptible to the forbidden charms of technological determinism. We are well-schooled in the dangers of thinking about media as natural objects with fixed edges, and we have been cautioned against pursuing the consequences of technologies without also inquiring into their genesis.1 Yet the excitement of exploring a particular gadget or system lowers our guard, and, in the heat of the moment, active verbs consort with technologies to produce unqualified cause-and-effect statements. Such is our reputation. Although the bulk of this notoriety may be based more in caricature than a representative sampling of scholarship, examples that perpetuate the myth are not difficult to find. Remedies to technological determinism, both prophylactic and treatment-

oriented, may be found by looking to the practices of historians, beginning with the sideways reading advocated by John Durham Peters earlier in this volume – the habit of looking away from obvious topics and questions to “incidentals and contingencies.”2 Each of the authors in this section turns away from familiar lines of inquiry to pursue issues of communication technology and history from fresh perspectives. Peter Stallybrass directs our gaze away from the “revolutionary” – and

controversial – effects of the printing press to the materiality of the artifacts it was used to produce. The truly revolutionary consequences of the printing press, Stallybrass contends, are found not in books (which constituted a relatively small portion of early printed material) but in printed blank forms, which provide the material basis for compulsory literacy by inciting handwritten completion. By examining the circumstances of reception of first indulgences, then almanacs, and finally the US Constitution, Stallybrass dispels the commonly held assumption that print replaced manuscript, instead locating print within a system of communication. Indulgences, for example, were “sold by a revolutionary conjoining of speech (sermons), printing (blank indulgences), and writing (the completion of the blank forms in manuscript).”3