A few years ago, a well-known German scientific publisher published a voluminous book by a former general director of one of the country's most important libraries, which is extraordinary in one respect - the attached register of the people mentioned is completely unusable.

It does not refer to page numbers, but to chapter numbers.

So the user has to go from the index to the table of contents, look there first for the chapter and then for the page number with which it begins, and then read the ten to twenty page chapter to find, sooner or later, the place where the person you are looking for is named.

Worse than such a messed-up register is only the tendency that has been observed for years to do without registers entirely for (alleged) reasons of cost.

After all, missing or unusable indexes draw the reader's attention to the fact that "the book" is an extremely elaborate object that has been equipped with numerous control and development tools over the course of its long history, which make reading the text possible in the first place or at least make it easier.

These include, for example, the separation of words introduced in the High Middle Ages (by a period, later a space), the provision of page numbers, the detailed structure into chapters and paragraphs including headings and running column headings, the introduction of additional levels through footnotes, indexing through tables of contents and index, identification of the work by a title page, and so on.

How all these elements got into the book and how they developed over the centuries to the perfection that we use so naturally today has only been researched to a limited extent.

The volume “Book Parts”, which was published by Oxford University Press three years ago, offers a first general overview, and its co-editor Dennis Duncan now presents one of these elements in detail.

If the page references are no longer correct

Under the appropriate title "Index", Duncan provides insights into the history of the registers, which have been used since the High Middle Ages with more or less great success to open up complex texts and to provide quick and uncomplicated access to the material for new questions.

In order to form functioning registers, it was necessary to return to alphabetical classification systems, which were known in the Middle Ages but were by no means preferred.

Around the year 1230 the first registers were created, compiled by Hugo von Saint-Cher in Paris and by Robert Grosseteste in Oxford, who had come up with the same idea independently of one another.

Grosseteste wanted to create a subject index that would show the contents of numerous books using a complicated system of symbols and abbreviations,

which he entered in the books.

Hugo von Saint-Cher, on the other hand, limited himself to a single book, of course the Bible, in order to create an index of all the words found in it, a concordance.