(Roughly) Daily

Books do furnish a room…

From the turn of the second millennium, books (like the Diamond Sutra) were printed in China and Korea, but it wasn’t until the mid-1400’s, and Johannes Gutenberg, that the information revolution began.  Gutenberg designed an improved metal movable type; he invented of a process for making that type in quantity (mass production); he pioneered the use of oil-based ink, and the use of a wooden printing press similar to the screw-driven olive and wine presses of the period– but his truly revolutionary invention was the combination of these elements into an effective system.  Unlike his Chinese and Korean predecessors, Gutenberg could print many copies of the same book (relatively) speedily.

Moveable Type, like Gutenberg’s

Gutenberg himself was financially unsuccessful in his lifetime…  but his legacy, of course, changed everything: the printing technologies spread quickly, and so news and information began to travel across Europe much faster than before.  Printing fueled the Renaissance, enabled the Protestant Reformation, and (since it greatly facilitated scientific publishing), was a major catalyst for the Scientific Revolution… and all of that, before one even stops to note that it’s Gutenberg one has to thank for the beach/airplane entertainment of one’s choice…

Thanks to the good folks at the University of Iowa Libraries, we can now see exactly how Gutenberg’s invention spread from Mainz across Europe:  The Atlas of Early Printing will let one watch the technology spread (via an animation), or zoom in on any year between 1450 and 1500 to see how the location of printing presses compared to universities or paper plants, and to compare those locations with conflicts active at the time, with trade routes, and the like.

The Atlas of Early Printing

As we dust our shelves with added respect, we might light a birthday firecracker for Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, and briefly the Khagan of the Mongol Empire (after winning a fight with his brother Ariq Böke); Kublai was born on this date in 1215…  but the succession fight (in 1264) essentially marked the end of the unified Mongul Empire.  Shortly thereafter (in 1271), Kublai established the Yuan Dynasty, which at that time ruled over present-day Mongolia, North China, much of Western China, and assumed the role of a Chinese Emperor. Within a few years, the Yuan forces had successfully overcame the last resistance of the Southern Song Dynasty, and Kublai became the emperor of all China (where, of course, an earlier, less-flexible form of printing flourished)… and many centuries later, an inspiration to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Kublai Khan

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 23, 2008 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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