The printed word may seem a bit like yesterday’s news when you’re living in the computer age, but in its day it was truly revolutionary.
The history of printing can be observed as far back as the Ancient Sumerians in 3500 BCE, who would use cylinder seals to stamp documents written in clay. This was however a far cry from printing as we would come to know it.
By 200 CE, the art of woodblock printing had been developed in China. This involved designs being painstakingly chiselled into wooden blocks, before being covered in ink and applied to cloth. While this allowed copies to be easily produced, creating the woodblock was still a long and laborious process.
It wasn’t until the 10th Century that a commoner named Pi Sheng developed the first known movable type, which could be disassembled and re-used to create new documents. While this did make printing quicker and cheaper, the vast number of Chinese characters meant that the benefits wouldn’t be properly appreciated until its arrival in Europe hundreds of years later. When it did arrive though, it made quite the entrance.
It’s hard to discuss the history of printing—at least, not from a European perspective–without mentioning Johannes Gutenberg. While he was several hundred years too late to create the first printing press, his innovations definitely kicked things up a notch.
“What gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind” - Wendell Phillips
Gutenberg’s printing press has gone down in history as one of the all-time greatest inventions. He may have been late to the party but, by the end, he’d whipped out a guitar and was leading the conga line. While he failed to make his fortune, Gutenberg’s innovations served to kick-start the printing revolution, fuel the Italian Renaissance and lead the way for the age of information.
Join us as we turn the page on this first series of The Gallimaufry, and discover how Gutenberg left his mark on world history. You’re guaranteed to be impressed.
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- Eisenstein, E. L. (1980). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Trans (Complete in One Volume). Cambridge University Press.
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- McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Reprint Edition). University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division.