The Perfection of Printing in the Renaissance
The Perfection of Printing
Woodblock printing was invented in China before A.D. 220 and remained the main method of printing on cloth and paper for centuries. However, this method was not practical for printing multiple copies of long texts. Movable type, in which each block was an individual letter or character, made the process much more efficient. Printers first tried movable wooden type, but soon turned to metal because it was much more durable.
The Koreans were the first to print entire books with movable metal type, perhaps as early as the 1200s. The world’s oldest surviving book printed with movable metal type is a Korean guide to Buddhism published in the late 1300s.
Like all other Asian inventions, the technology of printing eventually traveled westward. Europeans were producing printed textiles and fabrics by the twelfth century. When paper became widely available around 1400, they began trying to develop an efficient method of printing texts on it. Born around 1398 in the city of Mainz, the artisan Johannes Gutenberg achieved the first and best success at movable-type printing in Europe. He invented the modern printing press and also arrived at a combination of metals that made his type the clearest and most durable. In fact, his recipe continued to be used until digital printing became near-universal at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
The first European printed book was the Vulgate Bible, the Latin translation commonly used throughout Europe at that time. It is often called “the Gutenberg Bible” in honor of the printer.
The importance of the development of movable type and the printing press cannot be underestimated. Printing may be the single most important invention of the millennium. The widespread availability of books led directly and swiftly to a rise in literacy. For the first time, literacy and knowledge were not exclusive to priests and wealthy people, but came within the reach of everyone. For the first time, texts (including the Bible) became available in the languages people actually spoke, not just in Latin.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:
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