Printing has been a tool and even a weapon for revolution and information in society. In any epoch we scrutinise, the ideas have travelled through books, magazines, journals, pamphlets- Print! But do we know how these methods developed?
The First Printed Books
China, Japan and Korea were the earliest countries to begin printing books or to invent the paper from papyrus. Calligraphy- the art of aesthetic writing is known to have developed in China which was also a major contributor of printed material. Beginning from students, the culture of possessing information on print spread to merchants, writers, traders, etc. In Japan, hand printing developed around 768-770 AD. Diamond Sutra is one of the oldest Japanese books. Libraries and bookstores, gradually bloomed in the Edo (now Tokyo) region of Japan.
Print Comes to Europe
In Europe, paper arrived through the import route for spices and silk. Whereas woodblock printing was introduced by Marco Polo in Italy from where it spread in the entire continent. Here, the demand for books led to the culture of book fairs and the production shifted to woodblock printing which was more sustainable than manuscript. Johannes Gutenberg made a breakthrough in printing by the invention of a new print technology in 1430s. He printed 180 copies in three years of the Bible initially. Between 1450 and 1550, printing presses were set up across Europe.
Print Revolution and its Impact
Printing, obviously, reduced the cost of books. By the end of the 16th century, 200 million copies were printed. Just like audiobooks of today, the literature in books which could only be afforded by the elite class, were narrated to the common people by way of public reading in taverns, citadels, etc. People who couldn’t buy a book would listen to its narration.
People could debate by publishing their views and new ideas could be easily introduced. Martin Luther’s Ninety Five Theses could reach the public through print only. Those in power feared the pivotal role printed material could have on the public. Luther’s New Testament challenged the Catholic Church and was a cause for the formation of the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Church began to maintain an Index of Prohibited Books to scrutinize “irreligious” texts.
The ideas of Issac Newton, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, etc reached the common people by almanacs, chapbooks (sold on poor quality material for a penny), newspapers, journals, etc. Books became synonymous to enlightenment, liberty from tyranny and misinformation. Print media is a considered cause behind the French Revolution. There was a leap in literacy.
The Nineteenth Century
In 1857, printing presses for children’s textbooks were set up making them major readers. Women readers were also a major part of this culture, though, they were confined to reading more “appropriate” texts like manuals on housekeeping, religion, etc. Jane Austen, the Brontë Sisters, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) were writers who broke through stereotypes in an arena of male-dominated writing. Lending libraries, biographies, political tracts became popular and by the 19th century, metal printing presses were developed capable of printing 8,000 pages a day. Richard M. Hoe developed the cylindrical printing press.
Manufacturers around the world devised new ways of advertising their books. Shilling Books, a series available at low rates was brought out to attract common man. During the Great Depression, paperback editions came into existence to ensure the reader’s interest in reading.
Importance of Books
Pen is mightier than a sword because a weapon may kill a man but his ideas influence others forever. Had we not discovered printing, the revolutionary ideas would not have been available to us at such ease. Monarchs since the Anglo-Saxon invasions have agreed to this fact that if a culture is to be truly obliterated, one must destroy the libraries.
Even today, great thinkers, businessmen, entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, etc cannot emphasise enough on the power of reading. Regular reading opens a world of possible thinking, it awakens us to the truth we cannot physically see. A book is a vicarious experience in words.