I have written this article in response to one of my site visitor’s question. After reading my post, The History of Writing the visitor felt the history would be incomplete unless it included the Printing Press history. So, this has led me to write who invented Printing Press?
Historical trends have revealed two things. Firstly, the history of writing is not static. Secondly, while not being static, history has evolved over the years and has done so in stages.
This post will focus primarily on the History of the Printing Press including its linkages with other writing systems. An equally interesting subject worth noting is how the writing systems have impacted people’s lives in general.
The History of Writing article alluded to the world’s writing systems that were in existence since ancient times up to the present day period.
To recap, below are the writing systems in a nutshell:
(1) Cuneiform The first Cuneiform were pictographs and were first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) around 3,500 B.C.
(2) Shorthand – The Pitman shorthand was invented in 1837.
(3) Archaic Greek – The Ancient Greek period saw the Greek alphabet being developed between 800 B.C. And 500 B.C.
(4) Modern Chinese – Old Persian and Modern Cherokee.
The Impact of the Printing Invention – Democratisation of Knowledge
(1) The advent of the printing press is reported to have taken place 500 years ago. This was before paper and print were invented. Oral communication was the only method used for gathering and distributing information.
This method was not helpful in terms of promoting community growth. Another drawback was that in those days methods of accurately storing and retrieving information were not available.
(2) Papyrus scrolls and manuscript codex were the technologies involved in the written word. The main disadvantage was it was time-consuming. To make matters worse, a few copies were in circulation but were not widely distributed. They were only limited to the upper, rich and famous class in society.
(3) The invention of the printing press saw a shift from the laborious manuscript to the codex print.
(4) The concept of printing was first conceived and developed in China and Korea.
(5) However, the first mechanised printing press was invented by a German metal worker, Johann Gutenberg, in 1452.
Gutenberg did not invent the printing press. Instead, he conceived the idea of the movable type of 3 distinct technologies people had been using for many centuries before Gutenberg (Jones 2007). History records that Gutenberg is the one who developed a press which mechanised the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. And this was a press perfectly suited for printing.
The printing press allowed many copies of written work to be quickly created. The result was information for all. Many people were now having access to information.
This also provided the framework for the gradual transformation of literacy on a societal level. For the first time in history, books could now be mass-produced at a minimal cost compared to the previous era characterised by conventional printing methods. The transformation was so drastic. The need for the laborious manuscript copying and production of the written word was no longer there.
How the Printing Press Transformed the World
The printing press facilitated the democratizing of knowledge. In the sense that a greater number of individuals were given access to more information. The printing press made it possible to make the written work more uniform in its viewing format. The mechanization of the printing press achieved more regular spacing and hyphenation of the print (Bolter, 2001).
In the period prior to the printing press, the written word was individually ascribed with no standard format, with inconsistent writing and grammar because it was handwritten. The printing press led to more consistent spellings, grammar and punctuations. (McLuhan, 1962).
Through this uniformity and reliability of the written work, readers were able to interpret consistently the writer’s thoughts and ideas. Before the advent of the printing press, books were quite expensive because it was a laborious task to hand-scribe each book.
Unfortunately, only the wealthy upper elite class could afford such books. Not surprising that those literate were mainly found at this class level.
The Cultural and Religious Transformations
The printing press was also a driving factor in creating significant cultural and religious transformations throughout Europe. Eisenstein (1997) discusses the shift from manuscript to print in relation to three movements.
(1) The Scientific Revolution
(2) The Renaissance
(3) The Reformation.
The invention of the printing press helped scientists to be flexible in the sharing and exchanging of information. The book, Orality and Literacy Walter J. Ong wrote, sheds light on the changes that occurred in terms of thought and expression, as a result of introducing the act of writing.
Also, the author acknowledges the role the printing press has played. He sees it as a positive role of reinforcing and transforming the effects of writing thoughts and expression.
The Printing Press As An Agent Of Change (1979), is a historical book written by Professor Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. She clarifies how diversified and vast particular effects of the print were. Her book shed light on the advent of printing and its importance as an agent of change.
Eisenstein also touched on the shift that occurred from script to print including the major movements of early modern times: the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science.
Marotti (1995) in Literary Criticism focuses on England. Marotti examines the interrelationships between two systems of manuscript and print publication. In particular, how they shaped together with the emerging institution of literature.
This occurred during the English Renaissance period, a time when anthologies, pamphlets, folio editions including manuscript were circulated.
In this ground-breaking historical and cultural study of sixteenth- and early seventeenth century, there is no doubt the printing system had a profound impact on the lives of people in general. With the mass production of books also came the widespread distribution of written materials.
The Amazing Transformation
More people had access to reading materials and were exposed to extra reading. This broadened their source of information, now coming from different views and opinions. This also covered religions and cultural exchanges.
Hopefully, this post is informative enough to address one of my readers’ questions, ‘Would you please add the printers history as a writers’ tool?‘
If you have any question related to, Who Invented Printing Press? please feel free to leave it below. I will be more than happy to respond as soon as I can.