The Early History of Moveable Print

Civilization is the printed word. This is because printed literature, both fiction and non-fiction, not only spread knowledge more easily and readily to the masses, but it also makes political and societal governance more easily to achieve as well. Imagine if your local government was attempting to send you a notice through verbal message or if you had to file your taxes all through hand-written documents. What if the messanger got the message wrong, or the writer of your tax documents made a mistake or left something out? The level of literacy in your nation would probably be much lower than it is today as well. Organized society as we know it would not be possible. The fact that civilization has progressed to the point it has today, with me typing this essay on a computer, is largely thanks to the organized printing of words centuries ago. The following is a history of moveable print from its beginnings in Asia to the beginning of Moveable Type in Europe.

The first instance of printing in any form appeared centuries ago in Asia. This was block printing. This is where a wood block with a letter, image, or pattern carved in its face is covered in ink and pressed on to cloth or paper (an example of a woodblock used for making patterns can be seen above). The first instance of this form of printing first appeared in Korea during the Silla Kingdom.

Movable type, which is the process of using movable metal components, each with a letter or grammar mark to create an entire document was first used in China around the year 1040. It’s inventor, believed to be Bi Sheng, used porcelain components rather than metal. Unfortunately, China never took complete advantage of this process. This is most likely due the exceptionally large Chinese Alphabet. This process was also developed in Europe around 1439. It’s inventor is believed to be the famous Johannes Gutenberg, creator of the famous Gutenberg Bible (of which one can bee seen above), however claims that he was not the first have arisen over the years, in some cases with evidence supporting the claims. This process was fully utilized by the Europeans and helped to begin the Renaissance.

From the invention and adequate use of movable print in Europe printing literally took off and became widely used across the continent. When colonies were established in the New World across the sea printing presses followed the thousands of colonists on their journeys. The importance of printing cannot be understated. The use of movable print was absolutely necessary to the success of the American Revolution as pamphlets in support of the revolution were able to be printed en mass to garner support from the revolutionaries. Without the printing press the common citizen would have never heard the words of Thomas Paine and other famous revolutionaries.

The world we know today would be impossible without moveable print. Without it we would not be able to spread different ideas as easily and our collective worldview would have a much smaller horizon than we do today. Indeed, the world we would know would be more akin to what was had in the Middle Ages with only a select few being able to read. Our world would have barely advanced and we would still be fighting wars on the backs of horses, and the height of architecture would be fortress castles that we would cower behind in our ignorance. Indeed we have a better world with moveable print.

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