The invention of Paper printing and the mechanical reproduction of books made them accessible to a wider public. This sparked a new desire for knowledge by a growing middle class. This availability of classical texts also helped fuel the Renaissance, a period of celebration of the individual and a turn towards humanism. Because texts were more easily dispersed, ideas could be discussed among many people at the same time. This development revolutionized science and culture.
Enlightenment books were invented during the Enlightenment
When books were invented during the Enlightenement, they were the products of a complex communication system. As Robert Darnton points out, the process of book production was collaborative and contested. The development of books was not an act of unrestrained authorial creativity, but rather a collaborative effort between author and publisher. The process was often strained and even hostile at times. Yet, it was a necessary part of the development of the Enlightenment book culture.
The printing press increased literacy and the type of information available. During the Enlightenment, Europe was recovering from the devastating Black Death, which decimated its population and led to the rise of the money economy. The printing press helped secularise Western culture. While many early texts were religious, more were secular. The print press paved the way for this transformation. As a result, books became accessible to the masses.
Paper printing was invented in the 19th century
The process of paper printing began in the 17th century, when Gutenberg adapted the wine press to print. This press squeezed a wooden plate against inked type, transferring pressure to the sheets of paper. In the late 18th century, a cast iron press was built by Lord Stanhope. It reduced the amount of force required to print a page by 90% and doubled its printing area. By 1814, the Times of London was printing more than 480 pages an hour. The revolutionary new process was successful and transformed the newspaper industry.
Until the Gutenberg Revolution, print was primarily a European invention. In the second half of the 13th century, papermaking had reached Asia, the Middle East, and Japan, where it was widely used in schools and churches. By the late fourteenth century, papermaking had spread throughout Asia and the Near East. By the 13th century, the first books were written in Europe using a handwritten method, usually a scribe.
Book format evolved with intermediate stages
When books were invented, they were not always the final form. They often included a collection of fragments or gatherings that were sewn together to make the entire book. The uniformity of the layout allowed for the mass production of multiple copies. A single book could be made from 20 copies in the same time as it took to create one copy on parchment. Paper, made from plant fibers, was invented in 105 A.D., though evidence suggests that the Chinese were making it 150 years earlier.
Paper manufacturing became increasingly mechanized
Since the invention of the printing press, the process of paper manufacturing has evolved significantly. Today, paper is used for fine printing of books and many art objects, such as calendars. However, before the invention of paper, the process of making books was largely manual. Today, paper manufacturing has become highly mechanized. During the process, various types of paper are used. Paperstocks used for printing books are often different from one another.
Manuscript books, or handcopied works bound as books, became a booming industry. As paper became more widely available, it paved the way for mechanical printing. Papermaking originally came to Europe from China, through Arab intermediaries. In the fourteenth century, paper mills had been developed in Italy. Unlike parchment, paper is more durable and produces more reliable writing material than parchment or vellum. During the process of papermaking, old rags were soaked in a chemical solution and then beat into pulp. The pulp was then washed and dried into sheets.
Book curses were placed at the front of some books
The British Library digitized an ancient Middle Dutch natural encyclopaedia and found a ‘dieren eet’, a Dutch word meaning ‘death,’ written below an image of a cross. This book curse required that the borrower swear to return the book or else he would die. The woman who subscribed to this curse was identified as a midwife.
Interestingly, this practice was not limited to a religious community. In pre-Christian times, religious communities often put a curse on special books to discourage thieves. Invoking the wrath of the gods on books was an effective way to protect them. The practice of placing curses at the front of some books was a form of copy protection, and today book thieves often ignore them.
Book culture in the Middle Ages was dominated by monasteries
In the Middle Ages, book culture was dominated by monasteries. Monasteries became self-sustaining, self-governing communities that provided medicine, education, and practical charity to those who needed it. They also worked in fields, including farming, and created books, illustrations, and manuscripts. Monks also copied and preserved ancient writings, which was a huge undertaking before the advent of printing. They also contributed to Western culture, being the first teachers in universities.
The Rule of Saint Benedict includes guidelines on what constitutes a good copy. This book also contains a history of copying as a monastic activity. Lionel Casson’s Library in the Ancient World gives us a history of monastic libraries and major figures. It is a good resource for those interested in early monastic history and information on ancient libraries. This book provides a detailed history of monasteries, including their mission statements and major figures.