Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mapping the Invention of Printing


Most people probably associate the birth of printing with Johannes Gutenberg's invention of mechanical movable type in the 15th century. However a new interactive map from the Library of Congress explores the use of woodblock printing by the Chinese nearly 1,000 years before Gutenberg was even born.

In Incunabula the Library looks at the emergence of printing in Western Europe in the 15th and 16th century, while also acknowledging the production of books and manuscripts before the invention of mechanical moving type. The Library's history of printing includes an interactive map showing the number of the Library's incunabula that were produced in each European city (screenshot above).

As well as this interactive map Incunabula includes a close look at some of the fantastic illustrated manuscripts and early printed books owned by the Library. As you progress through the story map Incunabula takes you on a tour around 15th & 16th century Europe, tracing the spread of printing, and examining some of the earliest printed works in Germany, Italy, France, the Low Countries and England.


Johannes Gutenberg's invention of mechanical movable type printing in the 15th century was probably the most important discovery in the modern age. Gutenberg's invention kick-started the Renaissance and undoubtedly led to the spread of literacy and learning among the general population in Europe.

The Atlas of Early Printing is a Google Map charting the spread of printing, from Gutenberg's first movable type printer in 1452 in Mainz to the rest of Europe by the end of the 15th century. The map includes a timeline that allows you to visualize the rise of printing presses throughout Europe over the course of the 15th century.

The map also includes a number of other layers that allow you to visualize the output of each mapped press, the location of universities in the 15th century, the location of paper mills and European trade routes.
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