Where we learn that moveable type & paper making came to the west from China first & Da Vinci had his hands in everything
Around 1040 AD moveable wood type is developed in China and it is believed that Marco Polo saw money being printed on paper in China around 1298. Stories about these new ideas and technology were brought back to Europe and helped shape new innovations coming out of the era of the Renaissance.
It’s during this time that Renaissance — the enlightenment, scholarship, individualism and humanism as well as belief in science — was moving across Europe. Starting in Florence in the late 13th century, then across Italy first, artists like Leonardo de Vinci, exploring their creativity and innovation beyond art, to pursue a variety of interests, including science and engineering. Around 1487, Leonardo DiVinci began research in the area of anthropometrics. The Vitruvian Man, one of his most famous drawings, can be described as one of the earliest sources presenting guidelines for anthropometry. Around the same time, he also began to study the flight of birds. He grasped that humans are too heavy and not strong enough to fly using wings simply attached to the arms. Therefore, he sketched a device in which the aviator lies down on a plank and works two large, membranous wings using hand levers, foot pedals, and a system of pulleys. Leonardo’s innovations and inventions continue to amaze and astound scholars and historians for his prescience of ideas that took several hundred years to come to fruition. Today, anthropometry plays a considerable role in the fields of computer design, design for access and maintainability, simplicity of instructions, and ergonomics issues.
“If we read treatises, orations, dedicatory prefaces, writings on art or courtly conduct, and especially if we read works written about this period a few decades later — like Vasari’s Lives of the Artists which will be the first to call this age a rinascita — we see what Johan Burkhardt described, and what popular understandings of the Renaissance focus on: a self-conscious golden age bursting with culture, art, discovery, and vying with the ancients for the title of Europe’s most glorious age.”
Another aspect of this time that helped spread the concepts of Humanism and Science was the fact that the Libraries in Italy were open to the public and not just to scholars or the clergy. Making information freely available changes things. People are no longer reliant on being told what is what, but can discover and learn for themselves as well as read and study different voices and perspectives.
It’s not until 1439 when Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz Germany, conceives of a better way to create moveable type, which he had learned about from China through travelers, from carved wood or ceramic, to produce letters in metal via a matrix and casting an alloy of lead and other letters. This allowed letters to be easily made in various sizes for different printing needs. The letters could be formed together as needed on the press and easily moved around which in turn allowed for rapid printing capabilities.
This invention is profound for the western world because mass printing means printing can be done in larger quantities than ever before. Broadsides, newspapers, and books can all be made cheaply and made available to a whole class of people who previously didn’t have access to the written word. The ability to read helped move people out of poverty into a middle class — where previously we saw only the poor and the rich. This is the first step into mass communication where printers become publishers and the printing industry, previously reliant on wealthy commissions, becomes self-sustaining by selling to this new market.
The spread of ideas and the collective culture was supporting exploration and invention, and ultimately changed the world.
This intro was followed by watching these videos for more information:
Chinese Arts & Crafts — Wooden Moveable Type Printing (YouTube)
Top 10 Most Amazing Inventions by Leonardo da Vinci! (YouTube)
The Evolution of the book — There are some factual errors in this video — I asked my students to find for extra credit. (YouTube)
Note: All these lectures were delivered via video with related slide decks of images. Following the intro, students had a series of readings and videos to watch related to the topics covered in the lecture or the overall time frame. They were then given a set of prompts to stimulate their thinking and writings which ended up in a class blog.
In the Beginning
Read intro lecture 1 — In the Beginning Part 1