The following blog entry is part of Battle Castle’s interactive history fiction game, Masters of Constantinople. If you like Battle Castle and want to learn more about fortifications, medieval war and 15th century life, be sure to play at www.mastersofconstantinople.com.
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Believe it or not the Black Death, which began to ravage the populations of Europe in the fourteenth century, was an important factor in the invention of the printing press. The beginning of this long, circuitous chain of events can be found in the rise of towns and cities in Western Europe, which sparked trade with the outside world all the way to China. Trade exposed Europe to rag paper, block printing, and the Black Death.
For centuries the Chinese had made paper from the pulp of water and old rags pressed in a squeeze press into paper. Arabs learned these skills from the Chinese when they took Chinese prisoners familiar with the practice at the Battle of Talus River (751 AD). The practice spread through the Muslim world and via Moorish Spain hit Western Europe in the late 12th century. The Black Death catalyzed the invention of the printing press in the west in three main ways-
Block printing had existed for centuries in the east before it came to Western Europe. Nevertheless, the invention of movable type was a western one, dependent on European advancements in the mining and working of metals. Johannes Gutenberg, the man who combined rag paper, squeeze press, and movable type into first printing press in 1451, was a goldsmith. Whereas block print required the setting of an entire page of text and could only be used once, movable type allowed the separate letter to be re-arranged and re-used. Ultimately, the quick, cheap, and easy reproduction of written works with the printing press led to a rapid acceleration in the creation and dissemination of ideas, which in turn led to the explosion of learning in the Renaissance.
Awesome chart showing causes and effects of printing press- http://www.flowofhistory.com/category/export/html/40
History of Paper- http://www.paperrep.com/content/paper-hist.aspx
Van Doren, Charles. A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future. New York: Ballantine, 1991.
Jennifer Lynn Jordan is an author and medieval blogger. She is also a doctoral student in medieval history and teaching fellow at SUNY Stony Brook.