Report: Timeline of Communication Systems

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  1400 - 1500 A.D.

Johannes Gutenberg publishes the Bible as the first book in Europe by means of a movable metal font.

Gutenberg's printing press was an innovative aggregation of inventions known for centuries before Gutenberg: the olive oil press, oil-based ink, block-print technology, and movable types allowed the mass production of the movable type used to reproduce a page of text and enormously increased the production rate. During the Middle Ages it took monks at least a year to make a handwritten copy of a book. Gutenberg could print about 300 sheets per day. Because parchment was too costly for mass production - for the production of one copy of a medieval book often a whole flock of sheep was used - it was substituted by cheap paper made from recycled clothing of the massive number of deads caused by the Great Plague.

Within forty-five years, in 1500, ten million copies were available for a few hundred thousand literate people. Because individuals could examine a range of opinions now, the printed Bible - especially after having been translated into German by Martin Luther - and increasing literacy added to the subversion of clerical authorities. The interest in books grew with the rise of vernacular, non-Latin literary texts, beginning with Dante's Divine Comedy, the first literary text written in Italian.

Among others the improvement of the distribution and production of books as well as increased literacy made the development of print mass media possible.

Michael Giesecke (Sinnenwandel Sprachwandel Kulturwandel. Studien zur Vorgeschichte der Informationsgesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1992) has shown that due to a division of labor among authors, printers and typesetters Gutenberg's invention increasingly led to a standardization of - written and unwritten - language in form of orthography, grammar and signs. To communicate one's ideas became linked to the use of a code, and reading became a kind of rite of passage, an important step towards independency in a human's life.

With the growing linkage of knowledge to reading and learning, the history of knowledge becomes the history of reading, of reading dependent on chance and circumstance.

For further details see:
Martin Warnke, Text und Technik,
Bruce Jones, Manuscripts, Books, and Maps: The Printing Press and a Changing World,

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Timeline of Communication Systems
-4   Timeline of Communication Systems: Introduction
-3   4000 - 1000 B.C.
-2   1000 B.C. - 0
-1   0 - 1400 A.D.
0   1400 - 1500 A.D.
+1   1500 - 1700 A.D.
+2   1700 - 1800 A.D.
+3   1800 - 1900 A.D.
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