In our lecture today, we discussed how ideas travelled from China, Europe, the Middle East and the rest of the world. It’s amazing how kingdoms were connected and how ideas came to develop especially when the Silk Road was prevalent. For example, paper didn’t make much of a breakthrough until around 105 CE in China, but before that the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and many more relied on Egypt’s exported papyrus. Parchment made its appearance around Egypt and spread to the Middle East by the Silk Trade route in the sixth century and was used in Europe from the 6th century throughout the fourteenth century. Printing also originated in China and soon made its way to India where they excelled in fabric printing from the medieval age onwards. Parchment was further evolved in China when Cai Lun kickstarted the paper-making industry. From there, paper was improved in Europe by using water mills to make pulp for papermaking. Illuminated manuscripts were also making their way around the world. In the east, the Quran was decorated with gold leafing making the pages look illuminated along with intricate designs which would border the holy text. This enamoured and inspired those in the west where they also integrated gold leafing into their text. The Celtic Psalter contains Arabic-styled script which most likely came to be during the Christian crusade. It’s very interesting to see how ideas evolve as they’re adopted by other cultures and kingdoms; from paper-making to printing, globalization spread ideas far and wide and provided solutions and new technology.
From God to Gutenberg: science and tools
Papyrus was used in Europe until around the 7th to 8th century when it was replaced by something more efficient and foldable: parchment. Papyrus (fig. 1), made by pressing the papyrus plant found in swamps and the valley of the Nile, was replaced by parchment for its practicality and quality; it was foldable, making it possible to efficiently store and find information in a compact way in the form of a bound book called a codex and was thicker and more durable.
Some early examples of parchment books are the Magna Carta and the Doomesday Book. The Romans and Greeks relied on Egypt’s papyrus until Ptolemy Epiphanes, the king of Egypt, banned exports of papyrus in fear of Egypt’s library rivalling with Alexandria’s. Parchment is stretched and dried animal skin such as calfskin, also called vellum, goatskin, or sheepskin and became common in the middle east by the 6th century and commonly used in Europe from the 6th to 14th century. Animal skin was skinned of hair and fat from the inside then soaked in water with a chalk, or flour, and salt mixture, giving a smooth writing surface. Then the skin was soaked in tannin (gallic acid) made of oak-gall in order to preserve it. Since parchment was hard to glue and roll into a scroll, unlike papyrus, books came to be around 50 CE as a solution!
Paper, believed to have originated from China in the 2nd to 3rd century BCE, was exclusive to China until it spread to the Islamic world in the 8th century and Europe around the 11th century. Cai Lun, the first in the paper-making industry, came up with a recipe in 105 CE inspired from tree bark. He combined chopped mulberry bark, hemp rags, water, fish nets and hammered it flat then pressed out water to leave out to dry in the sun.
The advantage of paper was very apparent; it wasn’t erasable since it absorbed ink, making forgery difficult, which was beneficial to banks, businesses, and traders of the Silk Road. In the 11th to 14th centuries Europe used automated pulping by using water mills to hammer and break down materials into pulp for paper-making. In Mexico, the Aztecs used agave plant fibres to make paper and long folded codices in the 1400’s (fig. 3).
Judy’s lecture + notes