Graduate Program Events
With the advent of the Gutenberg printing press in the mid 15th century came a boom in literacy, revolutionizing the way Europeans standardized and disseminated information, and establishing the printing press as one of humanity’s most important inventions. While multiple original Gutenberg Bibles have been preserved to the present day, surprisingly little is known about the actual press itself, leaving several unanswered questions about the origins of printing.
However, Gutenberg’s press is only a fraction of the story of early human print. While the first Gutenberg Bibles were being print, thousands of miles away, Korean artisans were building upon hundreds of years of diverse printing experience. The earliest known preserved document printed on a moveable type printing press is a Korean Buddhist text called Jikji, printed in 1377, nearly 80 years before Gutenberg’s Bibles. A wealth of documents proceeding Jikji remain preserved, and their study is critical to understanding early human print.
The questions remain: How were early Eastern and Western printing presses constructed? And how, if at all, were they connected? Here we bring a physicist’s perspective to the investigation. We use synchrotron-generated X-rays to study the makeup of early printed pages from both regions, including leaves of an original Gutenberg Bible and a Korean Confucius text. Collaborating with a large team of scholars from around the globe, we seek to shed new light (literally) on the origins of print.