Inventor Study: Gutenberg and his Printing Press

First things first, we watched one of the brilliant videos found on YouTube about Gutenberg:

Ha!  I just love these videos!  Next we read these books all about Gutenberg and his printing press:

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The picture book was particularly good because it covers the history of printing.  I was gratified to see we had covered the majority of its history in our own studies.

The idea of printing many images mechanically had been around since the ancient Chinese had developed a type of soot ink and paper, made from pulped bark and rags.  We had attempted our own paper making using these techniques when we covered the Ancient Chinese last year:

Our dried out hemp and bark paper.  I can't believe the difference a bit of bark makes!

By AD 868, the Chinese were using block wood to carve raised relief images to print out Buddhist texts onto the paper.  We used polystyrene to carve raised Chinese characters, attaching them to a block of wood:

Inked with a sheet of paper to show their stamp.

After which we printed on our home-made paper:

And again I printed on it, and it took the ink and print very well.

Over in Europe texts were still being written by hand and decorated individually by a painter.  These were called Illuminations.  We had studied medieval illuminations and made our own:

T11 with his feather ink pen and some black ink in a shell!

L10, C10 and T11's illuminations

Papermaking came to Europe from China via the Silk Road in AD 1151, and gradually replaced parchment (tanned hide).  These papers were made from the pump of cotton and linen.  This is an example of the resultant material paper:

rag paper

Picture credit

Although the Koreans had already cast moveable metal characters, it wouldn’t be until 1435 in Strasbourg that a man named Johann Gutenberg began working secretly on what would become his printing press, that books would stop being copied by hand.

 We watched a short video about the printing press:

and another I had bought from Amazon, without realising I could get it on YouTube.  Note to self: Always check YouTube first!  This is a video showing Stephan Fry attempt to build his own medieval printing press.  I hoped this would be useful when the children would build their own out of materials I had bought.  It was a fabulous video which also showed how paper was made in medieval times – something we had hoped to try ourselves.  I have included the YouTube link:

Afterwards I set the children a simple task using the bits and bobs I had bought for them (in addition to anything they had to hand around the house) to construct their own, simplified version of the printing press:


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