Nova (1974–…): Season 47, Episode 12 - A to Z: How Writing Changed the World - full transcript

How the development of writing played a vital role in shaping world history, from the invention of paper to the printed book.

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NARRATOR: It may have been the spark that
launched the scientific age:

a machine to make books.

Never before had it been
possible to spread knowledge

so fast and to so many people.

That's really an
information revolution.

But first came the page.

And this is the first paper
in the world.

Made from plants.

JIANG XUN (speaking Chinese):

Made from animals.

LEE MAPLEY: I am the only
traditional master parchment maker

left in the world,
which is quite unique.

Medieval books were not
made by vegetarians.

And the final ingredient,

a bit of luck,

hidden in the shape of a letter.

This is a modular way of
writing, and in fact,

if I want to make little blocksof
metal with them, no problem,

because I'm already there,

The design has already happened.

This text here
is legible Arabic.

It shows a remarkable advance in
Arabic printing technology.

"A to Z: How Writing Changed
the World,"

right now, on "NOVA."

In the year 1448
in Mainz, Germany,

a goldsmith named
Johannes Gutenberg

was experimenting with a lead
alloy and a hand-held mold.

His aim was to speed up
theprocess of putting ink on paper.

But what he did
was speed up history.

Gutenberg's invention spelled
the end of the Middle Ages

and ushered in the modern world
of science and industry.

Every innovation of today

is built on this foundation.

Yet, behind Gutenberg's press
lay centuries of development

and change in the way words
were written,

without which he could never
have succeeded.

This is the story of history's
most important technology,

the technology of putting words
on a page.

(scroll raveling)

(cutting metal)

I'm making a pen out of
a drinks can,

and it's one of my favorite pens

because it can do so many
different things,

and also because it means,

no matter where in the world
I am, I always have a pen.

There's trash everywhere...

Brody Neuenschwander is a
calligrapher and modern artist

who has studied the
writingpractices of different cultures

throughout history.

Now, a pen is a simple tool
in any case.

All it is is a...
point with a reservoir,

and the reservoir holds the ink
and brings it to the point,

and you write with it.

I'm going to use my drinks-can
pen to write a short phrase

from a poem by Hopkins,
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire."

The first stroke is going to
make quite a noise,

so watch out... the A...

(pen scratches loudly)

And flow into an S made with
a nice movement of the arm.

I can also make a very

fat and juicy stroke for the K.

(pen scratches loudly)

This is calligraphy as art,

where legibility takes second
place to expression

and the letters can be hard
to make out.

But for most of history,

making out the letters
has been essential.

Writing is one of the most
fundamental things

that human beings do,

one of the great motors of

and to understand how people
wrote in previous societies

helps us to understand

many of the other aspects
of the society.

But is it possible to know how
people wrote

thousands of years ago?

Brody believes that
calligraphy can help.

The one thing that's amazing
about calligraphy is,

we can go right back

to the materials and tools
of earlier times

and reproduce nearly exactly
the conditions of writing.

So, it's a sort of experimentalapproach
to historical research

using the real tools
and materials

that were used in earlier times.

(scroll raveling)

Running a nation
has always required

some form of written

And the world's firstnation-state
was Ancient Egypt,

a state which employed one of
the earliest writing systems.

Egyptian hieroglyphs
can still be read

in monumental inscriptions
carved in stone.

But the Egyptians also had

a portable, everyday medium
on which to write.

Brody has come to Egypt

to learn about this pioneering
information technology.

My name is Sam.

I'm Brody.

Welcome, I'll give youa brief idea

about this plant, the papyrus plant,

and how theAncient Egyptians

were using this plantto make a paper.

Papyrus is a type of sedge

which grows all along the banks
of the Nile.

Readily available
and easily harvested,

this unassuming plant was turned
by the Egyptians

into one of the foundations
of civilization.

We remove the green parts.

All of the green cover.

We divide it into long
and thin slices like this.

But that part once was
breakable, as you can see.

Or easy to break.

To make the slices

more flexible, we use this.

The slices now will be more
strong and more flexible

than that part, it was break.

Then we soft the slicesin fresh water.

After two weeks, we take
the slices from the water.

We arrange them between

two pieces of cotton.

This is the slices
that we have here, the slices.

In verticaland horizontal lines like this.

One vertical, another
horizontal, without any space.

One by one and two by two till
we complete the whole sheet.

We cover them.

We put them under
a press machine for one week.

One week under the press,

we get this paper.

And this is the first paper
in the world.

Well, it feels like
a wonderful surface.

I think I would really enjoy
writing on it, actually.

(scroll raveling)

NARRATOR: As civilization spread
fromEgypt across the Mediterranean,

so did papyrus.

It became an important export,

and when Egypt was finally

by the Roman Empire in 30 BC,

one of the biggest prizes of

was domination of the
Mediterranean papyrus trade.

The Romans had a large
and complex empire

that ran on the written word,

and papyrus, being their form of
paper, was imported from Egypt

and it's shipped over here
in enormous quantities.

And papyrus rolled up into

was for centuries
the Roman book.

If there was a fresco of a

wanting to show they were

they would be holding a scroll.

Very deeply ingrained.

Literacy was surprisingly
widespread in Rome.

It even extended to the
largeenslaved population in the city,

which provided most of the

who wrote those high-status

But what was the technology
they used

to put ink to papyrus?

Romans used a reed pen
to write with on papyrus.

It's cut to a very fine point.

It's a fairly soft material,

and the pithy side will absorb
ink quite a bit,

so instead of having a natural
reservoir like a quill has,

it's actually the wood itself

absorbing a certain charge
of ink.

NARRATOR: Brody sets out to copy a letter
sent from Rome to Egypt,

preserved in the desert sand
for nearly 2,000 years.

It's written in a very simple,
casual daily script.

So, I'm going to see
what it's like to...

write those letters with
this, this reed pen.

You always learn a lot
at the very first moment

that you touch the pen to the,
to the writing surface.

And what I'm seeing is that

the horizontal fibers of the
papyrus are guiding my pen.

And you wouldn't really need
to draw lines

because they're already there.

That saves you a lot of time.

And it's slippery... that's,
that is very noticeable,

just how slippery
this surface is,

so it's almost like skating,
and I find it...

I'm naturally encouraged

to write a very quick hand here.

The reed is very light in my

and there's no resistance from
the, from the papyrus at all,

so I think you could have
a nice, long working day

as a Roman scribe...
As long as the light held,

you'd be able to keep churningout
your Ovids for your master.

Yes, it's amazingly fast,

It's a, it's a surface
made for speed.

NARRATOR: So, copies could be churned out
relatively quickly

by the inexpensive labor
of the enslaved.

The materials were cheap, too.

That meant that a Roman bookshop

would have something for almost
every pocket.

Spaces like this are fairly
typical for Roman shops,

a single room opening straight
onto the street.

And here's this lovely
Travertine lintel,

and you can see in it, there's a
groove here

for wooden shutters that might
close it off at night

to keep the stock secure.

For the ordinary man and woman
in the street,

booksellers were a great place
to get hold of literature

at a not exorbitant price.

So ranging from a few coins for
the cheapest book,

that's a soldier's daily wage.

And if you couldn't afford
a particular book,

you could always go
and consult it

in one of Rome's public

As well as the commercial

there were public libraries
founded by the emperors.

We know of about 29 of them
by the late antique period.

So, lots and lots of them.

It all adds up to a picture
of a world

where books were widely

In the libraries, we can

maybe tens of thousands
of scrolls.

And that's just
the big public collections.

So around us here in this square
mile or so of the city center,

maybe hundreds of thousands
of scroll books.

But that thriving literary
culture was all based

on the ready availability
of papyrus.

And by the end of the
third century,

Rome's control over
theMediterranean had begun to slip.

Over time, the Roman Empire
split into East and West,

seaborne trade became harder
and more expensive to do

as the empire fragmented,

and the trade in papyrus became
harder and harder to sustain.

And you can count the number
of fragments of books

that survive by each century,

and you can see the number
goes down and down.

So there were just fewer books
being made.

And this city of great libraries

and thousands of thousands of
papyri changes,

and a late antique writer says,
"Libraries are shut up now

and echoing like tombs
and empty."

Rome's empire shrinks

and becomes the start of the new
Christian Middle Ages.

The fall of the Roman Empire

coincides with a change in
thetechnology of writing in Europe.

As papyrus disappeared,

so did the book as a
relativelyinexpensive, everyday commodity.

Books would become rare
and precious objects,

as Europeans turned to a new

and much more expensive material
on which to write.

(scroll raveling)

I'm Lee Mapley.

I am the only traditional master
parchment maker

left in the world, uh,
which is quite unique.

Essentially, we're taking
a raw material,

completely natural sheepskin,
calfskin, or goatskin,

and we are converting it into
a beautiful writing material.

I'll tie the skin into a frame
and it has to be stretched.

I'm re-aligning the fibers
of the skin

to get it nice and solid, to
keep that nice flat surface.

So then, I can also work any
flesh off the skin

and work the grease out of the
skin in the frame.

So, it's literally elbow grease
and hot water

to remove that grease
from the skin.

(scraping skin)

For a thousand years,

this was the only writing
surface Europe had.

It's a piece of parchment.

Now, medieval books were not
made by vegetarians.

And you can see that it's an
animal product

because running right down the
center, this pale zone,

is the spine of the animal,

with the pelvic bones
even shown here.

Here we would fold
to make a large book,

and that's why we call it
the spine of a book.

NARRATOR: The fact that parchment could be
folded made it possible

to stitch leaves together
into a codex,

the form of the modern book.

Each sheet of parchment
would yield

eight pages of an octavo volume,

which meant that it took
a lot of animals

to make a single book.

The medieval pen
was also an animal product:

a bird's feather.

Cutting a quill starts with
shortening it.

Sadly, it's a little less
romantic that way,

but otherwise, it would stick
in your eye.

And then you have to open the
end of it and make a slit,

and the slit that I make now by
lifting the knife

is what brings the ink to the
point of the pen,

and then, starting on the other
side, I cut

from one side towards the slit
that I just made, and then,

towards the, from the other side
towards the slit,

and I make a symmetrical point.

Now, I use a lot of different
tools, modern ones and all,

but I've still never found
anything better

than a good swan quill.

I'm working on a really

piece of parchment here.

It's got just the right surface
to give me sharp letters

and a lot of control.

Parchment is not a material that

you would ever try to write
quickly on.

It holds the pen as you write,
so you don't skate or slip,

and it really encourages a sort
of majestic, graceful,

slow, and careful way of

When you write on parchment,

the ink as it dries

is grabbed by the fibers,
which close down and hold it.

It's almost like
you're tattooing the surface.

At the pace I'm writing
now, I could probably write,

in a really good day, two pages
of one of these great Bibles.

Certainly not more.

And eight hours a day,
that's not really possible.

It's, it's too focused,
it's too concentrated,

and in the end, it's too tiring,
so, I think that

a six-hour day yielding
two full pages

would be a very, very good day.

(scroll raveling)

Where were all these

costly books being produced?

As it happens,
Brody's studio is in Bruges.

In the Middle Ages,
this city was a great center

of book production,
responsible at times

for as much as ten percent
of all the books

being made in Western Europe.

At the city archives,
Brody visits Ludo Vandamme

to try to put what he's learned
about writing

on parchment into
historical context.

What we see here

are all the members workingin book industry

in Bruges at thatmoment.

But that's unique.

membersare we talking about here?

About 50, 60at that moment.

Men and women.

Each workshop might have
employed a handful of scribes,

but Brody's experiment showsthat
it would have taken months

for a scribe to copy
a whole book.

So, if I think we have...
50 workshops,

each making several books
a year, that means that

the number of books being

is in the hundreds in Bruges,
not in the thousands.

Is that a fair guess?

Can agree, yes.
And all of
Northern Europe, then,

a few thousand, no more.Mmm.

So, there's very little access
to information

at this time in Europe.

Medieval books were rare
and precious.

I have something
I want to show you.


This is a contract
to make a book,

a luxury book in two volumes,

for a patron, a commissioner,

and he says it will cost
20 pounds, this luxury book.

And he also says

how long it takes him
to finish the book.

Almost a year.

Any way of guessing what20 pounds is worth?

20 pounds at that moment,

um, let's say a modest house
in Bruges.

A middle-class house.
Oh, my goodness!

It's an astonishingly expensive
information technology.


The libraries of Bruges still
have examples

of the sort of book that
cost as much as a house.

This is the absolute
luxury manuscript.

You couldn't get anything more

more expensive, and
more prestigious than this.

I'm looking at gold which would
have had to have been beaten

into thin sheets
to be applied to the page.

I'm looking at blue

which actually came all the way
from Afghanistan.

I'm looking at malachite green
brought from Central Europe.

It is an 800-page book,

which represents 400 animals.

400 animals!

In a very agrarian economy.

Books like this represent a
pinnacle of medieval art,

but they also represent
a limitation

on literacy and scholarship

compared to the broad literary

of the ancient world.

When I started my experiments
with a reed pen

on papyrus, I was astonished
with how quick it was.

Now, first of all, papyrus was a
cheap writing material.

That means that books were

to a certain segment of the

in Greek and Roman times.

I think we could almost say that
the Middle Ages is that period

when papyrus is no longer used,
no longer available,

and parchment becomes
the writing surface.

What do we gain from it?

This world of beautiful
illuminated manuscripts.

What do we lose?

A broader reading culture.

So the shift from antiquity to
the Middle Ages

is the shift from papyrus
to parchment,

and the shift from a wide
literate public

to a very small one.

Very interesting to see
howwriting materials and techniques

can have such an immense

on cultural development.

(scroll raveling)

But what about other cultures,
further to the East, in Asia?

In China, a rich literary and
artistic tradition developed,

based on a distinctive pictorial

and a unique writing technology.

The key components of that

are traditionally known as

"the four treasures
of the study."

First is paper.

Then, the brush.

And the calligrapher needs
an ink stone

on which to grind her ink,

which comes in the form of
a stick of solid pigment.

The four treasures

allow Wang Jianing to practice
brush calligraphy

in much the same way as it has

been for thousands of years.

WANG (speaking Chinese):

NARRATOR: Brush calligraphy produced
worksof art that were prized in China

every bit as much as illuminated
manuscripts were in Europe.

But in a medieval manuscript,

the art is in the decoration
around the text.

The nature of the Latin alphabet

and the characteristics of

produced letters that were
regular and repetitive.

But in Chinese brush

the art is in the brushwork

that produces the characters

And that is made possible by the
nature of the writing surface.

WANG (speaking Chinese):

Paper was invented in China in
the second century,

and by the seventh century,

paper making was an important
Chinese industry.

(speaking Chinese):

NARRATOR: Paper was key to another Chinese

woodblock printing.

Each page of text

was glued on to a wooden block,

and then the characters were
carved out

by a skilled craftsman.

This step was laborious
and expensive.

But once the wood block
was produced,

it was quick and cheap
to print from,

thanks to paper that was

flexible, and inexpensive.

And because Chinese paper
didn't tear easily,

it was a simple matter to
stitchthe pages together into a book.

Indeed, paper was so plentiful

that even a thousand years ago,

Chinese people could buy
blank notebooks.

Such an aid to thought

would have been inconceivable
in medieval Europe,

where every single blank page

was an expensive
and scarce resource.

In a world of parchment,

many thoughts must have gone

(speaking Chinese):

A source of pride,
but also a state secret.

For 600 years, only the Chinese
knew how to make paper,

but nothing can be kept
hidden forever.

(scroll raveling)

This is the Meros Paper Mill
near Samarkand,

a key city on the Silk Road

between China
and the Mediterranean.

In the Middle Ages,

there were hundreds of such
water-powered paper mills

operating in the region,

churning out paper for the
Islamic empire

of the Abbasid caliphs.

Paper making had
come to Samarkand

as the result of a battle.

In 751, the westward expansion
of the Tang Dynasty

was checked by Arab forces
at the River Talas.

It was a defeat that ensured
that to this day,

the principal religionof
Central Asia would be Islam.

And in the captured
baggage train

of the Chinese army were
paper makers.

The secret was out:

how to turn the bark of the
mulberry tree

into the seemingly humblematerial
that was the foundation

of Chinese culture and power.

To make mulberry bark paper,
youtake the new growth of the tree,

these sticks here, and you

peel off the outer bark,
which is very thin,

you can peel it in one pull
like that.

You have a golden inside
and a rough woody outside.

You can then, as you see here,

Rukhsona, with her great
Samarkandi swordsmanship,

can with a quick flick
of the knife

peel away the brown outer skin,

and then that leaves you with

this pure inner pith,

which is the fibers of the
mulberry tree,

and they'll need to be cooked
and softened

in the next stage of the

After cooking,

the mill pounds
the mulberry pith

for up to eight hours

to produce a pulp.

Added to water,

the pulp makes a thick soup
of cellulose fibers,

which are scooped up in a
rectangular sieve.

As the water flows through
the sieve,

it leaves behind a thin mat
of the fibers.

This is pressed between pieces
of cotton

to form a single sheet of

Which can later be hung up
to dry.

Then, the Islamic papermakers

added a new step to the
Chinese process.

They polished each sheet

to produce a smooth
writing surface.

The preparation of paper
for Islamic calligraphy

is quite a process.

And the reason is,
is that they use a reed pen,

as the Ancient Romans did,
but it's cut to a wide point.

And that wide point is going to
be pushed

from right to left

to make the long strokes
of Arabic calligraphy.

And therefore you cannot have
any unevennesses

or any roughnesses in the paper.

The first thing I notice is

that the strokes need to be made
pretty slowly,

because if I'm going fast,
the ink is pulling back.

It's a matter of finding
the right speed and pressure.

That's really fascinating.

At the beginning,
I was going too fast

and the ink was pulling back,

but I've found the speed that
this paper is demanding,

and now my ink is staying
just where I put it.

What we have here with
Islamicpaper is something that's cheap

but very sophisticated,

very finely manicured,
and tailored

to making extremely graceful

In Samarkand during the
Middle Ages,

the paper making industry was
ona surprisingly impressive scale.

There were perhaps as many as
400 paper mills

operating in this region in the
Middle Ages,

all the way to the 18th century,

supplying paper to the entire
Islamic world.

The production of a factory
like this

would have been several thousand
sheets a day,

and if you take that times 400,

we have millions of sheets
of paper being made every day.

This was the paper that

supplied the entire
Islamic world

with the basis for its
intellectual, religious,

and cultural life.

And that intellectual
life was rich indeed.

The five centuries that followed
the beginning of paper making

in Samarkand came to be known
as the Islamic Golden Age.

The arts and sciences

Islamic scholars madediscoveries
in geology, biology,

medicine, and especially

They gave us the words algebra
and algorithm,

and we still count using
Arabic numerals.

Samarkand was itself a great
center of scholarship.

In Registan Square,

three great Islamic universities
face each other.

They are covered in monumental
Arabic calligraphy...

Praising God and extolling
the virtues of learning.

The oldest of the three

was founded by Ulugh Beg,

ruler of Samarkand
in the 15th century.

But today, Ulugh Beg is famous
not as a prince,

but as an astronomer.

Nearby the university, Ulugh
Beg built an observatory.

It's long gone, except for the
part that was underground.

(speaking Uzbek):

NARRATOR: The top half of the sextant once
reached 100 feet above ground,

making it by far the largest
such instrument ever built.

Sunlight would have illuminated
the curved track,

which is marked very precisely
with degrees.

A copper ruler
inserted in one of these slots

measured the fraction
of a degree,

called the minutes of arc.

Ulugh Beg used the sextant
to measure

the height of the sun at noon
each day.

At midsummer and midwinter,

this allowed him to determine
the length of the solar year.

(speaking Uzbek):

The scientific observations
being made here

were far in advance of
anythinghappening in Europe at the time.

MUKHITDINOV (speaking Uzbek):

Islamic science,

and the paper it was written on,

would eventually find its way to

(scroll raveling)

Where it would help to lay the

of a scientific revolution.

This star catalogue,
published in Poland in 1690,

lists the position of the
fixed stars

as determined by
six great astronomers.

Ulugh Beg is among them.

extraordinary frontispiece

shows the Ancient Greek Ptolemy,
Tycho Brahe...

Ulugh Beg is the one with the

long mustache in the image,

sitting at table being highly
honored in this sequence

of persons who'd had mighty

and made observations
of the fixed stars.

So you've got a succession

on each side of astronomers,

and the idea in this image
is that

the catalogues are steadily
improved as each

passes on their findings
for improvement

by their successors.

NARRATOR: By the time this star catalogue
was published,

the ancient view of the heavens
had been radically transformed

by the discoveries of
astronomers like Galileo,

Kepler, and Isaac Newton.

They were all Europeans,

proof that by the 17th century,

European intellectual life
no longer lagged behind

the scholarship of the
Islamic world.

And that change had been made
possible by a revolution

in the production of the
written word,

for this is a printed book.

The impact of printing
in the Western world

is comparable in scope in all
areas of learning

to the impact in the Islamic
world of the use of paper.

NARRATOR: Printing would eventually spread
the written word

to every level
of European society.

But how did
this radical new technology

find a market in a world

where books were
a luxury for the very rich?

(scroll raveling)

The European printing revolution

in the German town of Mainz

in 1448,

when Johannes Gutenberg,

a goldsmith by trade,

began casting the letters of the
Latin alphabet in metal.

Gutenberg was looking for a way
to produce multiple copies

of the same text in a much
faster way than

scribes could copy texts in the
manuscript period.

Gutenberg's idea
as to speed up the process

of putting words on a page by
replacing the scribe

with a machine.

The secret of Gutenberg's
printing press

was his ability to mass-produce
multiple copies in metal

of each individual letter.

And in this, he had a hidden

the nature of the Latin

The letters of the Latin

are really very simple shapes,

and when you write them in
theway they would have been written

at the time printing was

all the letters are very clearly

This is a modular way
of writing, and, in fact,

if I want to make little blocks
of metal with them,

no problem, because I'm already,
I'm already there, basically.

The design has already happened.

These simple block-like letters
can become blocks of metal

and can be printed.

(press creaking)

But it's easy for us to forget

what a big risk Gutenberg
was taking.

To set up his print shop took

capital which would have
to be repaid.

And so it was vital

that the first book he printed
turn a profit.

this is one of the really great treasures

of Lambeth Palace Library.

It's a copy of the Vulgate Bible

printed by Johannes Gutenberg
in Mainz in the mid-1450s.

So it's a copy of the first
substantial printed book

to be produced in the West
with movable type.

The people who bought books in
the 15th century

were a small and elite group

of rich individuals
and institutions.

Every book they had ever seen
was a manuscript,

and they had a clear idea of
what a book should look like.

What people would have really
prized in the manuscript book,

and would have thought
marked it out as a manuscript

of high quality, was the
regularity of the text

and of the letter forms,

the evenness of the inking,

the contrast between the white
of the page

and the black of the text...

Those qualities...
regularity of letter forms

and of line length... were
precisely the characteristics

of movable type.

What was a challenge for the

was straightforward
for the typesetter.

So, movable type could produce a
printed book

that matched the quality of the

that readers were used
to looking at and buying.

And Gutenberg didn't stop there.

He printed on parchment

and had the printed text
illuminated by hand.

The impression of a manuscript
is so complete

that for hundreds of years,

the librarians at Lambeth Palace
were fooled.

And until the early
19th century,

it was thought
to be a manuscript.

It was catalogued
as a manuscript.

And I think Gutenberg would
havebeen delighted by our confusion,

because what he was trying
to, to achieve

with the printing of this book

was to produce a book
by a new technique

that people would, would think
was just as good

as the manuscripts that they
were used to buying

and reading.

So what he was trying to do

was to do, to do something new
that would seem old.

Gutenberg's strategy worked.

His printed Bible
sold with ease.

He soon had imitators,

and within a few decades,

there were hundreds of printing
presses operating in Europe,

manufacturing books on an
unprecedented scale.

On one printing press,

you had two people working
on it,

and in one day,
they could make 2,500 prints.

That means that in, let's say,
two weeks' time,

they could print a whole book
in 1,250 copies.

And in the manuscript time,

it would take one scribe
about a year

to produce one single copy
of a text.

That's really an information
revolution at the time.

And just as paper had made its
way from the Islamic world

to Europe, printed books were
soon traveling

in the other direction,
as European printers set out

to serve Christian readers

living under Islamic rule
in the Ottoman Empire.

It looks quite humble,

but this is a rather rare
and precious specimen.

This is the first Arabicbook
printed with movable type.

It was printed in 1514 in
Fano, Italy.

And this here is a Book of Hours
printed in Arabic.

But the manuscript tradition
in the Islamic world

was very different from that
in Europe.

Instead of a modular script of
separate letters,

Arabic was written in a cursive

in which the letters in a word
are all connected.

These connections are

and readers would never have
seen Arabic

written any other way.

You see, the Arabic script
is much more than

simply a cursive script that
connects letters together.

In fact, it's words that stack

and are interwoven across
the line.

There, it is not simply a
sequence of words,

but some words might be higher
and lower,

the ends of words might weave
into the beginnings of others,

and all of that is incredibly
difficult to reproduce

with movable type.

These difficulties
are readily apparent

in the printed Book of Hours.

You can see that we have two
forms of the Arabic script

on a single page.

The first form is a recognizable
calligraphic Arabic hand.

It's a cliché, a wooden block.

It's not movable type.

And so it would be recognizable

to any reader of Arabic
as good Arabic.

But underneath it, you have
a completely new invention.

It is the Arabic movable type

and it results from the

the forced adaptation, of Arabicto
the movable type environment,

making it closer to the logic
of the Latin script.

And you can see here that the

words do not stack up

upon each other like the
calligraphic hand.

The letters are all on one
basic line.

And you can even see,
if you look closely,

that the base line that connects
the cursive letters together

is not complete
and there are gaps

between the individual letters.

The well-trained scribe

I don't think would have
recognized this as Arabic.

It was difficult for movable
type to reproduce

the look of an Arabic

and that made it hard to compete

with the well-established
local book trade.

So although Ottoman printers
were soon printing Hebrew

and Armenian alphabets,

it was more than two centuries

before the first Arabic print
shop was established

in Istanbul in 1727.

What we have here is the first
Arabic book

printed with movable type in the
Muslim world,

about 200 years after the, the
Book of Hours

that we've looked at previously.

This text shows a remarkable

in Arabic printing technology.

There are many more ligatures

that mimic the Arabic
calligraphic hand.

NARRATOR: Nevertheless, unlike in Europe,

movable type failed to capture
the market,

and within 20 years, the
printer was out of business.

After a short stint,

basically, printing technology
died off.

And so we can wonder, why
didprinting never really take off?

And, well, the most obvious
difference between

the first book printed using
movable type

in the Muslim world and the
Gutenberg Bible

is the book's contents...
This is a dictionary.

This would have had a much more
limited audience,

it wouldn't have been consumed
by everyone,

and it wouldn't have been a book

that everyone would have had an
interest in.

That book would have been the

but movable type,
although improved,

was still not good enough

to reproduce the calligraphy of
the Holy Book.

If you could have had affordable
and mass-produced Korans,

I think you would've had
a huge market for that.

The trouble is, they had
to meet a certain quality.

You could not print a Koran
like this.

This does not reproduce a

it does not reproduce the format

of the Koran that the faithful
were used to seeing.

So the most widely read
and widely appreciated

Arabic book was never printed
using movable type,

and that took a huge part
of the market out.

Whereas Gutenberg printed
thebook, the Bible, that basically

everyone in the continent would
have wanted.

So there's an irony.

Printing took off in Europe
in large part

because Gutenberg could produce
with movable type

a book that looked as if it had
been written by hand.

And that was possible because
hewas printing the Latin alphabet.

If he'd been trying to print a
different script,

he might never have succeeded.

That simple fact

lies behind a thousand-fold

in the availability of

an explosion of ideas that led

to the European scientific

the Industrial Revolution
that followed,

and the world we live in today.

Pen and paper,

ink and alphabet...

these things are so familiar

as to be almost invisible.

But these are world-altering

Our history has been shaped

by the shape of the letters we

and the means we use
to write them.

Remember thatnext
time you pick up a pencil.

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