Monday, October 29, 2007

Black Death responsible for high literacy rates?

Of course, is that even a question? If this doesn't make sense to you, let me explain. It starts with paper. We all use paper, especially the printmakers of the world. Paper is made of trees right? Wrong. Well, not entirely wrong. Cheapie typing paper, ect, is made from trees, yes. But good quality papers are made from pure rag content. That's right my friends, paper is 100% cotton. It has not always been so. Paper, developed in Egypt, was made primarily from papyrus, about 5000 years ago. This flat sheet however, was more closely related to fabric than an actual sheet of paper. The first evidence of mould made paper was around 105 A.D. in China - they had silk screen technology back then as well. China kept that secret pretty well for a while, because these techniques did not arrive in Western Europe until around 900 A.D. With this mould technique, the materials being used were discarded rags, as they were the only good source of cotton. The rags were cooked, and beaten to break down the fibers, and then the resulting pulp was formed into sheets. Back then, there was no technology to support paper being made from the cellulose in trees, and was all cotton instead (this is nicer anyway). Now, when Gutenberg invented the moveable type in the 1450's (see below), the demand for paper rose drastically, naturally. Unfortunately there were not enough raw materials to produce the ton of paper that was necessary to print all of that literature. Thanks to the rats and fleas though, people started dying like mad. Dying people = good source of free rags. Papermakers therefore, would follow the carts around that collected the dead, and before the bodies were dumped into a grave, they would gather all of the clothes and take them back to their paper mills. For a while, it was believed that this only worked to spread the black death even further. If you ask me though, if all of those people hadn't died, Gutenberg would have had nothing to print on, and not as many people would have learned how to read. Could the plague have been divine intervention as a way to procure materials for papermaking? Maybe that's taking it a bit far, but at least we know the facts: Black death = dying people. Dying people = free rags. Free rags = lots of paper. Lots of paper = readily available printed material. Readily available printed material = literacy. Therefore, black death = literacy. See, that wasn't nearly as ludicrous as you thought it was going to be, now was it?


Ana Conceicao said...

i love this "dead people=free rags, free rags=paper" maybe, possibly one of the best qoutes ever, i might have to steal it!

irish_monk said...

Actually I believe it was greater literacy that led to printmaking. With a return to normalcy during the Gothic time period substantial societal changes occured. The short growing season of the early middle ages lengthened allowing for greater food production and as a result greater health. Greater health led to the re-habitation of the cities whose population was reduced from the plagues. This large population filled the ranks of the earliest form of middle class, merchants, crafts people etc., who were needed to fulfill service jobs (it almost sounds like a circular argument). THus this larger population in need of education required more text than could be produced by hand. We see this growth examplified by the secularization of manuscript production after @1200 AD. To meet this explosive need of text necessity drove Herr Gutenberg to his creation. Hense, the printed word, regretably for printmakers, is not the catalyst for literacy, but rather the servant of a literate population.

mary said...

malenka, i love you.