The Atlas of Early Printing

About The Atlas

Illustration of printing press

The Atlas of Early Printing is an interactive site designed to be used as a tool for teaching the early history of printing in Europe during the second half of the fifteenth century. While printing in Asia pre-dates European activity by several hundred years, the rapid expansion of the trade following the discovery of printing in Mainz, Germany around the middle of the fifteenth century is a topic of great importance to the history of European civilization.

The Atlas is the creation of Greg Prickman, Head of Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries. It is hosted by the University of Iowa Libraries. Version 2 went online in 2013, and was coded by Andrew Holland, Web Application Developer for the University of Iowa Libraries. Preliminary work was done by Steve Tomblin.

Version 2 of the Atlas was built off of the Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) version 3. The timeline is controlled with jQuery UI Slider and a combination of server side and client side scripting languages. It has been optimized for use on mobile and desktop platforms.

The Output by Location layer depicts data drawn from the Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC) at the British Library. The layer is a visualization built from all of the date and location of printing data in the ISTC, and is regularly updated to accurately reflect ongoing changes in the ISTC's records. Because this data is drawn largely unfiltered from the ISTC database, it is not an exact representation of the number of printed books in the fifteenth century. Many editions in this time period were printed without dates, and assigning a fixed, specific date to their production can be difficult. Therefore, the ISTC date information in the "Imprint" field often contains more than one date for the printing of a given title. This uncertainty is carried into the totals for each location and year of printing, making this layer an approximation rather than an exact representation. The layer is meant to visualize a large amount of data in terms of time and geography, making the scope and intensity of printing throughout Europe evident even if there is some variability in the numbers represented by each circle on the map. There are also some noticeable differences between the Spread of Printing layer and the Output by Location layer as first instances of printing appear. This is also due to the variability of dates in the ISTC records. In addition, the ISTC records surviving copies of books printed in the fifteenth century. As such, it does not, and cannot, indicate the actual number of books that were printed. For a look at known edition sizes in the fifteenth century, see Eric White's work hosted by CERL. We are grateful to John Goldfinch at the British Library and Paul Watry and John Harrison at the University of Liverpool for their assistance with the ISTC API.

Version 1 of the Atlas went online in February 2008. The original, Flash-based site can still be accessed at this link. It is no longer being updated or maintained. Version 1 was made possible by an Innovations in Teaching with Technology Awards (ITTA) grant from the University of Iowa, and the support of the University of Iowa Libraries and Information Technology Services at the University of Iowa. Research assistants were Noelle Sinclair, Pamela Olson, Aaron Burgus, Ellen Madden, and Johanna Meetz. Greyson Purcell coded the site in Flash and HTML, and Steve Tomblin built the 3D model of the printing press in Maya, and he was assisted with historical documentation by Joel Silver and Jim Canary at the Lilly Library, Indiana University. Linda Roth provided website assistance, and the photographs on the 15th Century Book pages were taken by Kirk Murray.

The atlas, along with accompanying material such as the animated printing press model, is designed to be used as a teaching resource. The map and the information that it depicts represents data compiled by research using common bibliographic catalogues and databases for fifteenth century printing, along with secondary sources focusing on each of the contextual layers of the map. The inspiration for the site comes from the maps of printing’s spread found in Berry and Poole’s 1966 book The Annals of Printing, and the well-known maps in Febvre and Martin’s L’apparition du livre (The Coming of the Book) from 1958. These sources, and others such as Robert Teichl’s map Die Wiegendruck in Kartenbild, depict the spread of printing in Europe largely through a decade by decade progression. The aim of the Atlas of Early Printing is to take this type of information and allow it to be manipulated, while also providing contextual information that visually represents the cultural situation from which printing emerged. Layers can be turned on and off to build a detailed atlas of the culture and commerce of Europe as masters and journeymen printers ventured to new towns and markets seeking support and material for the new art of printing.