Atlas of Earyl Printing

Using the Atlas

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 global history of communications, technology, and the dissemination of knowledge.

The data mapped by the Atlas is drawn from databases and from the collation of information from print and other sources. When data is derived from an online database, the source is credited.

The provenance of the data being depicted is of critical importance to using the Atlas. The site is designed to locate historical information about surviving copies of 15th century printed books in time and space, but this is never a precise process. For instance, when mapping data from the Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC), maintained by the British Library and hosted by the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL), the results are drawn largely unfiltered from the ISTC database, making the map 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 certain layers an approximation rather than an exact representation. The visualization depicts what we know according to how that knowledge has been recorded in a standardized form—it is a representation of the database, not a representation of a known historical reality.

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.