Exhibit: "Gutenberg: Religion, Science & Literature"

A new exhibit at Bozeman’s American Computer Museum, mentioned on this blog here.

Exhibit traces history of knowledge
By KARIN RONNOW Chronicle Staff Writer
The history of written communication – books, newspapers and even e-mails – dates back at least 4,300 years, George Keremedjiev says, pointing at a clay tablet from what is now Iraq, “where writing began.” Then came the alphabets and numerals in Arabic, Egyptian and Greek, Keremedjiev, founder of the American Computer Museum in Bozeman, said. By the Middle Ages, Catholic monks hovered over parchment, copying the Bible in Latin by hand, letter by letter in tiny script.Then in 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented a mechanical printing press and the information revolution began, Keremedjiev said.The written word and ideas suddenly became available to the European masses. Long-held precepts were challenged. Ideas were written down and published.
All of this is summarized in a new exhibit “Gutenberg: Religion, Science & Literature,” at the computer museum on North Seventh Avenue. The one-of-a-kind, somewhat eclectic collection celebrates the 550th anniversary of the Gutenberg press, and opens Saturday, Dec. 22. “I realized that a lot of people were not cognizant that the information age goes back centuries, to the Gutenberg press and the history of the book,” Keremedjiev said Thursday. “That isn’t taught in schools right now. And young people, especially, have to know this history because their world is so different from all of this. “It all goes back to books,” he said. So Keremedjiev designed an exhibit to tell that story.

The centerpiece is an 1816 “faithful reproduction” of the original press from the American Bible Society in New York City. “I had a dream about two months ago that I should get a Gutenberg press,” he said. “I got online and found a 10-year-old e-mail on a blog” indicating that the Bible society was looking for a home for the thick, weighty, wooden replica. He got in touch, and it turned out the press hadn’t yet been adopted. One thing led to another and the press was shipped to the museum this fall. Keremedjiev, whose day job is helping to automate manufacturing plants around the world, collects artifacts of the history of knowledge. His collection, now part of the nonprofit museum, includes everything from centuries-old books by Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton, to mainframe computers that fill a room to laptop computers that are so big and clunky they’re really, he says, “more like ‘thigh-top.’” But all of that can be traced to Gutenberg, a goldsmith, businessman and inventor, who invented the press in the mid-15th century in Germany’s Rhine Valley. The first movable type, made of clay, was actually invented in China in 1041. Gutenberg mechanized the technology. He combined movable type, oil-based ink and a wooden printing press – much like the screw olive and wine presses of his day — to make a practical printing system, according to Wikipedia. “Legend has it that the idea came to him ‘like a ray of light.’”

To put Gutenberg in historical context, the Web site for his hometown (http://www.mainz.de/gutenberg/english/index.htm) offers this: “The 15th century marks the transition from the Middle Ages to Modern Times. In virtually all areas of human interaction there were far-reaching changes. Dangerous and long sea voyages of Portuguese and Spanish explorers opened up new worlds. Technical innovations, a marked increase in written communication even outside monastery walls, attempts to reform the church, a first spread of humanistic thought, as well as new art forms were some of the positive developments of this time.” The first book off Gutenberg’s press was a Bible, a page, or “leaf,” of which is displayed in the exhibit. About 180 Gutenberg Bibles were printed, most on paper and a few on “exquisite parchment,” according to Gutenberg’s hometown Web site. The books sold for 30 florins apiece, about three years’ wages for an average clerk. An estimated 48 Gutenberg Bibles exist today.

Gutenberg’s invention made it possible to produce less-expensive books more rapidly, which in turn contributed to the rise of science, the Renaissance and the Reformation, according to historians.Keremedjiev said he “rounded up books that changed the world,” for the exhibit. For example, there is Francis Bacon’s book about his contention that “there were two ways to understand the world,” Keremedjiev said, “religious revelation and observations of nature. And they coexisted.” He also has early editions of works by the “father of science” Galileo Galilei, philosopher John Locke, astronomer Johannes Kepler and theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, among others. The books illustrate the evolution of knowledge that led, centuries later, to the invention of the computer. Keremedjiev, who knows the story of each author/scientist and of each book, drew from private collections, including his own, to assemble the exhibit.

“Gutenberg” will be on display for three months. Schools, churches and private groups are encouraged to call for reservations.For more information, visit http://www.compustory.com/.

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