MASS MEDIA – HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
MASS MEDIA – HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Before we count on various forms of mass media and its impact on
the growth of societies and its
importance in the contemporary world, it is pertinent to see in
little more detail how it all began under
circumstances which seem difficult to believe in modern times.
Mankind has always been interested in knowing about the physical
things around and the ideas on the
human life as structured by the intellectuals of the day. The
only problem was the missing link of mass
medium which should work as a conduit to transport feelings of
scholars to others.
There is no trace available as how people from distant
territories would exchange views and information by
the sixth century. There is a general impression that it would
have been through the travelers and war
expeditions that might fetch information about far flung parts
of the world. But traveling was no easy
business and in the absence of maps and knowledge of geography
and routes only few would dare to
explore the world and return safely back to their hometown.
Since recorded history is not available of those
times it is left only to our imagination how mass communication
would have been going around the
civilizations which were old and developed enough to assume a
shape of an organized society.
The availability of languages was only ample to accomplish the
task of limited scale inter-personal
communication. Sending a message to many was still an enigma.
A breakthrough was made by the invention of paper but it was
still far from the concept of mass
Books – first fascination towards mass media
It is not known as what the first book was or when exactly it
saw light of the day. Traces are
available to say with some certainty that in the 7th
century people had some idea about books.
and written on very limited topics, these books can be
symbolized as the pioneer in mass communication as
they were able, though on a very limited scale, to carry message
to many others irrespective of cast, color,
religion, rich or poor.
Four early Periods in the History of the Books
• 7th to 13th
Century: The age of religious
"manuscript" book production. Books in this period are
entirely constructed by hand, and are largely religious texts
whose creation is meant as an act of
• 13th to 15th
Century: The secularization of book
production. Books are beginning to be produced
that do not serve as objects of worship, but that try to explain
something about the observable
world. The difficulty with the spread of such knowledge was that
production is still taking place via
pre-print - manuscript - methods.
The production of secular books is driven by two things:
The rise of
universities in Europe, spreading from Italy.
The return of the
crusaders in the 13th century, who bring with them texts from
Byzantium. These books, written during the Greek and Roman
periods in history, focus on
• 15th to 16th
Century: The first printed books.
These are print versions of traditional works like the
Bible, books of hours (prayer books) and the religious
• 16th to 17th
Century: New information is put into
books that have important consequences on
European life and society.
Book - from hand-written to printing
The 7th to the 9th century was the heyday of the "illuminated
manuscript". Production of these
works took place in the monasteries scattered across Europe.
These religious retreats were the repositories
of those texts of Greece and Rome which survived in Europe.
Monks in the monasteries made copies of
the books in their care - both religious and secular
manuscripts. However, they did not contribute much
more to the advancement of that intellectual tradition, because
they were not engaged in thinking about the
relationship between the works in their care and the world
outside the monastery.
During this time, the production of Bibles was the place where
arts of the monastic scribes, and later lay artists, flowered.
It was here
that the most elaborate and beautiful illumination found its
the manuscript books from this period represent the height of
An illuminated manuscript is the
Irish Book of Kells:
The image shown here is an eight-circle cross - one of the
motifs of this manuscript, all of which focus on aspects of
Christ's life and message. According to historian
Meehan, the Book
of Kells is the most lavishly
decorated of any manuscript produced between the 7th and
The most important thing about the manuscript books of this
period is that they were objects of religious
veneration. They were seen as consecrated objects. Their
creation was an act of religious devotion. The
monks, who sat for years, working on single chapters of the
Bible, were not reproducing books. They were
making the word of God manifest in the world.
This is the "carpet page" from the
Book of Durrow,
created around 680 A.D. The
woven pattern on this page is called "interlace" and exhibits
both zoomorphic and
abstract elements in its design.
The detail of interlace in the
Book of Durrow
is more refined by the time the
illuminators get to the creation of the
Book of Kells.
In the Book of Durrow,
interlace covers the page, in the
Book of Kells,
it becomes part of larger images.
In this detail from the
Book of Kells,
showing the heads of lions
and chalices spouting vines, we can more clearly see the
zoomorphic aspects of interlace.
However, in interlacing, the interweaving of the bodies of
and lions, of peacock and fishes, chalices and vines, is not
intended to be a naturalistic representation of the existing
world. These images are schematic and symbolic.
The images are meant to represent some aspect of Christ's life.
We think of modern books as being illustrated, but the
illustration and photographs, the images, are usually
distinct from the text. In these early manuscripts dedicated to
God, the two were not so separate.
Book of Durrow
First page of Saint Jerome's translation of the four gospels
Book of Kells
First page of a genealogy of Christ
If you look carefully at these pages, you can see that the
decoration is carried into the text. There is continuity between the words
and the decoration, a continuity that suggests that the
illuminated religious manuscript is an attempt to convey the beauty of
God's message to mankind.
Early analysis on manuscripts
For all their beauty, as mentioned above, the manuscripts of the
monasteries did little to affect life
in Europe. Primarily this comes about as a consequence of the
inaccessibility of the monastic libraries.
Instead of books being openly available as they are today,
manuscript books were mostly locked up in
monasteries strewn across Europe. Given the amount of time and
energy and financial resources that went
into their production, books were far too valuable to make
available to the general public. So there was no
way to use them for scholarship, even the few secular texts that
may have been available.
This problem was compounded by the lack of a uniform cataloging
system in the monasteries. So, even if
one did have access to the of a monastery, there was no
way of knowing what was in the collection,
or where it might be located.
The period between the 13th and 16th centuries saw the rise of a
print-dominated society, one that moved
away from the Church's monopoly of information that existed
during the manuscript book period. This was
initially fueled by the reproduction of classic texts of
antiquity. It was further fueled by the development of
new kinds of books in science. These factors led to the
development of books as elements of propaganda
and religious education. This is not to argue that print drove
all those changes. Clearly it did not. There were
social and political and economic changes that made print
important. Those changes might not have
happened as quickly or perhaps at all without print.
The shift in consciousness that occurred with this period of
history is the rise of the notion that reality
could be represented. This period saw the advent and expansion
of a European-dominated world economy
and the beginning of a system of international competition for
trade among independent states.
The technology of the printing press, coupled with the
surrounding changes in the political/economic
system, wrought changes in the ways in which Europe saw its
place in the world.
Ancient history of printing
The original method of printing was block printing, pressing
sheets of paper into individually
carved wooden blocks. It is believed that block printing
originated in China, and the earliest known printed
Diamond Sutra (a Buddhist scripture,
was printed in China in 868 A.D.)
The technique was also known in Europe, where it was mostly used
to print Bibles. Because of the
difficulties inherent in carving massive quantities of minute
text for every block, and given the levels of
peasant illiteracy at the time, texts such as the "Pauper's
Bibles" emphasized illustrations and used words
sparsely. As a new block had to be carved for each page,
printing different books was an incredibly time
Moveable clay and metal type are processes much more efficient
than hand copying. The use of movable
type in printing was invented in 1041 AD by Bi Sheng in China.
Bi used clay type, which broke easily, but
eventually Goryeo (Korea) sponsored the production of metal type
(a type foundry was established by the
Korean government in the early 15th century). Since there are
thousands of Chinese characters (Koreans
also used Chinese characters in literature), the benefit of the
technique is not as apparent as with alphabetic
Movable type did spur, however, additional scholarly pursuits in
China and facilitated more creative modes
of printing. Nevertheless, movable type was never extensively
used in China until the European style
printing press was introduced.
From China to Germany
Although probably unaware of the Chinese/Korean printing methods
(with substantial evidence
for both sides of argument), Gutenberg refined the technique
with the first widespread use of movable type,
where the characters are separate parts that are inserted to
make the text. Gutenberg is also credited with
the first use of an oil-based ink, and using "rag" paper
introduced into Europe from China by way of
Muslims, who had a paper mill in operation in Baghdad as early
as 794. Before inventing the printing press
in 1440s, Gutenberg had worked as a goldsmith. Without a doubt,
the skills and knowledge of metals that
he learned as a craftsman were crucial to the later invention of
The claim that Gutenberg introduced or invented the printing
press in Europe is not accepted by all. The
other candidate advanced is the Dutchman Laurens Janszoon