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Technology History - Communication

Before people could write, they talked to each other. Throughout history, storytellers played a key role in transmitting culture from one generation to the next. The Greek poet Homer is probably the best known storyteller of the ancient world. His great epic tales of the Trojan Wars, as illustrated in historical pictures, were eventually written but first came down through an oral tradition spanning hundreds of years. Possibly the use of poetry helped people remember the story. Sagas of the Norsemen may also have first been heard rather than written, as is true of many folk tales and legends.

Also before the invention of writing, people drew cave paintings on the walls of their shelters, and they carved shapes into rock, called petroglyphs. Archaeologists struggle to interpret these expressions, some of which are rock drawings of identifiable animals and other scenes from the local environment, and some of which are geometric patterns whose meaning we may never know. Petroglyphs are seen in many photographs of cliff-dwellings and associated vanished cultures of the American southwest.

Written language probably began as pictures representing concepts or sounds, as in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. The symbols became increasingly abstract as alphabets developed, as seen in historical pictures. Writing allowed knowledge to be captured and passed along through books, which had to be laboriously hand-written and manually copied. The great library in Alexandria was a famous center of learning that drew scholars from all over the ancient world. The works of Greek authors and thinkers were preserved by these early scribes and copyists, seen in historical pictures. By the Middle Ages, hand-copied books were elaborately illustrated in such glowing colors they were known as illuminated manuscripts.

The invention of printing in the 1400s, shown in historical pictures, revolutionized communication. Johann Gutenberg actually invented moveable type, which allowed him to print multiple copies of Bibles and other books on a printing press. As seen in vintage pictures, book publishing grew quickly, along with related trades such as newspaper publishing and printed advertising. A consequence of the printing press was that education and knowledge, once the purview of an elite class, began to be acquired by the general population. Reading became an important skill for everyone. Having more books available, and being able to read them, allowed people to interpret the Bible and other writings without the intercession of literate clergy, a fundamental condition upon which the Protestant Reformation was based, a schism that changed medieval Christianity forever.

Long-distance communication in early history is seen in pictures of messengers, drums, smoke signals, signal flags, and other nonverbal means. In the US in the 1800s, historical pictures show letters and packages carried by the Pony Express or by stagecoaches, until the US Post Office directly carried mail to the frontier. Modern telecommunications began with invention of the telegraph and telephone in the 1800s, as seen in historical pictures. Radio enabled wireless communication, important in linking ships at sea with each other and with land. The seeds of television were in the invention of the cathode ray tube near the end of the 1800s.


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