Movable type

By greenteapanda

May 24, 2008

Category: Education

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Maybe since the department of education has given up on trying to right things for the set of teachers that came here last fall (in my own district, I estimate there has already been 80% turnover), they haven’t sent any teaching materials for students.

The items they most recently gave me happen to be English texts about Korean history. If you look at the wikipedia article, you can find that Korea was first to create metal type back around the year 1230. More than 200 years prior to Europe accomplishing the same feat. But there is more to it than that.

Korea has the earliest examples of woodblock printing still in existence, created in the mid 1200s. The woodblocks in Korea were created in a multi-year process designed to get all humidity out of the wood and to seal the wood so it would not warp or deteriorate. Even the edges of the type were covered in 99.7% pure copper (showing they had fairly advanced metallurgical techniques at the time).

The movable type for Buddhist texts, and particularly the Tripitaka Koreana (Chinese characters, since the texts predate the creation of the hangeul alphabet) was stored in a purpose-built warehouse next to the Haeinsa Temple. Open to the air, each side of the building has a large lower window and a smaller upper window to promote ventilation. The size of the windows were calculated according to the amount of ventilation required. Coals and other items that would absorb humidity in the summer and release it during the winter, keeping humidity levels relatively constant. Because of the location of the warehouse, the temperature does not change very much – no more than 5 degrees C, no matter what the change is in natural temperature outside.

There was a belief in the 1960s that this movable type could be better protected in a modern concrete warehouse built into the side of the hill. When the type characters began to move to the newer warehouse, they almost immediately developed fungi. So much for the idea that modern=better… The characters were moved back to the traditional warehouse for continued safekeeping. There is a current project to copy the letters onto copperplate so that the characters can continue to be preserved. It is estimated even these wood blocks have a lifetime of about one thousand years.

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