Introduction: We’ve Been Telling Stories for Thousands of Years

The cave paintings of Chauvet in France, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Book of Kells, the Popol Vuh including the Mayan creation myth, the Dead Sea Scrolls—humans have been leaving their marks on stone walls and various forms of books for thousands of years. In fact, our designation of what we call “history” begins with the writing that our ancestors have left behind (evidence of things before that time is known as “prehistoric”).

Figure 1.1: Paintings of lions in Chauvet Cave.

Photo by Claude Valette, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

To be fair, cave paintings and the earliest manuscripts weren’t seen by all that many people. It would be a stretch to call any of those early works of art a form of mass communications in any way. They were important to be sure; they just didn’t have much of an audience. For communications to begin to have a mass impact, we needed them to be seen or distributed in a way that would reach more people. And in the days before electricity and cell towers, the revolutionary technology that made this possible was the mechanical printing press.