The Public Paperfolding History Project

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A Note about the Nature of Paperfolding History
 
History is a word which can carry many different meanings. In its widest sense history is everything that has happened in the past, everything from how the universe came to be in the first place (if indeed there was a first place) to what you and I did and thought just a few seconds ago. In this sense history is vast and constantly expanding, much like the universe itself.

Human history, the kind of history within which paperfolding history belongs, is a small sub-set of the whole of history, those things that happened in the past which involved the human race. Human history is still vast, but vastly less vast than the entire history of everything that has ever been.

What we know about human history is a different thing altogether, a much, much smaller thing. Our knowledge of human history depends on two things. We can know about the recent past from the memories of people who are still alive, but further back than that we are totally reliant on the evidence we can obtain from artefacts, things that people have made or collected, that have survived from the past into the present.

Such artefacts may be of many kinds, pottery, clothes, poems, songs, papers and books among them. From each of these survivals we can learn something of what happened in the past, but the information we can gather will often be patchy at best.

The interpretation of what we know about human history is another thing entirely. Even when we know roughly what happened in what order, where and to who, understanding how and why it happened is usually a challenge, and one that is open to several, or possibly many, competing interpretations and theories. This may well be complicated further because what we think we know happened may be based on artefacts (images or written records) that have already been edited and interpreted to change history (what actually happened) into historical myth (what someone would like you to believe happened instead).

The history of paperfolding, a tiny but nonetheless extensive subset of human history, is no different to the rest of history in these respects.

Objects made of paper are ephemeral. They are also often regarded as of low cultural value. The record we have of them at an early date, therefore, relies largely on their chance physical survival or their mention or appearance in poetry, books, fabrics, drawings and paintings as a result of their having sufficient cultural relevance or significance at that particular point or period of time.

It is likely, therefore, that, until the modern period, where paperfolding is relatively well valued and recorded, much of the history of paperfolding is entirely unknown to us. Consequently, many practical and recreational paperfolds may well be much older than the earliest evidence for their existence. Unfortunately, of course, we cannot know, even approximately, how much older they might actually be. All we can do is gather together the scraps of verifiable information that survive and try to link them together to make some kind of sense of them.

This, however, is a game well provided with pitfalls and it is always wise not to be too certain of anything.