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We are at the brink of experiencing transformation of the Internet revolution that now defines almost all aspects of the modern life. It is sensible to review and understand how printing press revolution brought about significant and long-lasting transformations in economic, political, social, and cultural aspects of lives.
Printing press transformed some aspects of lives among early modern Europeans. In critical and manifold analyses of effects of the printing press, it is necessary to focus on different changes that took place in European political, social, economic, and cultural spheres. These changes led to other sets of multifaceted changes in society.
In some ways, these changes had relationships to other changes. In the words of Elizabeth Eisenstein, printing press was an agent of change through communications and cultural transformations in the early modern Europe (Eisenstein 23).
Social and cultural impacts
The printing revolution introduced a modern era among early Europeans by making written text available to many readers. There was a major change from the traditional oral culture to writing and printing culture. Scholars and writers started to capture their abstract thoughts through writing. Consequently, they were able to generate new ideas and theories. We can note such changes in the rise of philosophical, fictional, realistic, and scientific materials during the period of the printing press.
Printing enhanced the development and spread of different European languages because many texts appeared in these languages. The standardisation of European languages led to a great development of the European literature and the creation of national ideologies and mythologies in different countries. For instance, the world had known maps since the ancient period but the revolution in printing brought the idea of cartography, which became useful in demarcating of national boundaries and colonised areas of the world.
Printing press brought about changes in communications, production, and consumption of texts. Before the emergence of the printing press, people relied on oral means of communication. It was only a small number of people who gained access to printed books. Therefore, people relied on oral communication in order to conduct both public and private matters.
There was physical presence of information, which transformed relationships among people. Printing press enabled political, economic, and cultural writers to spread their works to people in other locations. In this context, new forms of communities emerged based on various interests like political, personal, cultural, and professional spheres.
Elizabeth Eisenstein argues that printing brought about “a revolutionary change in the ways in which people used, preserved, and passed knowledge on to the succeeding generations” (Eisenstein 3). Before the era of printing, people used scribes for copying materials. However, this was a laborious task and time-consuming too. In addition, it was almost impossible to achieve the same results from the original copy.
As a result, many versions of a book from the same source would be in distribution. It was during this period that every written material was unique and highly guarded because of few copies available. The printing press brought about mass production of written materials. As a result, there was mass circulation of books. The copy and the original document had the same contents.
Reading culture changed among early modern Europeans and trade in books became profitable. The number of readerships increased, and traders “invested in many books that would appeal to a large number of readers” (Febvre and Martin 14). Initially, many readers concentrated on religious and devotional texts, but this trend changed during the 18th century when other texts, especially secular literature entered the public domain.
Febvre and Martin noted that trading in books was possible because of the mass production that the printing press enabled. In this respect, many scholars have commended Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press (Febvre and Martin 12). Scholars have noted that the invention of the printing press was “one of the successful mechanical methods of reproduction” (Febvre and Martin 12).
People worked in their individual capacities in order to produce their works. Reading also tended to be on an individual basis. This promoted creativity, individuality, and originality, which were parts of the new written materials, which readers consumed. This period also marked the rise of new forms of written works. For instance, we had the Romantic Movement across England, France, and Germany.
Such movements inspired new ideas, and writers wrote about subjects that they observed in society. Their works were unique and original, but reflected events of the time. In the 18th century, writers campaigned for their intellectual right because such authors realise the need to protect their works from reproduction, which the development of the printing press made fast and easy.
Printing led to the development of literacy levels among common people. Reading had permanent impacts on their lives. Learners, professionals, nobles and the middle class demanded books in other fields even though many texts of the past were mainly on religious issues. Consequently, publishers reacted by producing books about medical, literature, laws, and travel manuals among others.
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Printing enabled production of superior books. It also eliminated corruption of books through manual copying and errors in scribbling. Therefore, all critical thinkers of the time had same texts, which enabled them to perform advanced reviews of printed works.
Printing press reduced the cost of printing books and increased the number of books printed. As a result, many people gained access to information from various sources and subjects at reduced costs. Still, libraries also had various books for the public.
Printing press enhanced the storage and distribution of knowledge among readers through a standardised method of reading books. Printing press was responsible for the information revolution, which others have compared to effects of the Internet today.
Reformation at the Roman Catholic Church
According to Eisenstein, the Protestant Reformation was “a movement shaped at the very outset (and in large part ushered in) by the new powers of the press” (Eisenstein 148). Martin Luther’s publication about the Roman church at the time changed religious among many believers.
Before the age of the printing press, people engaged in laborious copying of text, which was prone to errors. Moreover, only few people owned religious texts. People learned about contents of the Bible through churches. However, some churches provided false accounts of the Bible. Still, many people could not read the Bible while those who understood the errors could not confront the church because they had no evidence from the Bible.
The printing press changed this scenario. Books were available in large numbers, and many people adopted a reading culture (Ong 64). Majorities had gained access to the Bible through redistribution. Laymen started to read and comprehend the Bible. Consequently, the majority could now identify false interpretation by the Roman Catholic Church. People identified issues about the ‘Divine Right’ and papal power among others. The Bible transformed the church and people alike.
Printing press changed the image culture to text culture. Initially, people relied on images in the church in order to understand religious lessons. However, the printed Bible changed reading because people no longer used images in the church. In fact, religious leaders feared that people would no longer visit churches in order to learn about the Bible. In short, the printing press created legitimacy that churches lacked when interpreting the Bible.
The rise in scientific thoughts
Scholars have investigated and credited the rise of modern scientific thoughts and discoveries to the development of the printing press (Crompton 89). Eisenstein concentrates in her book on this area. Achievements of printing press in scientific fields are different with those of religious circles. The Reformation established legitimacy in the church.
On the other hand, printed words in scientific fields enabled many thinkers to question and search for further truth. Thinkers became sceptic about new ideas. Consequently, they started to search for the truth in nature and other areas of scientific interests. Curious thinkers had to compare their discoveries with knowledge captured in books.
Printing press also brought about changes in learning. Learning through memorisation reduced. In addition, learners were able to compare contents of different texts and identify errors because they had different texts about a single field. Eisenstein observed, “All manner of curious men” (Eisenstein 194) viewed written texts differently and with curiosity.
They did not trust some written materials. As a result, such thinkers reviewed books and scientific evidence in order to establish facts. Such scholars mad new discoveries and thoughts about events, which led to the rise of modern scientific theories. Science could only rely on recorded, compared, and verified data for effective study and future references.
Eisenstein also acknowledged that printing press enhanced the process of feedback in scientific areas (Eisenstein 200). Researchers could not easily avail their works to the public or gain universal recognition. After printing, critics could review such works and provide immediate feedback to authors.
Eisenstein has suggested that we can comprehend Renaissance through events of the time (15th century). This period marked the change from manuscript to printing press. She claims that printing was responsible for “the most radical transformation in the conditions of intellectual life in the history of Western civilisation” (Eisenstein 115). The author claims that some achievements of the Renaissance “could not have been possible without printing” (Eisenstein 115). In this respect, the author refers to intellectual revolution.
Initially, authors only dedicated their works to few individuals, who rewarded or provided financial aid to them. The number of readers in the middle class increased. Consequently, the publisher responded by printing many books.
Book trading was successful and authorship emerged as a profession. Authors derived their livelihood from books, which the public bought. Therefore, they had to satisfy demands from the public. New ideas emerged, especially for entertainment purposes.
Authors gained recognition and fixed personality from their works. Readers associated authors with particular ways of thinking as reflected in texts. Therefore, printing was responsible for the creation of authorship and intellectual property rights.
Authors who derived their livelihood from popularity of their creative works needed to protect books from exploitation by publishers. Therefore, such authors had to protect their uniqueness and creativity through ownership of intellectual property.
Printing revolution brought about political, economical, social, and cultural changes in early modern Europe. These changes were possible through the provision of medieval texts to masses. In addition, printing enabled authors to write about new ideas and discoveries.
Printing press marked the change from the main oral culture to printing culture in information management (McLuhan 34). Consequently, people began to develop new knowledge from printed materials. Such materials provided abstract thoughts of human consciousness. New ideas and theories were evident in fictional literature, scientific ideas, discoveries, and philosophy among other fields.
At the same time, printing led to development of most languages across Europe through published texts. Such printed works resulted into the development of national mythologies and pride. This idea also enhanced the production of territorial maps through cartographic techniques.
Printing changed the literacy levels among masses of the early modern Europe. The change in literacy level had permanent changes in the lives of masses of Europe. Scholars began to write books about all subjects that interested readers.
Printers responded by mass production of books in order to satisfy the growing demands. Such lucrative trade led to authorship and the ownership of intellectual property. This prevented corruption of authors’ creativity and unique works.
It is also interesting to note how scholars have viewed printing revolution in history (Briggs and Burke 12). In addition, we can note the relationship between printing and other forms of media such as oral communication, scribe, and images at the church. In all, printing press had the same effects on communication, which is similar to that of the Internet today.
Briggs, Asa and Peter Burke. Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2000. Print.
Crompton, Samuel. The Printing Press: Transforming Power of Technology. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004. Print.
Eisenstein, Elizabeth. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Print.
Febvre, Lucien and Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800. London: Verso, 1976. Print.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962. Print.
Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.