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‘On Revolution and the Printed Word’ by Elizabeth Eisenstein Critical Essay

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2019

Introduction

Printing is an important aspect of communication in contemporary society. It is described as the act of reproducing images and texts on a print medium. In this case, a print medium refers to any material that images or texts are reproduced on (Guenkel 2003). It includes, among others, paper and plastic.

In most cases, the printing activity is carried out on a large scale, as a result passing on information to a large number of people. Printing has various implications on the society today.

For example, there is no doubt that printing has significantly affected the acquisition and dissemination of information and knowledge in the society today. Print medium has being blamed for spreading revolutionary ideas in the society, serving as a catalyst for both cultural and political revolutions.

The current paper is written against this background. In the paper, the author will critically analyze the article ‘On Revolution and the Printed Word’ by Elizabeth Eisenstein. The article was extracted from the Journal of Revolution in History, which is published by the Cambridge University Press in London, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Cambridge, and New Rochelle.

The article was published in 1986. Elizabeth Eisenstein in her article is of the view that printing plays a big role in revolutions (Eisenstein 190). The article has been evaluated through the use of facts and evidences.

In the paper, a critical discussion of the arguments made by Eisenstein is provided. The author also sought to establish the connection between print medium and democracy in the society. The arguments made by Eisenstein are analysed in relation to the effects of print medium in the society.

Literature Review

Elizabeth Eisenstein is of the view that printing is crucial in the generation and distribution of knowledge (Eisenstein 1986). People use printing medium to express their opinions and disseminate them to their target audience. The medium helps in eradicating ignorance among members of the society (Horbart 2000, p. 40).

It is a fact beyond doubt that printing media, such as newspapers, journals, and periodicals, are effective tools in the generation and distribution of knowledge and information in the society. However, there are other forms of media that are better and more efficient in passing information than print medium.

The popularity of the other mediums is increasing. They include audio and audio-visual mediums, which have significantly affected publishing (Eisenstein 1986). In addition, the increasing popularity of the internet has affected the relevance of printing mediums in the society today.

In this article, Eisenstein (1986) argues that printing plays a significant role in shaping the world’s history, especially by determining the ‘fate of nations’. Most treaties signed in the past were printed out. The trend has persisted today, with world leaders engaging in the practice of signing printed treaties and agreements.

The method is favoured over other forms of media given that a printed document is used for future reference, especially when disputes arise. It is a fact that printed agreements plays a significant role in achieving democracy in the society.

However, there are some instances when diplomacy fails to work and communities resort to other forms of solving disputes, such as engaging in war (Porter 2009, p. 36). The trend is common in the society today, with nations engaging their enemies in war. What this means is that print mediums do not fully determine the future of nations.

According to Eisenstein (1986), print media is the most preferred channel of generating and passing information compared to other forms of media. Printed documents are more presentable compared to handwritten documents. Such documents as letters are more attractive when they are printed than when they are handwritten. When printed, the documents bring about a sense of formality (Eisenstein 1986).

There is no doubt that printed documents are more suitable compared to handwritten ones. However, a printed document loses some of its original aspects. For example, authenticity is comprised given that it is hard to directly link the document to the sender or the person who prepared it (Bolter 2004, p. 130). As such, people tend to lose faith in printed medium.

Technological innovations have created mediums that are better and more efficient compared to print medium. They include, among others, electronic mails and audio-visual channels.

Such forms of communication are more efficient, faster, and safer than print medium, which enhances the security of information. It is not easy for unauthorised third parties to have access to the information, which is not the case in print medium (Eisenstein 1986).

Print medium plays a significant role in the creation of democracies. It acts as a tool of disseminating information. It helps in spreading radical political ideologies, which promote revolutions against oppressive leadership and policies (Jones 2002, p. 161).

In Cambodia, print media, such as newspapers, played a significant role in the country’s democratic revolution. During the rule of Khmer Rouge, the pint medium was widely used to condemn the oppressive policies of the administration. The medium united the people of Cambodia against the oppressive regime.

The role played by the print media in promoting democracy in Cambodia cannot be overlooked. However, the medium encountered various challenges in achieving this.

For example, print medium was not very popular among the Cambodians since it was inaccessible to many, especially those living in remote and inaccessible rural areas. In addition, majority of Cambodians are illiterate. The illiteracy negatively affected the effectiveness of print medium in spurring democratic revolution.

In addition to spurring democratic revolutions, print medium enlightens the people, educating them on almost all aspects of life. Spreading ideas among a large group of people creates a sense of togetherness and acts as a motivating factor in revolutions (Kipphan 2001, p. 142). The unity created empowers people to push for reforms in governance and other issues facing them in the society.

The print medium plays a major role in the promotion of social democracy by inciting members of the society to push for reforms. It is a fact that print medium significantly influenced and promoted the fight for human rights and restoration of democracy in Cambodia. However, the medium is not popular among the local communities, hindering its effectiveness in spurring major reforms.

Conclusion

As already stated in the paper, printing is the act of reproducing texts and images. It is a very important tool in the push for reforms in the society since it enlightens a large number of people on matters pertaining to their rights. As such, print medium significantly affects the success of political and cultural revolutions in the society.

The medium has played a significant role in the restoration of democracy in many states, among them Sweden, Cambodia, Denmark, and Austria. The role played by the print medium cannot be underestimated. However, the medium is slowly losing its popularity due to the introduction of improved and more efficient means of communication (Guenkel 2003).

References

Bolter, J 2004, Remediation: understanding new media, MIT Press, Cambridge.

Eisenstein, EL 1986, ‘On revolution and the printed word’, Journal of Revolution in History, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 186-205.

Guenkel, D 2003, ‘What’s the matter with books?’, Configurations, vol. 11 no. 3, pp. 277-303.

Horbart, S 2000, Information ages, The Johns Hopkins University Press, New York.

Jones, A 2002, The book of nature and the nature of the book, David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery, London.

Kipphan, H 2001, Handbook of print media: technologies and production methods, Springer, London.

Porter, R 2009, Revolution in history, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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IvyPanda. "‘On Revolution and the Printed Word’ by Elizabeth Eisenstein." December 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/on-revolution-and-the-printed-word-by-elizabeth-eisenstein/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "‘On Revolution and the Printed Word’ by Elizabeth Eisenstein." December 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/on-revolution-and-the-printed-word-by-elizabeth-eisenstein/.

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