Claire RosengartenHistory 103Professor West8 December 2017Research Essay: The Printing Press and its impact on the development of Western Society There are many events that have changed and caused the development of Western Society. To begin I want to first address the invention of the printing press. The decline of the plague and famine created a period of economic prosperity. This prosperous time lead to the extension of literacy within the civilization. Next, people began to be extremely interested in the written word. Wood book blocks began to be imported from China however, this technique was not quite effective due to the splitting of the wood in the press. Additionally, with this method the blocks were only able to be used once and it was extremely expensive and time consuming. Therefore, Johannes Gutenberg created a method of printing with movable metal type in the holy roman empire. He chose to use multiple metals to be durable in the press and to have the ability to be reusable. Johannes was the son of a noble family in Mainz, Germany, and was formerly a goldsmith. After he created this in 1452, he began the endeavor of printing the Bible. He sold and printed 200 copies of this and only 50 survive to this day. There were immediate effects as well as lasting effects. The reason for this invention was to increase the amount of output while limiting the cost. The printing press essentially created an information revolution. Before this invention there was not many places to obtain information and learn new things. However, this invention created a time where knowledge was power. People from all walks of life began to read whether that was Johannes Gutenberg’s bible or other literary works. This made the Western Civilizations not only more literate but open to new ideas that no one had ever thought of or heard of before. The printing press made many people rethink their beliefs and values. Additionally, it introduced an era of mass communication, which caused a restructuring of the society. Due to these new ideas and movements this challenged the authority of religious and political figures. Now that there was all of this new information many people had questions and one of the problems was that the religious and even political figures did not have the answers. Essentially, the printing press acted as an agent of change through the western civilization. The printing press had a lasting impact on literature and the economy, the circulation of information and ideas, and the critical scholarship of science. One of the most important lasting impacts of the printing press was the mass production of books.  Before this invention there was a limited supply of books and those who owned them typically had libraries in their home and were usually of the higher class.  Books were not something that everyday people had access to, only a small number of the population was fortunate enough to have this luxury. Therefore, when the printing press was invented you could find books for cheaper and more readily available. Books were no longer just for the elite or upper class, even the poorest of people had access to them. You were able to find books anywhere and everywhere. More people began to write and print their own books leading to more authors and even editors.This impacted the literacy industry because now there were more jobs available and more revenue flowing in and out of the Western Civilization. Furthermore, this opened more opportunities up and, “Print media played a key role in the development of numeracy, the emergence of business education, and the adoption of innovations in bookkeeping and accounting”(Dittmar 1134). Not only were there more opportunities for jobs in the literature field but this also lead to jobs opening up in accounting and bookkeeping. The economy after this invention was extremely prosperous. Many historians like to say that the movable type printing press was a revolutionary innovation. It truly was one of the most cost-reducing innovations in history. Baten and van Zanden concluded that there was definitely a correlation between stimulated national-level wages and aggregate book production in European history. This mass production of books increased the amount of jobs which furthermore stimulated the wages and led to more people employed. In addition, European cities flourished the most and led to the most economic growth. Print media also, “played a key role in the acquisition and development of skills that were valuable to merchants”(Dittmar 1137). This allowed merchants to be able to calculate interest rates, exchange rates and even profit shares. Furthermore, the printing press led to the first printed mathematics textbook which was specifically designed for college business students. In this book it taught the students how to use specific methods and formulas in order to determine business aspects such as interest payments, and currency conversions. This development of printing media led to cutting edge business practices that were not previously put in place. Also, in European schools children’s textbooks were relatively inexpensive and this was definitely a prerequisite to the spread of literacy throughout the Renaissance in Europe. Next, the middle class became the largest consumer of books and many people bought books to learn how to manage and run their businesses. Without this invention Renaissance Europe would not have progressed economically. The printing press created a large circulation of new ideas and information. This new information lead Western Civilizations to become more literate and intelligent. This revolution of information made the citizens to question their beliefs both political and religious. Many people had questions in which they asked the emperor’s due to this period of time and many were not able to answer their questions and concerns. After the invention of the printing press many authors shared their opinions on religious ideals. After reading many different books like this they realized that maybe what they have always believed in is not actually correct and they begin to question their own religious morals. The printing press not only created a mass production of books but it also benefited the economy immensely.  Before this innovation there was not necessarily any progression to knowledge. Books were available but not readily and not to everyone. However, due to the higher output and fewer costs many people began to indulge into reading. By reading the people learned ideas that were never even a possibility before. Most of the ideas and knowledge were static and unchanging. Yet, with this new technology it created a surge of information especially related to religion. When Gutenberg first invented this metal movable type he first printed copies of The Bible. This new access to this religious text meant a larger availability for the people and more informed discussion. According to Pettegree, “This appeal to a wider public had in effect been sanctioned by Luther himself with the publication of his sermon on Indulgences, Von Ablass und Gnade, in a German version as early as 1518″(Pettegree 10). Furthermore, this innovation opened up this religion to a wider public but at the same time it opened up opportunities for criticism. People began to learn about new ideas of how the universe came to be and they began to raise questions about the traditional religious beliefs that they were taught. Additionally, it was difficult for the church to control all of the copies of religious texts that were being printed. Before this invention, the churches were mainly the only people who had access to the religious texts and now they are available to everyone. This certainly caused some tension and eventually lead to Europe’s religious unity splitting during the Protestant Reformation. The religious authority felt as if their beliefs and ideas were no longer important to the people and therefore people tended to not listen to what they had to say because there were many new ideas that took authority. One example of this would be the Protestant Reformation and the time period that caused people to become more famous from their specific area. The difference was the fact that religion was no longer a concrete idea that everyone believed in. There were many people that felt as if religion no longer had any means because the aspect of science came into play. People like Galileo discussed that nature was the sole cause of the so called miracles that many people thought were signs or God speaking to them. For example, when there was a lightning strike many people claimed that God was talking to them yet scientists said that this was actually just a common event of nature. The greater this occurrence meant that more people engaged in the fact that this could actually be possible. Which made religion seem extremely less appealing and even less plausible then it was before the printing press. Now that these new ideas had circulated there were many more theologists and philosophers who tended to share their different ideas through their writings. Furthermore, the printing press also led to modern scientific advances. This new technology enabled scientists to share their ideas with each other. It also enabled many of them to collectively spread their thoughts and discoveries. Elizabeth Eisenstein states, “I think the advent of printing ought to be featured more prominently by historians of science when they set the stage for the downfall of Ptolemaic astronomy, Galenic Anatomy, or Aristotelian physics.” (Eisenstein 209). At this point in Europe, there was not a large demand for printed science books so many people just began experimenting and essentially self educating natural scientists. Therefore, these pseudo scientists began to use personal libraries which helped them for applied science rather than traveling all around to the different universities in order to find manuscripts that they needed. In addition, organizing information became easier which led to distinctions in the fields of science such as botany, astronomy, anatomy, and chemistry. Solla Price says “If science helped give birth to the printed book, it was clearly the printed book that sent science from its medieval habits straight into the boiling scientific revolution”(Price 130). Without this invention, there would not have been such a big change within the scientific field. The printing press led to the dissemination and standardization of scientific knowledge. In addition to the dissemination of scientific knowledge this innovation also led to the standardization. This typography made it possible for textual material to become standardized which then created better accuracy. This also increased the use of images in these texts because they no longer needed to be hand drawn since now they could be printed. By making many different copies and editions it was beneficial for printers to have professional wood carvers to craft images for diagrams. This new use of images and diagrams within textual material made the process of understanding scientists ideas and information way more manageable. This also helped people to understand scientists who had ingenious ideas but spoke a different language. With these new diagrams many people from all different cultures could visualize the scientists ideas without being able to understand their form of communication. This led to a greater abstraction in thinking because now many people could share their different opinions and viewpoints regarding scientific knowledge. This ability for multiple publications to be written about one subject was huge because before this invention ancient writings typically only had one publication. Moreover, since there was only one publication before the printing press there were many added revisions from unknown authors which led to mistakes. However, now since they were able to print it many of those commentaries got deleted and the missing information got added to increase the relevance of it. In Conclusion, the printing press had a lasting impact on literature, the economy, religion and science. Johannes Gutenberg’s metal movable type made it possible to mass produce books. This mass production increased the amount of output and lowered the cost of them. The people of the Western Civilization became more literate and knowledgeable. This also impacted the economy. Many more jobs became available including opportunities in bookkeeping and even accounting. The amount of knowledge and circulation of ideas was immensely changed from this invention. Many people were able to access unlimited amounts of information which in turn led to a change in religious beliefs. Many authors were able to voice their thoughts about religion that people had never heard of before. Furthermore, the printing press also impacted science. Some historians even say that it is what led to modern science. The ability for scientists to collectively share their ideas and thoughts led to new theories. Astronomy, anatomy, botany and other forms of science came to be. Overall, without the printing press the western civilization would not have progressed.


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