The Printing Press as an Agent of Change


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At the same time, the new ability to convey maps, charts, and pictures in a uniform and permanent way meant that older theories in cartography, astronomy, anatomy, and botany could be checked against new observations.

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change : History of Information

The use of this new technology produced unexpected results. How the differing reactions to the changes brought about by printing shaped subsequent European society is most clearly seen in Eisenstein's extended discussion of the role print culture played in shaping religious debates before and after the Protestant Reformation. There had been many earlier heretical movements within the Catholic Church before Luther's posting of his 95 theses.

Reformation Video 3: The printing press--changing values, traditions, and philosophies

But the dissemination and greater permanence of print culture allowed his challenge to have a much greater impact. Moreover, the competitive nature of the printing industry, which was driven by a desire for sales, provided a new, more public outlet for controversies, and insured that what began as a scholarly dispute between theologians gained an international audience. Reformation impulses and the printing industry fed off and accelerated one another in an age where religious materials were popular sellers. Differing Catholic and Protestant attitudes towards print culture resulted in two widely divergent historical paths.


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In Protestant lands, approval of vernacular bibles led to encouragement of greater lay literacy and a closer tying of biblical lore with developing national cultures. In Eisenstein's view, the differences in Catholic and Protestant reactions to printing were not due solely to theological differences, or to Protestants being more enlightened or trusting of their congregations. Some individual Protestant leaders were hostile to the changes wrought by printing, particularly the wider dispersal of controversial books to lay audiences.

But areas under Protestant control were generally less able to implement censorship of the presses than the more centralized governments of Catholic areas.

A Working Letter

One of the most important events in the shaping of early print culture was the successful rebellion of the Netherlands. In their small, semi-autonomous provinces, numerous printing presses sprang up that operated relatively free of censorship, and provided an outlet for authors, even within areas held by the Counter-Reformation.

Books coming off the clandestine presses proved impossible for the Counter-Reformation to block, with significant impact for both religion and science.

While the main focus of The Printing Press is limited to a relatively small group of already-literate elites, Eisenstein believes that the changes which print culture brought to the early modern world eventually transformed Western society at large. By focusing on a fundamental shift in mentality, which came about due to a basic change in communication and collective memory, and the advent of uniform duplication, Eisenstein's book anticipates many areas of interest in recent intellectual history.

Her conception of a cosmopolitan "Republic of Letters" created by the new printing technology that transcended national borders has been carried on by historians of the Enlightenment and eighteenth-century thought such as Dena Goodman.

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On the other hand, Eisenstein in expressed frustration that many of the artificial borders in intellectual history that she had tried to bridge in The Printing Press still dominated discussions of European development. Studies of Renaissance and early European print culture generally remain unrelated to work on the Enlightenment tradition and eighteenth-century thought. According to Eisenstein, recent work on the printing industry, such as that done by Robert Darnton and Roger Chartier, has greatly expanded practical knowledge of book production, but these studies generally treat books chiefly as a commodity, with little reference to the ideas they contain, or the views held by their propagators.

Eisenstein's approach in The Printing Press still holds potential as a promising approach to some of the more vexing questions of European early modern history.

In this Book

Sherman, Peter Stallybrass, H. Arthur Williamson, and Calhoun Winton. Table of Contents. Cover Download Save. Title Page p.

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Copyright Page p. Table of Contents pp. Acknowledgments p.

Elizabeth Eisenstein

Introduction pp. Chapter 1- Errata Lists and the Reader as Corrector pp. Chapter Seeing the World in Print pp. A Conversation with Elizabeth L. After printing, large-scale data-collection did become subject to new forms of feed-back which had not been possible in the age of scribes. Ultimately, gifted boys who might have become preachers simply became publicists instead.

Yet Erasmus sounded a similar theme. In thus celebrating the carrying power of their publications, both Defoe and Erasmus were actually ringing variations on an old scribal theme. Nevertheless, the grouping of main topics seems remarkably similar to later procedures and quite unlike earlier ones. Balisage en TEI.

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change The Printing Press as an Agent of Change
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change The Printing Press as an Agent of Change
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change The Printing Press as an Agent of Change
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change The Printing Press as an Agent of Change
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change The Printing Press as an Agent of Change

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