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Prior to the invention of the Printing Press, monks hand-wrote, using a quill and ink, Bibles in Latin. Each letter was paid particular attention to. Latin was the universal language of literature but it was not widespread as a language at this point in history, only the upper class who could afford a high educated could read them. During the late 14th century and early 15th century, written manuscripts began to be edited, replaced and printed into “first editions” (meaning that an original manuscript was edited and modified). Along with these changes, titles, headers, and book covers with artistry by woodcarvers and engravers were shown exactly repeated in printed books.
After the Guttenberg’s printing press was invented in the 15th century, during the late 15th century, we see signs of early incunabula (infant versions of books) noting that scribes and printers mimicked each other’s formats for decades (with these changes, there was also a rapid decrease in the universal language of Latin as literature). Printing houses throughout Europe quickly realized the benefits of printing books in the vernacular, or everyday language of an area. This opened up reading to many more people than the use of Latin. The rapid spread of printed books written in the vernacular led to a dramatic increase in literacy rates around Western Europe. The printing press also revolutionized advertising, and propaganda.
Printing stimulated the literacy of lay people and eventually came to have a deep and lasting impact on their private lives. Although most of the earliest books dealt with religious subjects, students, businessmen, and upper and middle class people bought books on all subjects. Printers responded with moralizing, medical, practical and travel manuals. Printing provided a superior basis for scholarship and prevented the further corruption of texts through hand copying. By giving all scholars the same text to work from, it made progress in critical scholarship and science faster and more reliable. This privacy allowed easier transmission of different, new, or even dangerous information, one could privately acquire any information they sought from books rather than publicly interacting with those deemed to be radicals and heretics.
Today, our culture is a printing culture not only through books but through the internet and world wide web. Books are printed and their manuscripts are available online indefinitely, which still considers us this sort of “printing culture” even though the print is not in as much physical book form as it used to be.
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