What effects did the printing press invention have on European society?

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The invention of moveable type by Bi Sheng in China in the early part of the 11th century and the later development in 1439 by Johannes Gutenberg of his own device for producing manuscripts at an accelerated rate relative to the age-old method of hand-copying texts revolutionized European societies. For the first time in human history, information could be disseminated on a mass scale—all things being relative—and this development allowed for the dissemination of ideas that changed the world. Gutenberg’s invention and his use of moveable type to produce Bibles presaged the later use of the printing press by Martin Luther as part of the latter’s enormously consequential role in facilitating the Reformation. As European history is inseparable from the evolution of organized religion, the importance of the printing press to that history cannot, then, be overstated.

Humans take for granted today the instantaneous dissemination of information, whether through texting, email, telephone or transmittal of video imaging. This was not, obviously, always the case. Until the invention of the printing press, documents had to be painstakingly transcribed by hand. Widespread distribution of the written word or drawn image, therefore, was physically extremely limited. [Today, the Jewish Torah, the holy text believed to be handed down by God, is still written as it was thousands of years ago, by hand on special parchment.] Martin Luther understood that, for his declaration of war against the Church’s practices to take hold, his objections to those practices had to be disseminated as widely as possible. The printing press was the instrument by which he accomplished that objective. The resulting Protestant Reformation, of course, represented one of the seminal events in European history and the effects continue to be felt today.

In addition to the distribution of religious texts and arguments, the invention of the printing press facilitated the development of academia in general by allowing for the far greater availability of scientific texts as well as of literature. Information and ideas were more widely shared which allowed for greater levels of intellectual discourse which, in turn, provided for greater mass involvement in society. A population more exposed to alternative theories or ideas is a population less disposed to accept unquestionably the portraits of reality dictated from above, the “above” mainly meaning monarchs and myriad societal elites. In short, then, the invention of the printing press had enormous ramifications for European societies.

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The invention of the printing press had a big impact on Europe. Before the printing press was invented, documents had to be written by hand, often by scribes. This was a very time-consuming process. Once the printing press was invented, it was possible to spread information very quickly and more accurately. This helped to educate the public about various topics.

More materials that were now being printed weren’t religious in nature. Prior to the printing press, a lot of materials that were written dealt with religious topics. Many of the scribes worked for the Church. Thus, the materials that were written tended to be religious in nature. After the printing press was developed, more materials dealing with science were published. Scientists could more accurately and more quickly share information with each other. This helped lead to advances in science. The development of the printing press led to less censorship of materials. Since materials were being published by groups or individuals not connected with the Church, the Church had less ability to control what was being published and the information that was being made available to the public.

The printing press had a tremendous impact on Europe.

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How did the printing press transform both the private and public lives of Europeans?

The oldest known printing press in recorded history originated in China, not Europe. However, approximately 150 years after the printing press was discovered in China, a German named Johannes Guttenberg devised a printing press in Strasbourg, France. He began working on the machine in 1440 and had it ready for commercial printing by 1450. Besides pamphlets, calendars, and other smaller projects, Gutenberg printed about 180 copies of a 1,300-page edition of the Bible. Printing spread rapidly throughout Western Europe, and it is estimated that by 1500 about 20 million books had already been printed.

Previously, every edition of a book had to be laboriously written by hand, so books were extremely expensive and very few people possessed them or could read them. Printing presses brought in an era of mass communication in which anybody who could read had access to information. Knowledge was no longer in the hands of a powerful literate elite. Instead, as books became more plentiful, many more people learned to read, and transformational ideas became available to the masses. This shook the power structures of society that then controlled Europe. For instance, it was the printing press and the mass dissemination of information that made possible the Protestant Revolution, which weakened the power of the Catholic Church.

The printing press hastened the spread of scientific discoveries through journals and books. Scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus were able to more easily spread their then-revolutionary ideas. The printing press hastened the spread of Renaissance ideas as wealthy patrons financed the printing of classic works by Aristotle, Plato, and others.

The spread of literacy that the printing press brought about also affected people on a personal level, especially in the areas of education and freedom of thought. With the availability of books, readers were no longer dependent upon an elite group of educated teachers for knowledge. Instead, they could educate themselves. They were also not limited in their thinking by the decisions of those educated few. They were able to question long-held tenets of religious, philosophical, and scientific thought through critical reasoning.

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How did the printing press transform both the private and public lives of Europeans?

Johannes Gutenberg's printing press, invented around 1440 in the midst of the Renaissance, gave people more access to written literature, including religious texts and political pamphlets.

Previously, literacy had been limited to members of the clergy, the aristocracy, and members of the merchant class. The printing press expanded the possibilities for people who had not previously had opportunities to learn to read.

The Protestant Reformation would not have happened without the printing press. In 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. His list of grievances against the indulgences of the Catholic Church was soon published and distributed as a result of the printing press.

Gutenberg's press also allowed for the Bible to be printed and distributed for private use. Previously, worshipers were beholden to clergymen to explain to them what the Bible said and what Scripture meant. Now, Christians were able to read the Bible for themselves and interpret its meaning. This personal relationship with Scripture was a key aspect of the Protestant Reformation.

In the eighteenth-century the printing press would be used to print and distribute political pamphlets, such as Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Ideas such as Paine's would be key to the Enlightenment, which would later inspire the major Atlantic revolutions: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the uprising in Haiti.

Access to printed information enriched people's lives. They could enjoy literature, create a more personal relationship with God, and read political ideas. The printing press allowed people to consider what they thought about the world, thus allowing them to engage with it more constructively.

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