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.