Consequences of the Gutenberg Revolution in Europe - Europe Essay Example

Consequences of the Gutenberg Revolution in Europe

            The early modern period started in Europe from the print revolution in 1450 to the French and Industrial Revolution in 1789 - Consequences of the Gutenberg Revolution in Europe introduction. The invention in Europe was popularized by Johann Gutenberg during the year 1450 when he developed a printing press. The invention of movable-type printing press by Gutenberg accelerated the dissemination of knowledge, discoveries, and literacy in Renaissance Europe (“Gutenberg and”). The printing revolution played an important role in the Protestant Reformation that break apart the Catholic Church (“Gutenberg and”).


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            Before Gutenberg introduced the printing press, it was very difficult to spread exact information to a wide number of people (Stacy 92). Information could be obtained through time-consuming and laborious process of hand-copied books, tablets or scrolls (Stacy 92). However, access to this information was limited only to elite and literate individuals (Stacy 92).

            Gutenberg, who was born in Mainz, Germany, around 1398, had shown his artistic skill when he made the movable-type printing press (Koscielniak 28). He belonged to one of the leading families of Mainz where his father worked as an official in the town’s mint, which manufactured coins for the Holy Roman Empire (“Gutenberg and”). His literacy in Latin language probably contributed to the belief of some historians that he attended a university. Other historians believed that Gutenberg was able to learn how to make gold coins using a punch to engrave small letters (“Gutenberg and”).

            In his mid-30s, Gutenberg traveled to German town of Strasburg in France to search for better opportunity (“Gutenberg and”). He decided to manufacture and sell metal mirrors to religious pilgrims after borrowing money from three men and then later became his partners in the business (“Gutenberg and”). However, his mirror business failed due to outbreaks of the Black Death in Europe, causing an interruption of the pilgrimages.

Gutenberg experimented alone a technique of utilizing movable-type printing process to print books in Strasburg (“Gutenberg and”). In order to produce type, he made each letter of the Latin alphabet by pressing into a small square of metal (“Printing”). After creating a letter-shaped hollow, called a matrix, for each letter of the alphabet, he fitted it with four pieces of wood to produce an open box (“Printing”). The box was then filled with molten metal to produce a small block with the letter. It was then used as a mold that can be adjusted to fit all letters (“Printing”).

Gutenberg also invented printing ink using the combination of linseed oil and lampblack and paper, which requires a definite thickness and slightly moisten in order for the ink to adhere properly (“Gutenberg and”). All these inventions enabled Gutenberg to construct a printing press that utilized precise pressure necessary to clearly print words from the types into the paper (“Gutenberg and”).

The revolution of printing

During the Middle Ages, the only source of both worldly and religious information of most people in Europe was the village Catholic priest in the pulpit (“Gutenberg and”). News that was spread from one person to another was usually in the form of rumor while the rarity of written documents during these years was often considered by the common people as forgeries (“Gutenberg and”).

            Most people in Europe could not even write or read the language they spoke. A small number of literates pursued to study Latin, the universal language of Roman Catholic Church, the law, and the scholarship (“Gutenberg and”). Information found in books was hand copied and mostly in Latin language. Universities locked books on reading tables because they were expensive and rare (“Gutenberg and”).

            Memory devices were also popular during the Middle Ages. They were usually used by scholars who were literate in Latin to recall what they had learned. One particular memory device that became popular to university scholars involved the visualization of a building containing several rooms and architectural features, each representing a different store of knowledge (“Gutenberg and”).

            Moreover, scribes also experienced hardships for up to a year in copying a single book, usually in Latin, on processed calfskin called vellum and then on paper (“Gutenberg and”). Experts and scribes painted large capital letters and margins in several books with colorful designs and miniature sceneries (“Gutenberg and”).

 Gutenberg’s Bible, which was published in 1456, was the first book to be printed using movable-type printing process (“Printing”). It was produced by arranging the type of each page and putting ink before the paper was pressed down on movable-type printing press (“Printing”). The Bible consists of 1282 pages long with two columns of type. It has wide margins and well designed pages. It is called black letter because the type turns the printed page very dark (“Printing”). Gutenberg was able to print nearly 200 Bibles in five years (“Printing”).

Consequences of Gutenberg’s invention of printing press

Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press did not make him rich, but it quickly spread to other European countries. There were about 14,000 separate books that had been produced in Europe by the time that Columbus was exploring the New World (“Printing”). Also during that time, there may have been more than 20 million books in Europe (“Printing”).

The technology invented by Gutenberg became the stepping stone for other inventions by European printers to improve and make printing type easier to read. One was the introduction of serifs, or tiny tails, by the Frenchman Nicolas Jensen at the end of his letters (“Printing”). This type eventually became popular than black letter type introduced by Gutenberg and the letters became Roman-style letters because they were created similar to the stone carvings in Ancient Rome (“Printing”).

Another innovation was the emergence of a narrow slanting type, now known as italic, designed by Aldus Manutius (“Printing”). The typesetting process was popularized by the early European printers. It involved arranging the type by hand, character by character and storing it in cabinet drawers, called cases (“Printing”). Each case contained a complete set of type in a specific size and style, called a font (“Printing”). It was normal for European printers to separate the capital letters, or upper-case letters, from small letters or lower-case letters (“Printing”).

Letters were arranged in rows in a small metal tray after they were removed from the type case (“Printing”). The width of the line was adjusted by inserting space bars. The process of filling out a line was referred to as justification (“Printing”). The lines were moved to a larger metal tray, known as a galley after filling the metal tray with justified lines (“Printing”). The printed sheet of paper that was made was called the galley proof (“Printing”).

The design and use of a press has brought about a practical transformation in the production of books and the spread of knowledge (Koscielniak 28). The printing press also significantly changed the lives of people in Europe (“Gutenberg and”). The practice of printing in Europe was made possible by the spread of German printers (Briggs & Burke 13). By the year 1500, there were more than 250 places in Europe that have printing presses, 80 of the presses in Italy, 52 in Germany, and 43 in France (Briggs & Burke 13).

            From 1466 to 1468, printers had then spread in Basel, Rome, Paris, Pilsen, Venice, Leuven, Valencia, Cracow, Buda, Westminster, and Prague (Briggs & Burke 13).

By the year 1500, printing presses made nearly 27,000 editions and about 13 million books

circulated in Europe with a population of about 100 million.

By the 16th century, there were several books that people do not have time to read the titles and catalog compilers had to decide whether to arrange books by subject or in the alphabetical order of authors (Briggs & Burke 15). As books rose in number, libraries had to expand in order to accommodate more books, catalogs became more necessary and books were difficult to find on the shelves (Briggs & Burke 15).

From the mid-16th century, printed bibliographies provided information on what had been written but as these compilations multiplied, subject bibliography became necessary (Briggs & Burke 15). Librarians also encountered difficulty in updating catalogs and becoming aware of new publications. The existence of more books that could be read brought problems to readers in judging select bibliographies and, at the end of 17th century, reviewing new publications (Briggs & Burke 16).

The emergence of newspapers in the 17th century rose anxieties concerning the effects of print. Scholars or those who were in search of knowledge had encountered problem of information retrieval and the selection and criticism of books and authors (Briggs & Burke 15).

            The Victorian historian Lord Acton emphasized both the lateral effects and vertical or cumulative effects of print (Briggs & Burke 16). The lateral effect focused on the accessibility of knowledge to a broader audience, while the vertical effect enabled next generations to focus on the intellectual work of the older generation (Briggs & Burke 16).

            Social historians have emphasized that one of the consequences of the invention of printing is the change in the occupational structure of cities in Europe (Briggs & Burke 16). The printers were classified as a group of artisans for whom literacy was important. The invention of printing also brought the emergence of a new occupation called proof-correcting and an increase in the number of librarians and booksellers due to the multiplication of books (Briggs & Burke 16).

            There is a possibility that the last 500 years will be known as the Gutenberg era for having one defining feature and responsible for forming the society and its institutions throughout these years (Stacy 92). This defining feature, which can be referred to as the Gutenberg principle, makes the mass dissemination of information a reality, but expensive (Stacy 92). The impact of the Gutenberg principle is the emergence of institutionalized and mediated channels to establish the effectiveness and scale required to handle the interaction between individuals with information and needs on the one hand, and the individuals who desire that information or those who could fulfill those needs (Stacy 92).

            The Gutenberg principle provides the opportunity to realize the degree to which the relationship between information distributed has formed and established not just the media but also other kinds of mediators such as banks (Stacy 92). It also results to the introduction of mass consumer brands and allows controlling the relationship between all types of institutions, both commercial and political, and individuals (Stacy 92).

            Gutenberg is credited as being the causal agent for the Renaissance, the development of science, and shifting the power of monarchs and religions order to become shared across a wider members of society (Stacy 92). However, the basic structure of the Gutenberg principle is the costs of distributing information to a mass audience (Stacy 92).

Cited Works

Briggs, A. & Burke, P. A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet, 2nd ed.,

Cambridge, England: Polity, 2005

Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution in Europe. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from http://www.crf-

Koscielniak, B. Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press. Boston, MA: Houghton

Mifflin Harcourt, 2003

Printing: The Gutenberg Revolution. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from

Stacy, R. Gutenberg and the Social Media Revolution: An Investigation of the World Where It

Costs Nothing to Distribute Information. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from, 2009

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