How Printing Changed the (Medieval) World

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Johannes Gutenberg would have been honored with the Nobel Prize if he were alive during the 20th century. He would even be marveled at offset printing or wide format printing, either of which evolved from his printing press. 

The German blacksmith introduced printing to Europe during the 15th century. Prior to that, there were neither public records nor journals to tell what was of Gutenberg. What printing consultants knew was he had personal problems and was going through financial difficulties when he unveiled his invention, printing with a movable type, during an event in Strasbourg.

Gutenberg didn’t became an instant celebrity after his printing press was operated, but he achieved fame many years later, partly thanks to Pius II, who wasn’t a pope yet when he saw what wonders printing could do; in 1455, in a letter to Cardinal Carvajal, the soon-to-be pope can’t contained his impression:

“All that has been written to me about that marvelous man seen at Frankfurt is true. I have not seen complete Bibles but only a number of quires of various books of the Bible. The script was very neat and legible, not at all difficult to follow—your grace would be able to read it without effort, and indeed without glasses.” 

When the printing press came out, there were signs of unrest in Europe. The Vatican struggled to assert its authority, as not a few questioned their religious beliefs. It was also the Age of Exploration, and the discovery of new lands and people other than Europeans piqued the curiosity of many. Then over the East, The Byzantine Empire was on its final years, as Constantinopole was about to fall to the Ottoman Turks. Now, what do all of those have to do printing?

Information back then was a privilege shared by nobles and religious figures. The masses were in a dark (so to speak). No brochures to disseminate information quickly, but printing back then allowed the publication of materials that allowed the release of literary materials and other readings that awakened the majority. In other words, a printing revolution took place. It was something that neither Gutenberg nor printing management would have anticipated.

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Printing was the cellular phone (or e-mail) of the Late Middle Age. Neither peint broker nor print finishers, but the simple, movable machine that Gutenberg first introduced in Strasbourg. What happened next was never seen in Medieval Europe, a series of events that changed the continent socially, politically, and culturally. To be more specific: 

  • The Renaissance came in, an era where there was renewed appreciation on Greek aesthetics.
  • The Reformation paved the way for Protestantism.
  • If not for printing, the Age of Enlightenment wouldn’t happened at all.

Printing undergone lots of changes afterwards, with the end of 20th century witnessing the introduction of digital printing. It showed that its success – and survival – depended on the demands of the society – and on print management, as well. Nonetheless, those who will have a first glimpse of printers will be awed after they know about its storied past.

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