Thursday, December 15, 2011

The influence of Gutenberg’s printing press

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Four significant influences of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press prove that it was without a doubt one of the must beneficial tools in advancement of literacy and education in the modern world.

First, Gutenberg’s printing press brought a once practically unobtainable item readily available, books. Prior to the invention of the printing press, literature and books were only accessible to those of great wealth and social status. Owning a book in the late 1400s was a very prestigious honor. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, owning a bound book not only showed superior standing among society, but identified you as an individual with a high level of education. Those who could read (which was a scarce ability or “talent” for the time) were only those who could afford to be schooled. Other than those of means or nobility, the common man supported his family only through physical labor and earned only enough to provide the bare essentials of food, clothing and shelter. This left no money for education let alone books due to their exuberant prices. In reference to Contemporary Europe A History, 7th edition. Sir Gutenberg’s brilliant invention made it possible to mass produce machine printed literature at what was an astounding rate for the time. Although each page had to be printed one at a time, and every individual letter in the print had to be carved and cast by hand, his contraption could duplicate printed literature and make it more readily available to the public regardless of social status. The invention of the printing press would slowly elevate the general population into a more literate, educated people.

Another valuable benefit of Gutenberg’s device was the improvement upon the ability to record history in a manner that was more organized and less susceptible to inaccuracy. Preceding the invention of the printing press, all records were kept by mode of handwritten scrolls and books. Pre-dating this devise, every record had to be dictated to a scribe, who in turn would in theory put pen to paper and write verbatim everything he was told. This written history and recordkeeping could include and be something as simple as a marriage or birth certificate, or as important as a treaty alliance between war waging kingdoms. With the passing of the years, these hand scribed records piled up and this method proved to be an inefficient manner of handling such an important task. Though it served its purpose, destroyed or lost scripts could not be duplicated. In addition, many errors were found in these records, not only in historical records but also in literary translations as well. According to both Humanities of Western Europe vol. both state that those who did became scribes had to speak several languages not only to understand what they were told but also to translate language in order to aid in the communications between nations. With the scribe working at full speed to a fast talking royal member speaking in an unfamiliar tongue, it left no time to ask for the repetition of statements. The translation between languages was the most likely possibility for errors. With the printing press, one could not only make a single copy of an important document, but make several to distribute to as many who desired it to assure its accuracy. Records could then be kept in bound books for later reference.

In addition another contribution of Gutenberg’s creation was its influence upon the future development of simplistic forms of local communication through printing. Although it was not started under Gutenberg’s name, his invention gave inspiration to the development of the newspaper. In later years as the educational levels and literacy rates began to climb, more people from the once poorly educated areas could now read and write. Though education was mostly focused on the males of the family, in most households there was likely one person in the family who could read. Along with increased educational levels of the population came a larger and more advanced city structure. When it came to communicating to the city as a whole, it was difficult to effectively distribute information without letting large numbers go uninformed about important events such as town meetings or special council elections. Signs were posted in high traffic areas such as the church or in the center of the town, but this did not show to be entirely efficient. With the development of the newspaper anyone could be informed on any event that was occurring in the community. Not only would the newspaper report the important news of the city, but it would also advertise local plays, musicals, and job opportunities. This simple few paged document brought the local communication awareness to an all time high and yet again raised the bar on advanced community living.

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Lastly, the creation of the printing press raised the literacy level and helped establish a minimal education in order for people to maintain a productive life. When books were so scarce and outrageously expensive, it gave little incentive for those who desired to be educated to pursue that goal. A person not having the funds to obtain the most basic literacy skills had no way but by miracle to obtain written knowledge. As books began to be published and accessibility was no longer an issue, those who yearned for scholarly learning whether young or old, rich or poor, all were able to expand their knowledge through the reading of published books. Whether they were taught at school or at home by a friend or relative or a paid tutor, the quest for expanded knowledge continues to this day. Because of the transition from hand scribed records to published books and the accessibility of books through local libraries, the public can literally learn anything. Even though we are now in the mist of the information “internet” era, in no way could we have advanced in education as far as we have today without Gutenberg’s printing press and the first publications created under his hand and influence.

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