Lecture Nine: Technology in the Early Modern Period
October 18, 2011
The Printing Press
The printing press was based on an invention which was created in China.
The Chinese developed paper, moveable type and wooden blocks which were
used for printing on paper.
This did not take off in China for many reasons
- There were too many characters in the alphabet, so it was too complicated
to use the printing press with so many different characters
- Scribes had special privilege in society and did not want to give this up by
letting the printing press become popular.
Johan Gutenburg is credited with bringing the printing press to Europe.
- The first book printed was the Bible
- The Church liked having the printing press because it helped to facilitate the
widespread sale of indulgences, which were pieces of paper that were sold
which essentially “granted” a person salvation from their sins.
What was the impact of print technology on the spread of scientific and
technical information? These are two separate debates and should be
There are always two perspectives to every issue: the orthodox perspective and
the revisionist theory.
The orthodox perspective is often the most widely known and generally accepted
perspective on a given issue. Over time, people begin to question this
perspective and come up with their own ideas, which are called revisionist
Orthodox view on the impact of print: Elizabeth Eisenstein.
- It is important to note that it is possible to believe and reject points in the
Eisenstein believes that with the invention of the printing press, more people
were coming into contact with scientific and technical information, and it was also
more accessible to others around the world. Within a short period of time (less than 50 years) more than 8 million printed
books were created.
-This is because they could be created at higher volume
-Could be copied for a much cheaper price
-Prior to this, people had to hand copy each book
In terms of productivity, one person could produce one book by hand. With the
use of the printing press, one person could copy thousands of books for only 3
times the cost of printing a book by hand.
Effects of The Printing Press
Before this, books were very scarce and considered to be precious commodities.
-The only place one could find books were in churches and monasteries
-Some wealthy people had a few books at home as well but it was less
As more people come into contact with information, it became more widespread
-People were able to afford books in their homes
-Information became more available
-Over time, literacy rates increased
It was mainly an economic factor for why it became so popular to use the printing
Over time, books began to look different than previous hand-copied materials.
-Tables of contents at the beginning
-Indexes at the end
-Helped people find which information they were looking for quickly and
More debates came from books now because they were now more available
-Scholars now had access to the same materials
-They could read and debate materials
-Look for commonalities and errors among texts
When scholars had access to the same texts, it allowed them to read the printed
materials from the same author.
-They would find errors made from copied materials (scribes not writing it
-This would lead to a better and more accurate version of the printed material The invention of print also helped to eliminate the errors that were created in
-Some books had illustrations (biology, medicine, engineering ect)
-Scribes did not often recreate properly these drawings, making it hard to
understand or duplicate certain machines or technologies.
How Did the Printing Press Affect Scientific Knowledge?
Before the printing press, scholars did not have access to the texts of study that
-Because of this, when they got their hands on a copy, they would focus on
copying and memorizing the texts instead of comprehending them.
-After the printing press, the focus shifted to adding to the information found
in the texts because they had more time to do so.
-They were able to expand knowledge in a way that they had not b