There is a reason they called it a “revolution.” The advent of the Gutenberg press indisputably changed the practice of printing across the world. Like a virus, it spread knowledge to those, who before the fifteenth century had no access to educational material. This brings me to the key point in this brief discussion-  “What was the impact printing had on education?”

Elizabeth Eisenstein touches on the topic well in Chapter Three, Some Features of Print Culture of her text, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, to show how the development of printing influenced institutional as well as individual growth, I would like to focus on two areas of discussion:

  1. The rapid spread of knowledge
    1. In the text, Eisenstein described the impact of the press as like, “a knowledge explosion,” (pg. 47). Prior to the mass production of printing, information on religion, history, art culture, etc. were left to men of religion, i.e. monks who practiced writing ancient texts, and men of learning who sought out individual writings in an area of research. That’s about it. Maps, dictionaries, and poems were not available to be consumed by the pauper down the street, nor did he even have the means to interpret what it said. Engraved images were often used as a tool for the illiterate to understand stories, such as those in the Bible. Images of architecture and the human body served as tools for learning as well. To jump a few centuries into our current day and age, we can compare the impact of the Gutenberg press with the digital boom. Sites such as Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica serve as our information retrieval sites. There, we can access and acquire facts about history and other educational subjects from around the world and educate ourselves in a matter of minutes compared to how long it took in the fifteenth century. Can’t understand how to do arithmetic? Log on to YouTube and you will be able to find someone, somewhere, willing to show you how it’s done.
  1. The cross-cultural exchange
    1. “The advent of printing, we are told, was the most important event “in the cultural history of mankind”; it “brought about the most radical transformation in the conditions of intellectual life in the history of Western civilization,”” (pg. 128). Individuals initially affected by the cross-cultural exchange were the workers at the printing presses. They were obviously the first to read the material being printed. But cultural exchanges were being made more importantly by way of the material that was being printed. Hieroglyphics for example, were printed in texts and were understood to be Egyptian, even though their translations were awhile from being deciphered. Dress patterns, interestingly enough, made visible the fashions of one country to another. Ancient architectural orders were studied across cultures as well. As the printing press’ rolled faster, so too did the vast amount of material that came off it.

We now know that the spread of knowledge and cultural exchanges were ferociously led by the advent of the printing press. I believe education can thank the printing revolution for exploding it into what it has become today.

-By. Sarah Crowe