Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Printing Press, the Reformation, and the Renaissance

Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press helped to lead Europe out of the dark ages. It allowed the production of books to become less costly and time-consuming, which meant that literature found its way into the hands of more lower class citizens. Illiteracy declined sharply as books became cheaper and more readily accessible. The increase in literacy began to encourage learning and individual thought, which wasn’t good news for the church.

Until that point, the church had been a powerful force. The majority of churchgoers had been unable to read, so the church’s interpretation of the Bible was all they knew; as literacy grew, people began to form their own interpretations and relied less on religious leaders, and so the church was no longer the single focus in peoples’ lives. This led to Humanism, which in turn lessened the church’s power on the faithful and led to the Protestant Reformation. At this time, Martin Luther began to see the corruption in the church. The printing press allowed him to spread his 95 Theses, which meant that others could share in his ideas.

The ability to print also revived Greek and Roman literature during the Renaissance. Classic tales were redistributed with fresh type and illustrations and read all across Italy. In addition to being able to produce books quickly through the printing press, the Renaissance also brought about changes in the design of books. New fonts came into use, as well as different and more elaborate styles of ornamentation and page layouts.

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