The impact of the printing press, especially the Guttenberg printing press, can be held in the same light as the impact of the internet in today’s society. Even though the printing press had a great influence on European society, “it did not replace other forms of communication entirely.” (Eisenstein15)
Handwritten manuscripts were still in existence together with other graphic modes, and all of these forms, communication were able to compliment each other. However, the printing press brought information from hundreds of miles away to people’s doorsteps, and this information had a lot more credibility.
In the scientific world, the printing press enabled scientists to communicate with each other and also created a platform where they can display their discoveries and inventions to a curious public.
The later establishment of scientific journals added credibility to a scientist’s work since the proposed discoveries could be analyzed by a community of scientists across Europe and it is the publication of these works in 1543 that led to a “period in history that is referred to as the scientific revolution.” (Eisenstein 52)
The printing press gave birth to a whole new industry of authorship that turned out to be quite profitable. Writers that were only known in their respective towns and cities suddenly grew in prominence and stature when their works spread across Europe.
It was now imperative to cite who said what and where; what the precise information was at the time of question. The credibility of pieces of work was rarely doubted if proper citing of references was carried out. The printing press brought “uniformity in copies of work” (Eisenstein15) of a particular author that was circulating, and this preserved the name and reputation of the author.
Practices among authors such as using page numbering, using indices, and table of contents became more common even though they had been in existence for quite a while. The reading process also underwent some re-incarnation.
Previously, it was a common occurrence to see someone with a manuscript standing in front of a crowd of people reading to them loudly. This was mostly due to widespread illiteracy among people. Slowly, with an increase in circulation of printed material and people making an effort to learn how to read and write, private readings became the norm. “This increased adult literacy across Europe at a tremendous rate.” (Eisenstein7)
With more people having access to printed material, it was later noted that some publishers were reprinting an author’s work without his or her consent and redistributing it. This practice was mostly driven by financial gain, but there were a few who altered an author’s work and presented it as their own so as to get recognition.
Copyright laws were thus introduced to give authors control over the printing and financial compensation from their works. Early Copyright laws draw their similarity from the “statute of Anne in 1710 in Britain. (Eisenstein 54)
Latin, which had been the language of choice, especially among scholars, underwent a decline with the circulation of published works The fact was, not that many people spoke Latin leave alone write it fluently so many authors resorted to using the language they were most familiar with.
This led to the sprouting of local vernacular languages in their respective areas pushing Latin further and further to the background. Oddly enough, the printed word somehow managed to standardize the grammar and spelling of these vernacular languages, which had a knock-on effect of bringing uniformity.
The best example is today’s English language, which is mostly made up of words from different vernaculars. “The rise in prominence of national languages and nationalism amongst countries is mostly due to the printed press.” (Eisenstein 56)
Eisenstein Elizabeth L, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp 49-63
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp 15-20