The Impact Of The Printing Press

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The Impact of the Printing Press

The Impact of the Printing Press

During the fifteenth century, individuals began to print documents using moveable metal type. Of particular importance was Johannes Gutenberg's establishment of a large printing shop, which was able to produce book-length texts. This shop incorporated the use of a printing press to produce regular and even text. Within fifty years, books were being printed in at least fourteen countries, and the total number of editions was nearly 40,000. This invention had wideranging implications (McLean, 2006).

One initial result of new printing methods was increased pressures on the paper industry, which resulted in driving reforms in the industry's structure. Historians and social scientists have identified a series of communications revolutions associated with the advent, first, of writing; then, of printing; then, of electronic transmissions (telegraph and radio); and, most recently, of computers and the Internet. This entry will consider the communications revolution unleashed by the printing press (Norton, 2007).

More significantly, increased access to printed texts created the opportunity for broad-based literacy. While the Catholic Church initially considered requiring licenses for printing presses, in the end they resisted this strategy and presses spread quickly through Europe. Ironically, one key subsequent result of increased access to printed materials was the creation of a wide audience for the writings of Martin Luther, thus precipitating the Protestant Reformation. More generally, this implied greater opportunities for the general public to access knowledge and establish an environment for debate (McGovern, 2006).

A final implication of the printing press for governance was the increased importance of authorship. Consistency across copies of a text made it possible to cite the particular edition and give reference to the author. The ability to easily copy a text created important concerns for appropriate citation, and this eventually led to the establishment of copyright laws. Innovations in manufacturing and engineering during the industrial revolution led to additional print-related changes, such as the ability to produce newspapers and books for a mass audience (McGovern, 2006).

Some changes were the result of technology. Computer-based typesetting followed photomechanical typesetting. It required the adaptation of classical typefaces, as well as significant modifications to typographic management. Desktop publishing required even greater changes. New approaches to type design and print production were a central result, along with major developments in onscreen visualization.

Printing encouraged the development of more abstract and generalized statements of law. It reduced the mental energy devoted to simply preserving the law from generation to generation through recopying and memorizing. When lawyers could compare legal arguments and categories side by side in texts instead of recalling them laboriously and perhaps inaccurately, the logic and tensions of the concepts appeared more clearly. Printing facilitated the drawing of distinctions and subsuming of particulars into overarching categories. This helped jurists between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries reorganize the law by placing rules and decisions under substantive categories (such as contract, insurance, or evidence) instead of under the older, more particularistic headings of writs and remedies (Lee, ...
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