Agreeable eye.

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The Printing Revolution

Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: CUP, 1983.

This is an abridgment – intended for the general reader – of Eisenstein’s longer monograph The Printing Press as an Agent of Change; it suffers from some of the faults of ‘popular’ history: no footnotes, inadequate references, and a certain condescension on the part of the author towards the reader. This requires a forgivingness and open-mindedness on the part of the reader that I don’t possess. As a result, I will suspend judgement until I read the complete work; what follows is a general summary of the two sections of the book.

Part 1: The Emergence of Print Culture

Eisenstein posits that the introduction of printing in western Europe created an explosion of intellectual activity that had profound consequences on the course of history. By ‘printing’ she means ‘a cluster of innovations (entailing the use of movable metal type, oil-based ink, wooden handpress, and so forth)’ (13), though it is not limited to these technological developments, but also to the mindset created by access to and use of these tools. This mindset, which she terms ‘print culture’, has six main features:

Insufficient evidence in most cases to judge her case.

Part 2: Interaction with Other Developments

Discusses in greater detail the interaction (or interrelationship) between the ‘print revolution’ and the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution (each in a separate chapter). Relates the impact of features of print culture on these intellectual/spiritual developments. The chapter on the scientific revolution was the most thought-provoking.

Books & articles to add to reading list

Overall contains an interesting annotated bibliography, all of which are good sources to follow up; the ones below seemed the most immediately interesting to me.


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