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New Ways of Spreading Information in the Renaissance

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  • 0:00 A Revolution in Communications
  • 0:30 Forms of Communication
  • 1:06 The Gutenberg Printing Press
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Much like us, the people of the Renaissance experienced a communications revolution. Learn more about the new forms of technology they used, beginning in the 1300s, and how it changed the way people communicated.

A Revolution in Communications

The idea of a communications revolution is something we should all be familiar with. I mean, right now you're taking a course over the Internet. I'm also willing to bet you use social media and/or a smart phone. Spreading information is something we understand.

During a period of immense social and technological change and innovation that lasted from roughly 1300 to 1600, called the Renaissance, communication was also a huge deal. But instead of smart phones, the information revolution of the Renaissance was centered around the idea of printing.

Forms of Communication in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was all about the visual. Things were made to be seen, which made them ideal for communicating political, social, and religious messages. Around 1300, a new, very wealthy merchant class developed, which sponsored huge building projects and enormous wall and ceiling paintings called frescoes. These murals were painted in prominent parts of churches and other buildings so that many people could see them.

The culture of the Renaissance was focused on communication, and the big development was the invention of the printing press. A printing press is a machine that uses stamps with letters to print words. Asia had the printing press since the 11th century, and Europe had basic forms of the press from the 14th century.

The Gutenberg Printing Press

Around 1439 to 1450, the German goldsmith and printer, Johannes Gutenberg, developed a new system of printing with metal movable letters, called movable type. Movable type allowed for assembly-line style printing.

Gutenberg's printing press changed printing. Suddenly, printers could print up 3,600 pages per day. That's a lot of pages. Before the printing press, most books were hand-written, often by monks. They took a long time to make, were expensive, and only the rich could afford to buy them.

With the Gutenberg press, books could be printed daily. More importantly, books could be made cheaply, and many more people could afford them. With more books, education rose. The presses printed classical works of literature, philosophy, engineering, and poetry that hadn't been widely read since the ancient Romans and Greeks. By 1480, 100 cities in Europe had printing presses.

The Gutenberg movable type printing press made information more available and easier to spread. If we compare hand-written books to snail mail (both are forms of communication that spread a little information at a slow pace), then the printing press was the Renaissance-era version of e-mail and Internet search engines. And just like today, giving people access to information equals change.

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