Ch 1 Printing

Spread of printing 1450-1500 (Wikipedia).

This chapter gives an overview of the invention of printing and some of the social and political impacts that followed it, from the 1450s to the early 1800s. One selection from this chapter is found in this web site’s Features section:  Life in the old print shop.

Chapter 1 is  available here as an 8.8 mb pdf download to help students get started at the beginning of the semester.

Discussion questions

  1. Monk power:  How many monks and scribes were replaced by Gutenberg’s printing press?  What was the “monk power” of an early printing press? How much “monk power” is under the hood of your laptop?
  2. Participation:   How have people contributed to and participated in various kinds of mass media?  In Chapter 1 we see that  mapmakers and scientific publishers were asking readers for corrections and contributions to future editions (p. 26) The first US newspaper, published by Benjamin Harris (p. 32), had 3 pages of news, had a fourth blank page for people to add their own notes as the newspaper was passed around.  These are examples of participatory media.  How do people participate in media today?  Check the book’s index for hints about other participatory media in history.
  3. Defending Zenger: Suppose you had to represent someone accused of seditious libel. How would you defend someone like John Peter Zenger today? How would you describe the idea of “natural rights” today?
  4. First Amendment: Why is religious freedom the first item in the First Amendment?  How does that relate to the historical issues from this time?
  5. Whigs and Tories:  How would early British political factions correspond to modern political parties in the US and the UK?
  6. Research question: Has anyone analyzed the metal found in early “Pilgrims Mirrors” (badges)? Has it been compared to early printers type??

People and events

Major figures: Gutenberg, John Milton, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin

Printing revolution:  Gutenberg, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, “Bloody” Mary, Sebastian Castellio,   Martin Waldseemuller, William Caxton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Georges Agricola, Tycho Brahe,

The Enlightenment: John Milton,  Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Baron de Montesquieu, Francois Voltaire, Diderot

Early newspapers: Johann Carolus, Benjamin Harris, John Peter Zenger, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine,  Cato (John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon), Camille Desmoulins, Hezekiah Niles, John Walter, William Cobbett,


  1. Harvest of Wisdom a 1994  film about the history of graphic arts and printing by the Nolan Moore Memorial Education Foundation.   The style is slightly dated but the film has good social and political context, which is useful for high school and college students being introduced to the history of communication.  Printing starts at 20:15.  “They didn’t want the average Joe to start reading the scriptures. What if Joe began to interpret them? What if he found something there that contradicted the official teachings — one of which said it was God’s will that the poor remain poor and the rich get richer. Why,  this might lead to revolution…”      
  2. Paper and printing in China, It’s History, 2015. (funny)
  3. The Machine that Made Us (BBC) — (Part I embedded above)  – Part I,  Part II, Part IIIPart IV, and Part V
  4. Johannas Gutenberg and the printing press in Great Moments in Science and Technology. Ignore the background music.
  5. The print workshop of the Fifteenth Century, Cambridge University Library. Short, no-nonsense explanation of the process.
  6. Tour the US Government Printing Office with CSPAN’s American Artifacts program.


  1. How Luther went viral: Social media helped bring about the Protestant Reformation (Economist, Dec. 17, 2011).
  2. Ben Franklin and the World of the Enlightenment,   Stanford Continuing Studies Program. Esp. Podcast 2: Printer, Journalist, Citizen
  3. The story of books, by G. B. Rawlings, Librivox audio podcast.


Before printing

  1. The alphabets and the Alphabet Effect (Wikipedia). The Alphabet effect is a hypothesis  in communication theory that says alphabets (as opposed to non-phonetic scripts) encourage the cognitive skills of abstraction,  analysis, coding and classification.
  2. Writing may be over 5,000 years old. (Washington Post, July 11, 2013).
  3. Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy. Ong’s idea, shared by many,  was that a fundamental shift in thinking takes place when cultures move from oral to written communication.
  4. Extra credits history of writing , Jun 4, 2016  — How did the ancient civilization of Sumer first develop the concept of the written word? It all began with simple warehouse tallies in the temples, but as the scribes sought more simple ways to record information, those tallies gradually evolved from pictograms into cuneiform text which could be used to convey complex, abstract, or even lyrical ideas. 
  5. Discovery of the Diamond Sutra, a reflection on the world’s oldest book printed with wood blocks.  Huffington Post, 2012.

The invention of printing

  1. Who was Johannas Gutenberg?
  2. The Gutenberg Bible – 1455, (British Library)
  3. Hark the Herald Angels ” —  The familiar Christmas carol was originally a celebration of of the life of Johannas Gutenberg.
  4. The Atlas of Early Printing – The University Of Iowa Libraries 
  5. Williamsburg print shop recreation
  6. “Hi- Im papyrus. Remember me?” Funny take on technological transitions.
  7. Gutenberg bio at Reformation history site.
  8. History world’s history of printing.
  9. Women of the Press (Spain) 1500s – 1800s.

Religious impacts of printing

  1. European wars of religion 1520s – 1640s  (Wikipedia)
  2. Effects of the invention of printing.  Chris Butler’s Flow of History site.
  3. Elizabeth Eisenstein (Wikipedia).  Eisenstein argued that the impact of printing should have been obvious all along.
  4. In contrast to Eisenstein,  Leopold Von Ranke seems to have missed the impact of printing in his History of the Reformation in Germany.
  5. Printing revolution and the fall of religious authority.  Student site, not very serious, but funny.

The Enlightenment

  1. The Founders Constitution: University of Chicago web publication of major documents from the Enlightenment.
  2. John Milton’s Aeropagitica with reading notes. 1644.
  3. Maryland Toleration Act, 1649
  4. John Locke – A letter concerning toleration, 1689
  5. John Locke – Essay Concerning … Civil Government, 1690
  6. Cato Letters No. 15 On Freedom of Speech
  7. Cato Letters No. 59 Liberty an Inalienable Right of All Mankind Cato was the pen name of Trenchard and Gordon, two English essayists who were well known in the early to mid 18th century.
  8. Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, 1782

Political  impacts of printing

  1. Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London, 1674 to 1834.  Searchable database. Suggestion: Search the proceedings for the crime of “libel.”
  2. Fifty books that changed the world — Online Education Database
  3. The trial of John Twyn, 1663 — Full transcript of the trial of an English printer accused of  treason.

English colonies

  1. Raleigh’s First Roanoke Colony.Sir Ralph Lane, 1585
  2. A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia by Theodorus de Bry, 1590.
  3. Instructions for the Virginia Colony, 1606
  4. Reporting on Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia, 1676
  5. A Journey to the Land of Eden, by William Byrd, 1728 – 1736.
  6. The Poor Unhappy Transported Felon’s Sorrowful Account of His Fourteen Years Transportation, at Virginia, in America. By James Revel. (Undated, around 1700).
  7. The trial of New York printer John Peter Zenger in 1735 had a lasting influence on the development of free speech in America.
  8. Colonial newspapers, by subject, North Carolina archives & history.
  9. French and Indian Wars
  10. Constitution of the Iriquois Nation
  11. Ben Franklin’s  Silence Dogood Also:  context of the  Silence Dogood and Polly Baker hoaxes
  12. Ben Franklin’s autobiography.
  13. The Many-Sided Franklin, an excellent biography with extensive information about his career as a printer, 1899 book by Paul Leicester Ford.
  14. Boston News-Letter May 14, 1761. This is really an ordinary issue of the newsletter, mostly full of European news, that gives you an idea of the conditions and priorities of the era. American revolution
  15. Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Congress, Oct. 1765, colonial reaction to the Stamp Act passed by Parliament seven months beforehand.
  16. Pennsylvania Gazette on the Stamp Act.
  17. Boston Massacre, 1770.
  18. Samuel Adams on the Rights of the Colonists. 1772 Yes, this is the Sam Adams better known today through a brand of beer. Note his religious intolerance.
  19. Documents of the American Revolution including John Dickenson, Samuel Adams, etc.
  20. Thomas Paine: Common Sense 1776 Considered the best articulation of the revolutionary position. Also see: The American Crisis. “These are the times that try men’s souls… “
  21. Virginia Declaration of Rights June 1776 This revolutionary document was the foundation for the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen Aug. 26, 1789 and the US Bill of Rights (passed in 1791). The Virginia Declaration is still the basis of the Virginia state Constitution.
  22. James Rivington, Tory printer in New York during the American Revolution; more on Rivington
  23. From the diary of Ebenezer Denny, 1781 describing the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown
  24. Partisan press and the Newspaper Wars of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
  25. Presidential Disrespect — a web site exploring what the media and other critics had to say about presidents when they were in office.
  26. Would there have been an American revolution without newspapers or the mail?
  27. Hamilton, meet Enemy of the People, by Jeff Biggers, February, 2017, Huffington Post.

French revolution

  1. The Fourth Estate” from Thomas Carlyle’s  history, The French Revolution.
  2. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity — Exploring the French Revolution
  3. Multimedia essay on the French Revolution

Printing culture 

  1.  The Art of Printing: Its History and Practice  (1851)
  2. Lawrence Wroth, A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776  (1922)
  3. Joseph Ames, Typographical antiquities: an historical account of printing … 
  4. Gertrude Rawlings, The Story of Books,  (1917)
  5. Charles Timperly,  A Dictionary of Printers and Printing (1839)
  6. William Blades, The Pentateuch of Printing: With a Chapter on Judges (1891)
  7. Henry Noel Humphreys,  A history of the art of printing, (1868)
  8. Henry Oscar Houghton, Address on early printing in America (1894) – Note – Start halfway through, bypassing the Senator’s remarks.
  9. Soc. for Promoting Christian Knowledge, History of printing (1855)
  10. Tramp printers — A collection of stories about printers in the American West.
  11. The Invention of News – European history of early printing and news organizations,  Salon Magazine, March 2014.
  12. Printing museums in the US

 Archaic histories of printing

  1. Joseph Moxon   Mechanick Exercises: Or, The Doctrine of Handyworks  (1683)   – Note, towards end there are interesting remarks about life and customs in the printing chapels
  2. Isaiah Thomas,  History of Printing in America   (1808)
  3. Frederick Hamilton, A brief history of printing in England (1918)  
  4. Joel Munsell, Outline of the history of printing  (1839) 
  5. Samuel Palmer, General history of printing  (1733) 
  6. Philip Luckombe, The History and Art of Printing: In 2 Parts  (1771)
  7. Thomas Hansard, The Art of Printing: Its History and Practice  (1851)
  8. Lawrence Wroth, A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776  (1922)
  9. Joseph Ames, Typographical antiquities: an historical account of printing … 
  10. Gertrude Rawlings, The Story of Books,  (1917)
  11. Charles Timperly,  A Dictionary of Printers and Printing (1839)
  12. William Blades, The Pentateuch of Printing: With a Chapter on Judges (1891)
  13. Henry Noel Humphreys,  A history of the art of printing, (1868)
  14. Henry Oscar Houghton, Address on early printing in America (1894) – Note – Start halfway through, bypassing the Senator’s remarks.
  15. Soc. for Promoting Christian Knowledge, History of printing (1855)
  16. There are dozens more. No profession wrote its own history so well as that of printing & publishing.
  17. Pierre Simon Fournier, Manuel typographique, 1762

  18. —Robert Hoe’s A Short History of the Printing Press and of Improvements in Printing Machinery from the Time of Gutenberg up to the Present Day (1902).

  19. The Printing Trades by Frank Shaw (1916).

  20. Harris B. Hatch, Alexander A. Stewart Electrotyping and stereotyping, Issue 15—