With Knowledge Comes Power

Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized society in immeasurable ways with his invention of the movable type in the mid-15th century. Gone were the days of painstaking handwritten replication, and here emerged an incredibly efficient and standardized method of printing. Costs went down and circulation went up! In further detail, Gutenberg used block printing, in which blocks of letters and symbols were carved into wood and pressed onto paper, to form the basis for the movable type.

Aside from the technical feat the movable press accomplished, civilization was radically transformed with the constant influx of knowledge printing could now provide. Literature and text traditionally reserved for the wealthy, were now accessible to the common people. With more people who had their hands on books, more became educated on topics ranging from religion to science. And with this newfound source of knowledge, people could not only learn from texts, but also question and publish their own original thoughts. In fact, many pivotal revolutionary moments in history can be traced back to a single book. Martin Luther’s seminal work, 95 Theses, which challenged the long followed teachings of the Catholic Church, ignited the Protestant Revolution in 1517. Two centuries later, Thomas Paine printed pamphlets, Common Sense, to declare American independence. Both these texts were distributed to the public and became widely circulated in the community. Simple printed pieces of paper were influential enough to cause radical changes in religious and political issues.

Thomas Paine, Common Sense. 1776. Copy via Wikipedia.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost (1759). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Asako Inagawa.

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