The Printing Revolution and its Effect on Literacy

With the invention of the printing press and movable type, printing increased the availability of printed text and information. Instead of carefully hand-copied books and texts that were rare and reserved for special documents such as religious texts and official records, printing allowed for a much quicker and cheaper way to duplicate large amounts of text. This revolution in printing technology increased the amount of printed information available. As a result of the widespread availability of printed material, literacy became a necessary skill.

For those of us reading this blog post, we may take literacy for granted. It’s a skill we learn in grade school, and then for the rest of our lives, we are able to communicate by reading and writing, a skill we almost take for granted.

Before the invention of printing, texts and documents had to be hand-written, making them expensive and rare. The advent of printing, combined with the decreasing cost and availability of paper, allowed more books to be available, even for the most common people. Literacy is an important skill, as it allowed ideas and knowledge to be communicated and widely dispersed, maximizing the effects of the printing revolution.

As more and more printed texts became available, collections of books and other printed materials were made available to more people through the establishment of libraries, further promoting literacy by allowing more people access to the books and other printed material.

During our class on Monday, we examined a few printed materials, which illustrate the range and versatility of printed material. These books ranged from prints used for communication and advertisement, such as in weekly playbills, to fine press editions of books that were carefully crafted.

Owens, John E., Playbills for Baltimore Museum(Baltimore: Clipper Office, 1851). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Sharon Li.

Owens, John E., Playbills for Baltimore Museum(Baltimore: Clipper Office, 1851). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Sharon Li.

Cosmopolis(1897). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Sharon Li.

Cosmopolis(1897). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Sharon Li.

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

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

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