The Mighty Influence on the Printing Press

“The aim of our studies should be to direct the mind with a view of forming true and sound judgments about whatever comes before it,” (Rules for the Direction of the Mind). This declaration by René Descartes, with which he opens his Rules for the Direction of the Mind, could not be more true, especially in regards to humanism. Various contributors on Wikipedia inform us that renaissance humanism’s main goal was to reform the medieval education system into something that the humanists felt would better educate people (Wikipedia contributors). This is certainly important, as it is a “true and sound judgment” that the medieval education system was, frankly, dysfunctional. However, the spread of humanism and these ideals would not have been possible without the invention of the printing press.

If you have ever read the newspaper, you can thank the printing press. While you may not actively think about it, the newspaper simply would not exist. However, in a much less obvious manner, you can thank the printing press for many things you do in everyday life. Without the printing press, humanism, as argued by Michael Hattaway in his book A Companion to Archaeology, would not have spread out of Italy, where it origninated, and into the rest of Europe (Hattaway 15). Now, although when you hear the word “humanism,” you probably think of problems (Akkerman, Vanderjagt, & Lann, 223), the term by no means has anything to do with problems, but instead means simply relating events to human cause (Wikipedia contributors). If humanism had not spread to the rest of Europe, Christopher Columbus would not have been able to travel to the Americas, as it is my opinion that medieval rulers likely would not have let Columbus leave. If Columbus had not travelled to the Americas, Europe would not have colonized the Americas, etc. The invention of the printing press caused a trickle-down effect that paved the way for everything we know today.

As written by Fokke Akkerman, Arie Vanderjagt, and Adrie Lann in their book Northern Humanism in European Context, 1469-1625: From the “Adwert Academy” to Ubbo Emmius, Humanism arose in Italy in the fourteenth century C.E. (Akkerman 223). Many humanists came to be in Italy before 1450 (Wikipedia contributors), but it was not until the printing press arose that humanism was able to spread out of Italy and into the rest of Europe. When Gutenberg performed his important service to humankind by inventing the printing press, humanism was able to publicize itself and spread north out of Italy (Akkerman 222), and could spread much quicker than by simply oral explanation of the ideals (Hattaway 15).

A Printing Press

A printing press from 1815. Retrieved from "MatthiasKabel", and "Rotatebot". 2005. n.p. Web. 13 Feb 2012.

Try to think about how the world would have evolved if humanism, as described in the book A History of Western Society, edited by John McKay, to be the start of the modern era (McKay 412-418) had not spread into all of Europe. In my opinion, without the printing press and without the spread of humanism, the church would have never lost power and science would never have advanced, leading to a a world where we still would rely on divine ideas. Science would not have been as advanced, and many of the greatest inventors would not have invented their creations that forever changed the world, as medieval education was not focused on scientific studies, which lead to inventions (Wikipedia contributors). We would still be in the era of medieval times, with full religious influence and would have left many scientific concepts undiscovered (Wikipedia contributors). It is amazing how much one invention can change the world, and the printing press appears to have done just that. Without it, humanism would not have spread throughout the world, and the world as we know it today would not exist.

Works Consulted:

Akkerman, Fokke, Arie Vanderjagt, and Adrie Laan. Northern Humanism in European Context, 1469-1625: From the “Adwert Academy” to Ubbo Emmius. Danvers: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data, 1999. 222-223. Web. < spread europe printing press&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EDMwT-K_CqqciQKM9unMCg&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAA>.

Hattaway, Michael. A Companion to Archaeology. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2003. 15. Web. < spread europe printing press&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EDMwT-K_CqqciQKM9unMCg&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAg>.

McKay, John, Bennett Hill, John Buckler, Clare Crowston, and Merry Wiesner-Hanks. A History of Western Society. 9th ed. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. 407-8, 412-8. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Renaissance humanism.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Feb. 2012.<>

“Rules for the Direction of the Mind.” Wikisource, The Free Library. 14 Jun 2011, 17:06 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 7 Feb 2012 <//>.`



  1. josh1818

    Hey Brian,
    Great post, it’s full of good information and useful hyperlinks. I almost always use the internet to get my information about current events on everything from sports to the weather. Do you think the power of the printing press is becoming less and less relevant in this modern age?

    • brianthemathematician

      Thanks Josh, glad you like my post! I think nowadays, although the dominance of the internet is growing, the printing press is still necessary for a number of reasons. People who don’t have a computer (a lot of older people) still need the newspaper to learn about what is going on in the world. I also believe that it is easier to learn by reading print books than it is to read off ebooks, which I find hard to read and hard to pay attention to. I do think that with the advent of online resources like Wikipedia, the printing press’s influence has declined, but I feel that we will still need it for a long time to come, as most people learn better with fewer distractions like Facebook.


  2. erinwritesagain

    Hi Brian! I like how in detail your post is! However, I don’t think we can really make judgments on what would or would not have happened had the printing press not been invented. I do believe it has been an excellent part of society though I find the idea that science would not have advanced without it a little difficult. You say that we would still be stuck in Medieval times because “the church would never have lost power.” Some aspects of the Church definitely opposed certain scientific beliefs, but there have also been a great many religious scientists. The humanist movement was also influenced by religion at the time, and I think that the first book ever printed was the Bible. The press would have made the spread of ideas a lot easier, but do you have any specific examples from that era of how it brought about the fall of the Church and why? Thanks for your post!

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