Shakespeare's love of words vastly enriched the English language. More than 1,700 words appeared for the first time in his works, including bedroom, lonely, generous, gloomy, heartsick, hurry, and sneak.

The Printing Revolution

The great works of Renaissance literature reached a large audience. The reason for this was a crucial breakthrough in technology—the development of printing in Europe.

The New Technology

In 1456, Johannes Gutenberg (GOOT un burg) of Mainz, Germany, printed a complete edition of the Christian Bible using a printing press with movable metal type. With the Gutenberg Bible, the European age of printing had begun. Within a few years, printing presses using Gutenberg's technology sprang up in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and England.

The development of printing set off revolutionary changes that would transform Europe. Before the printing press, there had been only a few thousand books in all of Europe. These books had been slowly copied out by hand. By 1500, according to some estimates, 15 to 20 million volumes had been produced on new printing presses. In the next century, between 150 and 200 million books went into circulation.

The Impact of the Printed Book

The printing revolution ushered in a new era of mass production of books. It also affected the price of books. Books printed with movable type on rag paper were easier to produce and cheaper than hand-copied works. As books became readily available, more people learned to read and write. They thus gained access to a broad range of knowledge as presses churned out books on topics from medicine and law to astrology, mining, and geography.

Printing influenced both religious and secular, or nonreligious, thought. “The preaching of sermons is speaking to a few of mankind,” noted an English author, “but printing books is talking to the whole world.” With printed books, educated Europeans were exposed to new ideas that greatly expanded their horizons.

The new printing presses contributed to the religious turmoil that engulfed Europe in the 1500s. By then, many Christians could read the Bible for themselves. As a result, the ideas of religious reformers spread faster and to a larger audience than ever before.

Infographic titled effects of the printing press. Sources: Academia dot com; the university of Iowa library; economist’s view; the Harry Ransom center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Image Long Description

Analyze Charts

The chart shows the effects of the printing press in Europe. Is it likely or unlikely that in 1500, only the largest European capital cities had printing presses?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments