Assignment 3 – Printing

Eisenstein definitely puts a lot of emphasis on the impact of printing and it undeniably had a huge influence in the way that information was spread in early modern Europe.  Her standpoint places her well within the realms of a technological determinist because her article’s thesis revolves around the opinion that the technology of printing caused the Protestant Reformation and the rise of modern science.  I hold a dissenting view from Eisenstein because though printing played a large role in the distribution of information, Eisenstein doesn’t take into account the role of human society and interaction.  Printing is a pretty ineffective means of progression without people being a driving force behind it.  It’s human curiosity that makes technology like printing so effective.  “The History of Printing” views printing as an ever-evolving art form that stemmed from seals and printing coins to the Gutenberg press.  It sees printing as having existed and that its progression has just continued, passing along through European history.  Our visit to the Bancroft library helps to confirm that printing in itself was not that revolutionary.  It’s the things that were learned and spread because of it that make it so valuable.  From the wood blocks to movable type, printing helped to spread knowledge and make information much more accessible to the common folk.  Eisenstein fails to address the fact that though printing is a fascinating technology, it is nothing without the notion of curiosity and human searching. -Clara

Eisenstein’s argument, while not that of a technological determinist, fails to address some key aspects of the development of print culture where she focuses on the effects, rather than the causes, of the printing press’ successful integration into Renaissance culture.  Eisenstein sets her self apart from technological determinists when she claims that “a mixture of many different motives all converging on the printshop” contributed to the Protestant Reformation and the rise of modern science.  But while acknowledging that the printing press merely provided a focal point for currents of change (rather than causing the currents itself), she asks the question, “how was the earlier Italian revival affected by the later communications shift?” and does not ask “how did the earlier Italian revival affect the later communication shift?”  The History of Printing shows how Gutenberg, recognizing the value moveable type printing would have in a society experiencing intellectual rebirth, stole the technology from his employer and for years made massive profits by keeping the technology secret.  These profits were made possible because printers, at first, kept supply low in an environment where demand for information was very, very high.  On the other hand, Eisenstein does effectively show how the press contributed to the secularization of society with her assertion that the mass production of books de-standardized the bible, while establishing definitive versions of mathematical and scientific texts.  As we learned at the Bancroft library, inventions like the codex and the scroll revolutionized the communication of information centuries before the development of the moveable-type printing press, so perhaps it is most prudent to view the press as just one more step in the human pursuit to make information accessible. -Aaron

If one applies the criteria of whether Eisenstein considers the advent of printing to have been necessary or sufficient to have caused the changes outlined, it is clear she views it as a necessary factor in combination with many others. She herself writes of the context in which printing was acting and clearly states “In a different context the same technology might have been used for different ends”. Therefore it might be fairest to call Eisenstein a “soft” determinist with respect to the effects of technology.
Eisenstein is very concerned not to either over or under estimate the effects of what she points out was a change in the method of duplication. She details other important social and cultural influences that had as she says been “incubating in the age of scribes” and contributed to the rapid spread of information after the advent of printing. All of these “multivariable explanations” (Eisenstein) converged to create the perfect storm and achieve the changes she describes.
Eisenstein describes the convergence of the new evangelism with the new capitalism and how a mass book publishing business was the result. At the same time she (and James Burke) stresses the importance of the printed image, such as in The Nuremburg Chronicle and the geometry texts held by the Bancroft, in feeding a growing interest in scientific study. Thus the importance of printing is much more complex than a change in presentation from oral to written or image to word. -Gavin

Eisenstein analyzes the effects of printing in a determinist manner, treating it as the most powerful impulse for the secularization of European culture and the rise of modern science. While technological determinism is often an arguable generalization, in the case of printing Eisenstein’s arguments hold. The ease with which the Bible was printed and distributed was not only crucial in spreading the Gospel to a wider audience, but also allowed a capitalist industry to rise alongside the spread of Protestant doctrine. This capitalist mind-set within the religious sphere “threatened priestly prerogatives,” causing Christianity to “develop peculiar features which gave it the appearance… of having undergone some sort of historical mutation” (Eisenstein, 103) – the secularization of Christianity. As for the rise of science, Eisenstein argues the ability to print uniform reproductions of mathematical diagrams “eliminated previous confusion engendered by translation” (Eisenstein, 105), thus beginning the collection of trustworthy scientific data. This claim is supported by the astronomical charts we saw at the Bancroft, the trustworthiness of which, in its many reproductions, could not be guaranteed without printing technology. Furthermore, the Chinese press at the Bancroft, referenced in the History of Information, challenges Eisenstein’s determinist view by indicating that the Chinese had a form of printing technology in the 10th century. From this we conclude that printing was a necessary but not sufficient condition. But printing was such a powerful force, and key in combining missionary and capitalist impulses to bring about social change, that determinism is justified. -Andy

Eisenstein is a technological determinist. She believes that the art of printing stirred the character of the Italian Renaissance and caused both the Protestant Reformation and the birth of modern science. She notes incremental changes through the use of print, which allowed common man to have access to writing and images and eventually drew people away from the church. The role of print was redirected, as it shifted focus from spreading religious awareness through Protestant doctrines to “a new capitalistic industry aimed at expanding markets (Eisenstein, 5).”  Print’s original purpose was further distorted when it became highly centered on gossip news and used secularly. Such as its role in the rise of modern science as it eliminated ambiguity and confusion by collecting collaborative data while discarding corrupted texts. It also solidified knowledge through the use of images—diagrams, tables, charts, and maps (Eisenstein, 7).
The History of Printing challenges her argument by asserting that technology does not necessarily create change. Though the printing press was first established in China in the 10th century, China preserved itself, since its print method did not improve. It did not create a wave of change as it did in Europe. At Bancroft, the archivist showed us printing blocks from China, which was meticulously carved from wood. The technique of print had not changed in China, even in its earliest form, and it debunks Eisenstein’s belief in technological determinism because it did not create social change in China as it did in Europe quickly after the invention of print. -Hidy Jun

Eisenstein’s claim of the “impact of printing” as a primary contributor to the “rise of modern science” is well-founded, and reveals her inner technological determinist. Based on her arguments provided, I do agree that “printing… weaken[ed] confidence in scriptural revelation while strengthening trust in mathematical reasoning”: The proliferation of scientific texts with “repeatable visual aids like maps and equation” was no doubt a strong influence in spreading and unifying scientific knowledge (105). The printed almanac and “computer” that Tony presented at the Bancroft Library would have served as a reference and ‘single source of truth’ for its users, shifting astrological attention from the heavens to its pages in much the same way as Eisenstein’s “new basis for agreement… eliminated previous confusion” surrounding such daily matters.
The History of Printing also supports Eisenstein’s praise for the advent of printing, commenting on its consequence of widespread knowledge: “The old books were multiplied in all countries, and new books were composed by men of talent and learning,” thus deepening the distinction between knowledge and method of dispersal (42). As print becomes an “infinitely cheaper” commodity, so would its contained knowledge become a commodity, accelerating general education and arguably the “rise of modern science.” -Jonathan

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