Tag Archives: incunabula

It was a big deal

The printing press was the first mass medium. I’m expanding the definition of ‘medium’—how you stick pigment to a surface—to include the idea of spreading information by putting ink on paper. ‘Mass’ as I use it here means lots of people. Printing was a new super-effective way to broadcast ideas to a big audience. Martin Luther understood that right away. His pamphlets were carried by ships to different countries, translated, reprinted and seen by people all over the western world. You could argue that there’d have been no Protestant Reformation without the printing press. We’ll be coming up soon to when pamphleteers used the printing press to explain to lots of people how a new system of government might work: a nation run by its citizens instead of a king.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mass%20medium
THIS: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory/chapter/the-printing-revolution/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Citation, please!

If he’d burnt her omelet we’d need an egg-citation.

Standardization is a feature of civilization. The great empires standardized measurement, money, laws, highways, armies…everybody knew how long a mile is or how much a candybar costs. Remember how Charlemagne wanted to standardize music? Printed books standardize information. When you’re in school, reading a textbook, info in your book shows up on the same page in the textbook the kid next to you is reading. That isn’t true of handwritten books. Uniformity allows books to have numbered pages so we can find that information later.

That means if you’re a scholar, a scientist, or just some shmo writing a history blog, you can cite a piece of information. If I write, “In ad 878 the king of England was a not-so-good baker—he let an old peasant lady’s cakes burn,” I can cite that story in a history book so you know I’m not making it up. I’d give you the title of a book, its author, and the exact page so you can find the story. Anyone with a copy of that book will find that info. Printing made it possible to build on a body of knowledge, like history or science.

Cite: to quote by way of example, authority, or proof
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cite
A good old-fashioned citation looks like this: The Vikings, Frank R. Donovan, American Heritage Publishing, page 43
In this blog format, it’s convenient to cite by linking. Remember, though, that information on the web can be changed or deleted easily.
https://britishfoodhistory.com/2018/10/25/king-alfred-burns-the-cakes/
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/King-Alfred-the-Cakes/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

It’s okay to speak your own language now

I want to take a second to recap. I don’t think I’ve done a sufficient job of telling you how the mechanized printing press, movable type, printed books and pamphlets changed everything in Western culture. For instance, the Protestant Reformation happened because of Martin Luther’s pamphlets. That’s just for starters.

Okay, maybe that’s not actually a line from Don Quixote…

The regional variations or dialects of Latin emerged as distinct languages because they’d been printed in those early books. Printing lent respectability to the romance languages. Before those early books were printed, you probably thought of yourself as some yokel grunting out the local version of Latin mixed with whatever backwoods patois (PA-twah) your great-grandparents spoke. After they were printed, suddenly you were speaking the language of Dante or Chaucer or Luther or Cervantes. If those big shots thought your language were good enough to use in a printed book, there must be something worthy about it. 

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.