One of the hallmarks of the Renaissance era is the expansion of a literate populous. As the population learned to read and educated themselves, many factors brought them out of the Dark Ages and into the light of the Re-Birth that was the Renaissance. Ideas started getting passed around and the populations of many cities in Europe, in particular, started leaving some of their superstitious beliefs behind and expanding the knowledge base the were working from. Part of the reason for this expansion of literacy is due to the invention of movable type and the printing press.
Before we dive into this topic too heavily, a brief reminder, the people that lived on in Southeast Asia have had movable type since the 11th century and they have had printing presses with metal lettering since the 14th century. Like many other advancements, the people of Asia had this advancement far before the Western World. That being said, it didn’t necessarily effect the literacy of the populous. Partly this is due to the expensive and the size of the presses because of the vast number of characters that are in those Asian languages.
In Europe, it is to Johannes Gutenberg that we turn our attention to for the first printing press. Guttenberg made a system that was durable and relatively inexpensive. He also used a different alloy in the printing blocks. His publication of the Guttenberg Bible is part of what made this marvel of the age change the face of the world.
But how did that change the world and start the Renaissance?
Before the advent of the printing press and movable type, the people, as a whole, were very illiterate. They saw books in church and in courts and being used by the upper class but that was their only connection tot he printed word. Books, which were hand lettered were expensive and the copy of the Bible in the local church might be the only book most of them ever saw. Books were reserved for the upper-crust of society. With the printing press, the cost of a book went down. The educational opportunities went up and people were beginning to get exposed to culture like never before.
No longer did they only see books at the Church or in a court room. They could save their money and by a book. More importantly they could buy a copy of the Bible for their very own and because it was a book they were familiar with they learned to read from it. All of sudden you had people looking for sources of knowledge and truth instead of being spoon fed everything by some other for of authority. People wanted to learn. People thirsted for knowledge.
I think we might need another Renaissance?!?