My chapter two of ‘the Print revolution

My aim in this essay is to examine
and deconstruct the argument that ‘print was a catalyst for revolution’ while
examining the significance of early print in terms of social, cultural and
political change. Print ultimately had a substantial impact on the early modern
period and stated by philosopher Francis Bacon, “changed the whole state and
face of things throughout the world’ (Francis Bacon 1561-1626 in Briggs and
Burke 2005; p14). By studying three sources, ‘A Social
History of the Media’ by Briggs and Burke, ‘Comparative Media History’ by
Chapman and ‘Journalism: A Critical History’ by Martin Conboy, I can begin to
develop my understanding and to further the argument on whether ‘print was a
catalyst for revolution’ while looking at multiple key areas concerning
education, human rights and multiple perspectives from class to religion.

The first source I looked at was ‘A
Social History of the Media’ by Briggs and Burke, they noted that what the
history of the printing press shows us is clearly not the cause and effect but that
it is instead steadily and inevitably progressing the narrative of
technological determinism. They also mention, in chapter two of ‘the Print
revolution in context’, Elizabeth Eisenstein (1979), as she describes printing
as “the unacknowledged revolution’ and as an “agent of change” (Eisenstein
1979 cited in Briggs and Burke, 2005: 18-19). It is said by Eisenstein that the
role of print as an agent of revolution had been “underestimated”. Eisenstein then
proceeded to state two long-term consequences of the invention of printing;
print standardized and preserved knowledge, which had been much more fluid in
the age of oral or manuscript circulation and then the critique of authority
was encouraged by print, which made incompatible views of the of the same
subject more widely available (cited in Briggs and Burke, 2005: 18-19). Using
what Eisenstein has covered there are multiple other sources that may explore
if print was in ad-veritably the ‘catalyst’ for change, rather than the ‘agent’.

If we now look at
some of the critiques of Eisenstein’s argument there are three main points to
cover. The first problem would be the length of said ‘revolution’. Briggs and
Burke bring up the question “whether a revolution which is not rapid can be
regarded as a revolution at all” (Briggs and Burke, 2005: 18-19). Eisenstein
stated several changes however these changes took place over the course of
several centuries, which could be argued that is too long for a revolution to
take place. A second argument, is the “problem of agency” (Briggs and Burke,
2005: 19). Briggs and Burke state that too much emphasis may be placed on the
medium of communication, and that it would be more realistic to view print,
like a catalyst, assisting social changes rather than being the originator (Briggs
and Burke, 2005: 19). And finally, the last problem raised would be that
Eisenstein’s book views print in “relative isolation” (Briggs and Burke, 2005:
19), she doesn’t take into consideration other notable developmental factors such
as politics, technology and cultural changes which may have also been a fundamental
influence in ‘the print revolution’. These three arguments are in favour of the
idea that ‘print was a catalyst for revolution’.

Now looking at some consequences
and changes that print caused, one mentioned by Briggs and Burke would be that “the
invention of printing changed the occupational structure of European cities” (Briggs
and Burke, 2005: 16). With the increase of printing came an entirely new
workforce; those who work with the printers themselves. The occupation of ‘proof-correcting’
was created and then an increase in booksellers and librarians followed, it relates
to the cultural indifference that printing created. It pushed for an increase
in education throughout the classes; first through the higher classes, and then
through the product ‘chap-books’, which were made cheaper and simple for the
lower classes. (Briggs and Burke, 2005: 16)

However, speaking of the lower
classes, a consequence of their growing knowledge lead to some problems. Samuel
Hartlib wrote that ‘the art of printing will so spread knowledge that the common
people, knowing their own rights and liberties, will not be governed by the way
of oppression’ (Samuel Hartlib, 1641 as citied in Briggs and Burke, 2005: 14). For
the lower classes, this was an empowering moment, but for governments, this was
a moment they were dreading. For churchmen, the basic problem was that print allowed
readers who had a low position in the social and cultural hierarchy to study
religious texts themselves, rather than relying on what the authorities told
them (in Briggs and Burke, 2005: 15). Knowledge was power, and the increase in
knowledge throughout the people was a threat to others power.  Governments did try to control who had
authority in multiple ways. For instance, they tried to keep workers and women
out of education; it was just one of the ways authorities believed they could
control knowledge. This is because they all express a nervousness about
criticism of public persons, be it the church leaders, the government, or the
Monarch. Printed news, and the increase in literacy, weakened the absolute
power of the authority. This can also suggest that print was a catalyst for
change in terms of right for women and workers; it inspired people to fight for
their rights and encouraged them to become more educated in important matters.

When it comes to the consequences
of print, there is also the debate on the consequences of literacy, down to
such details as the rise of the fixed text and the problems of trusting a new medium
(Briggs and Burke, 2005: 55). However, it is important to understand that it is
was possible for the new medium of print to coexist with the old media of oral
and manuscript communication, just as print, which is now an old medium, to coexist
with television and the Internet (Briggs and Burke, 2005: 56).  In other words, although a consequence may have
been considered the fact that other mediums were losing their significance, that’s
just part of progression from other factors like technology, culture and
politics. In terms of the revolution, it was time for a change in the way
Europe especially dealt with communications and education.

Now looking at my next source “Comparative
Media History” by Jane Chapman. Chapman looks at three major themes; the right
to freedom of expression, the difficult relationship between media and
politicians, and the impact of industrialisation and technology. When looking
at the first two texts, it is noted that they focus mainly around the news-paper
development of the French Revolution. While the third looks at social and political
influence on media development of the world’s first industrial revolution (Chapman,
2005; 11).

A way that print encouraged
political, cultural and social change was due to the era of active street culture
newspapers. The right to freedom of expression that people began to embrace; “ideas
were disseminated via handbills and posters, via reading aloud and through fierce
discussion in the streets, clubs and in other public places” (Chapman, 2005; 17).
People were becoming more exposed to issues of the country and eventually the
world due to the fact current issues were so accessible thanks to newspapers
and word of mouth. There was a diversity in writing around the revolutionary
period. While a high percentage of the population were still illiterate, so
newspapers had to find other ways to encourage readers to engage with the texts
in front of them. (Chapman, 2005; 18).  Forms such as iconography and revolutionary
visual emblems then became an important form of communication. The progression
of print was encouraging the nation to become more vocal and social with their opinions
and beliefs.

In 1789-1792 a case study provides
information on how the press can influence public debate (Wilke 1989; Reynolds
1971 In Chapman 2005; p12). By reading newspapers, it provided a way in which the
public could participate in politics. “The extension of political power to a
wider number of people required the means to give them knowledge of politics” (Chapman
2005; 12).  Contemporaries thought that
the lower orders were not to be trusted and that newspapers should be kept from
them, for the working class should remain in ‘god fearing’ ignorance in the
interests of national stability and order (Wadsworth 1955 in Chapman 2005; 13).

Newspapers, before long, began to
take political agendas in their writing due to the increase to readers engagement
with the law. Newspapers were known to have political ideologies which then
appeals to that target audience. As the newspapers became cheaper and more affordable
for the lower classes, politicians and political parties relied more newspapers
to increase exposure. Britain’s active political culture demanded a constant
flow of information and, as regional news developed, with it the status of
local newspapers offices increased (Chapman 2005; 29). “In order to survive,
newspapers were now reflecting the political views of readers by appealing to
the localized nature of public opinion, which is meant that the political
stance of the editor was crucial” (Chapman 2005: 29).

When referring back to some
political consequences of early print, each country where print was prominent,
reacted and treated it differently. Countries like America and Britain, where
democracy was more established, the liberal ideal of a press as an independent institution
could take hold more easily (Chapman 2005: 12). This was not the case however
for other parts of Europe; for example, Germany press development was delayed due
to its “association with the forces of liberalism and incipient nationalism” (Chapman
2005: 12).

Now to look solely at consequences
of print, I looked at the source; ‘Journalism: A Critical History’ by Martin
Conboy 2004. Conboy first looks at political and economic imperatives. “Printing
freedom developed pragmatically in its relationship to authority” (Conboy 2004:
13). Printed information was gradually becoming more widespread and therefore
the need for regulations for censorship and control were in high demanded. This
also relates to how The Church of England was also held at immolation from
print emergence, as it ‘was unable to control the flow of these texts, which
were subverting its authority over religious language’ (Conboy 2004; 10). This
is a consequence that was also raised in Briggs and Burke’s ‘A Social History
of the Media’. Print also had the potential to disrupt closed circles of
communication among elite groups and hierarches. This threat can lead to ‘rapid
social change and economic growth’ which can then be related to Herd, where he states,
‘There has never been a period in our history when authority has genuinely
liked the idea of full publicity for all its activities and unchecked criticism
of its conduct’ (Herd, 1952: 11 In Conboy 2004; p11).

Overall, after looking at these
three sources, with any significant change will come consequences, problems and
those who resent it. With print, the biggest problem was the decrease in power
among hierarchies in societies. Although it helped the majority of people, from
countries all over the world, there were still drawbacks. When answering the
question “how far do you agree with the argument that print was a catalyst for
‘revolution’ in the early modern period?”, I believe that print was a catalyst
rather than an agent. It helped set a change into motion, but it wasn’t achieved
with only print in the forefront of revolution. 


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