Printing Press and Telegraphy

The Cultural/Political Impact of the Technologies

Printing Press

The development of the movable type printing press marked a crucial revolution in the means of communications, helping to spark the early renaissance. An immediate effect of the printing press was the development of a new individual culture, which would bolster, and become closely associated with, the Reformation. Since the first printing presses were usually owned by wealthy individuals, not exclusively affiliated with the church, there was a development of the phenomenon of literary patrons, such as Erasmus. This meant an increase in the social prestige associated with individual wealth, and the creation of a definitive patron-artist divide which had not existed in the Scholastic middle ages. The rise of the printing press thus prompted the spread of a certain individual humanism, which itself, through the process of asserting itself as an large scale cultural movement, promoted, and in fact become identical with, the continued proliferation of printing technology.


A similar phenomena, although on a smaller scale, occurred due to the proliferation of telegraphy during the late 19th century. It can be difficult to isolate the effect of telegraphy independently of the wave of technological achievements of the time, particularly from transportation-based technology, which also facilitated an expansion of communicative power in respect to geography (in context, the telegraph meant an incredible shortening of distances). The advancement of telegraphy, unlike the printing press, was not the dominant source of cultural change, rather it was a constitutive factor of the continued forces of industrialization which peaked during the period, but had begun far before the telegraph was put into wide use.


It is worth examining how the telegraph continued the trend towards a culture of individuals, which was discussed in regards to the printing press. Both the telegraph and the printing press meant an affirmation of individual power relations, which in turn lent itself to the systematic development of new hierarchical structures, less flexible, more collective, and hugely indomitable in comparison to the organizations that came before. In this way, the affirmation of the individual (the expansion of individual powers) that was procured by both technologies ultimately resulted in further societal repression, brought on by the power structures derived from an increase sense of "cultural unity".
For instance, the rise of the printing press also corresponds historically with the development of certain distant ancestors of the modern nation state, as well as the birth of corporation-like economic structures. Prior to the Reformation, the Holy Roman Empire was still largely possessed by a residual feudalism, defined by a lack of central organization and disjointedness of the empire. As new technological means facilitated systematized mass-communication, this Empire schismed along political and religious lines. However, each of the four major pieces of the Empire would establish itself as a more coherent state-like structure than the empire itself. It is easy to dismiss this situation as a product of reformation values challenging the existent political establishments, but to do this would be an injustice, since the reformation (and counter-reformation) itself was fueled by the new capacities for mass-communication (e.g. the unprecedented systematization of catholic dogma during the Council of Trent). The divine-right monarch which would come during the early enlightenment (think Louis XIV or Catherine the Great) represents the extreme realization of the effect that the printing press had in ending the medieval era; cultural boundaries were politically solidified, and with the increase in individual power over culture, there came a transition in the makeup of the state, with power moving into the absolute control of an elite governing class.

In much the same way, the industrial wave that occurred at the end of the 19th century facilitated the development of modern capitalist power structures, which revolutionized both governmental preceding and extra-governmental organization.

Works Cited:

Gutenberg, Johannes. Gutenberg Bible Old Testament Epistle of St Jerome. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2005. Web. 5 May 2015. <>.

Gutenberg, Johannes. Gutenberg. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Mar. 2007. Web. 5 May 2015. <>.

Holbein, Hans. Erasmus. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Foundaton, 28 Dec. 2004. Web. 5 May 2015. <>.

Lueger, Otto. Telegraph. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Nov. 2005. Web. 5 May 2015. <>.