In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Printing and the Book

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Dictionaries and Handbooks
  • Encyclopedia Articles
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • The Book Trade

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Renaissance and Reformation Printing and the Book
Erika Rummel, Mark Wilson, Milton Kooistra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0004


Until the 1980s, when periodization fell out of favor among historians, the development of printing was used as one of the markers for the onset of the Renaissance. Thus the significance of printing has long been recognized. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, its impact on social and intellectual history moved to the center of research in early modern history. This interest may be explained by the fact that the last decades of the 20th century experienced a media shift that equals the importance of the shift in the 15th century. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein’s seminal 1979 book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (see Eisenstein 1979 cited under General Overviews) was in the vanguard of this wave of research. Criticism of Eisenstein for placing too much emphasis on the revolutionary character of printing and its singular impact on the Reformation has prompted some modification in the approach to the history of printing, but the recognition of its significance for the dissemination of information and learning and as an opinion maker has remained unchanged.

General Overviews

This section lists monographs dealing with the history of printing—its early development, the transition from manuscript to printed text, the technology used, the commercial aspects of satisfying the scholarly and popular demand, and the social and political impact of the new medium. A number of books deal with the relationship between printing and culture. The influential work is Eisenstein 1979, which emphasizes the transformative effects of the emergence of printing on European society, culture, and thought; the capacity for printing to effect change is further explored in Braida 2000. Johns 2000 takes a more evolutionary approach, discussed in the context of the relationship between printing and scientific thought. McKitterick 2005 discusses how modern culture responded to the rise of printing, while Steinberg 1955 covers various aspects of the relationship between printing and culture. The development of the printed book is covered in Febvre and Martin 1958, while Gieseke 1991 delves into the technical and practical aspects of printing and publishing. Peters 2000 covers printing in relation to the theater. Suarez and Woudhuysen 2010 offers an overview of the history of the book in the essays gathered in the first volume plus a dictionary of relevant articles in the second.

  • Braida, Lodovica. Stampa e cultura in Europa tra XV e XVI secolo. Rome: GLF editori Laterza, 2000.

    On printing as an agent of cultural transformation in early modern Europe.

  • Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

    Classic study of the emergence of printing, its impact on institutions, traditions, and modes of thought. See also her response to criticism that she exaggerated the revolutionary aspects of printing and did not give enough consideration to evolution: “An Unacknowledged Revolution Revisited,” American Historical Review 107.1 (2002): 87–105. For a reprise of the question, see Eisenstein’s The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2d ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Universtiy Press, 2005).

  • Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. L’apparition du livre. Paris: A. Michel, 1958.

    Comprehensive survey of printing history, focusing on book production, the visual appearance of the book, and the book trade. For the English translation, see Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450–1800, 3d ed. (London: Verso, 2000).

  • Gieseke, Michael. Der Buchdruck in der frühen Neuzeit: Eine historische Fallstudie über die Durchsetzung neuer Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologie. Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1991.

    Detailed examination of the technical process, the economics of the book trade, the social impact of the printing press, the concept of intellectual property.

  • Johns, Adrian. The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

    On the connection between printing and the rise of scientific knowledge in the 16th to 18th centuries; mostly but not exclusively about England; critical of Eisenstein’s emphasis on the revolutionary aspects of printing.

  • McKitterick, David. Print, Manuscript, and the Search for Order, 1450–1830. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    On the emergence of printing and its absorption into modern culture, including technical aspects (and errata), illustrations, the relationship between print and manuscript.

  • Peters, Julie Stone. Theatre of the Book, 1480–1880: Print, Text, and Performance in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    On the impact of printing on European theater, including prompt books, stage texts, relationship between actor and author, ownership of text.

  • Steinberg, Sigfrid Henry. Five Hundred Years of Printing. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1955.

    For undergraduates, on the relationship between printing and culture, dealing with such subjects as censorship, best sellers, regional development, printing and education. Of relevance are the first two sections, covering 1450–1800. See also the revised edition: Sigfrid Henry Steinberg and John Trevitt, Five Hundred Years of Printing, new ed. (London and New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2001).

  • Suarez, Michael F., and H. R. Woudhuysen, eds. Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Massive two-volume resource written by over four hundred contributors examining the whole history of the book from antiquity to modern times, with the first volume containing fifty-one essays and the second some five thousand alphabetically arranged entries.

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