New Ways of Spreading Information in the Renaissance

Chris has a master’s degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Renaissance era was a time of both social and technological advances, including a revolution in the ways of communications. Discover the forms of communication in the Renaissance including the Gutenberg printing press, which allowed books to become more affordable for people. Updated: 10/30/2021

A Revolution in Communications

The idea of a communications revolution is something we should all be familiar with. I mean, right now you’re taking a course over the Internet. I’m also willing to bet you use social media and/or a smart phone. Spreading information is something we understand.

During a period of immense social and technological change and innovation that lasted from roughly 1300 to 1600, called the Renaissance, communication was also a huge deal. But instead of smart phones, the information revolution of the Renaissance was centered around the idea of printing.

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  • 0:00 A Revolution in Communications
  • 0:30 Forms of Communication
  • 1:06 The Gutenberg Printing Press
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary

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Forms of Communication in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was all about the visual. Things were made to be seen, which made them ideal for communicating political, social, and religious messages. Around 1300, a new, very wealthy merchant class developed, which sponsored huge building projects and enormous wall and ceiling paintings called frescoes. These murals were painted in prominent parts of churches and other buildings so that many people could see them.

The culture of the Renaissance was focused on communication, and the big development was the invention of the printing press. A printing press is a machine that uses stamps with letters to print words. Asia had the printing press since the 11th century, and Europe had basic forms of the press from the 14th century.

The Gutenberg Printing Press

Around 1439 to 1450, the German goldsmith and printer, Johannes Gutenberg, developed a new system of printing with metal movable letters, called movable type. Movable type allowed for assembly-line style printing.

Gutenberg’s printing press changed printing. Suddenly, printers could print up 3,600 pages per day. That’s a lot of pages. Before the printing press, most books were hand-written, often by monks. They took a long time to make, were expensive, and only the rich could afford to buy them.

With the Gutenberg press, books could be printed daily. More importantly, books could be made cheaply, and many more people could afford them. With more books, education rose. The presses printed classical works of literature, philosophy, engineering, and poetry that hadn’t been widely read since the ancient Romans and Greeks. By 1480, 100 cities in Europe had printing presses.

The Gutenberg movable type printing press made information more available and easier to spread. If we compare hand-written books to snail mail (both are forms of communication that spread a little information at a slow pace), then the printing press was the Renaissance-era version of e-mail and Internet search engines. And just like today, giving people access to information equals change.

In 1455, the Christian Bible was printed on the movable type press. Called the Gutenberg Bible, it made the Bible something that anybody could own and read for themselves. Suddenly, people started debating whether or not the Catholic Church was teaching and living by the Bible correctly. This led the German priest Martin Luther to print and distribute a pamphlet of protests against the Church called the Ninety-Five Theses. Thanks to the printing press, Martin Luther’s pamphlet was distributed quickly and widely, and it started the Protestant Reformation.

Think of how, very recently, social media and texting has changed the way we interact. Well, the printing press had the same effect. With the presses, people could spread their own ideas, challenge each other, unite around shared principles, and reject ideas they disagreed with. Eventually, the communications revolution of the Renaissance led to the creation of nationalism, or people unified together under a shared national identity.

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Lesson Summary

During a period of social and technological innovation in Europe called the Renaissance, there began a communications revolution. It was centered around the printing press, which allowed people to share ideas, communicate, and express themselves more often and more efficiently. In many ways, it was comparable to the communications revolution that we’ve experienced in the past few years with the Internet and social media.

Around 1450, the German printer, Johannes Gutenberg, developed a new press with a movable type, which allowed for much faster printing. This invention changed everything, making books affordable, which in turn created a new intellectual culture that valued education. Ideas spread much more quickly and created important changes in the social fabric of the time. For example, when Martin Luther’s protests against the Catholic Church, the Ninety-Five Theses, were distributed across Europe, it sparked what is known today as the Protestant Revolution. The printing press changed how people communicated, something we still feel the impact of today.

Learning Outcomes

As you come to the end of the video, you should be able to:

  • Recall what the Renaissance was
  • Describe how the Gutenberg press impacted the Renaissance
  • Explain the changes in communication throughout the Renaissance

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

How did travel and marriage spread renaissance ideas

HOW DID THE IDEAS OF THE RENAISSANCE SPREAD?

The Renaissance is an important event in European history that stretched from the 14th century to the 17th century. It was preceded by the Middle Ages in Europe and eventually led to the major events of the Age of Enlightenment. In historical terms the Renaissance is important because it led to a major shift in European thought and worldview. This shift eventually led to the developments of the Enlightenment and set the stage for the modern western worldview. While the Renaissance is considered to have begun in the city-states of the Italian peninsula in the 14th century, the main ideas of the movement eventually spread to all of Europe by the 16th century. The most significant changes that emerged as a result of the Renaissance can be seen in European architecture, art, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, politics, religion and science. Intellectual thought in these fields flourished during the timeframe of the Renaissance and led to many people questioning long held beliefs about each. This created an environment of discovery and curiosity in which new ideas were constantly being introduced and tested. Historians have been studying how, where and when the ideas of the Renaissance spread from its start in Italy to the rest of Europe.

WHY WAS THE RENAISSANCE SLOW TO SPREAD AT FIRST?

As stated above, the Renaissance first began on the Italian peninsula in the 14th century but later spread to the rest of Europe. The Renaissance first began in Italy due to a number of identified causes, such as: increased interaction between different cultures, the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts, the emergence of humanism, different artistic and technological innovations, and the impacts of conflict and death. However, initially the new ideas and perspectives of the Italian Renaissance were slow to spread out of Italy for several reasons, including: the rigidity of feudalism, conflicts and war, geography, and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe.​

Renaissance City-States Map

Feudalism

Feudalism was a form of government common during medieval Europe that involved society being structured in a very rigid and hierarchical way. It was popular in European society from the 9th century until the 15th century and was the form of government in which the country was dominated by an absolute monarch, in which all power was held within a single king. The monarch would rule over the country while the rest of the people were bound by a hierarchical system in which people were placed into classes in which they were born. For example, under feudalism, most people were peasants who worked tirelessly on farms of local lords. Feudalism was much more present in European society outside of Italy which caused the ideas of the Renaissance to spread slowly. This was because Feudal society was not as open to new ideas as the city-states that existed in Italy at the time. Powerful nobles and monarchs used the feudal system to keep out any new ideas that had the potential to threaten their wealth and authority in society.

The second reason that the Renaissance spread out of Italy slowly at first was the continuous conflicts and wars that occurred in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. For example, the Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts in Northern Europe between the kingdoms of France and England that occurred from 1337 to 1453. The war was fought over the control of territory in France and ultimately involved multiple kingdoms in western and northern Europe going to war. As a result, these regions were not as open to change and new ideas because they were preoccupied with constant conflict. As well, the Hundred Years’ war would have made travel between the different kingdoms in western Europe difficult and thus slowed the spread of scholars and artists who had the potential to spread the ideas of the Renaissance.

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The third reason for the slow movement of Renaissance ideas out of Europe was the geography of northern Italy. Travel in the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance time periods was difficult and treacherous but the isolated nature of the Italian peninsula made it particularly difficult for people and ideas to travel north to the rest of Europe. First, Italy is a peninsula meaning it is surrounded by the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on three sides. This obviously made travel over land impossible and limited the vast majority of people from reaching new areas.

Also, northern Italy contains the Alps which is the largest mountain range in all of Europe. This also limited ground travel as movement through the Alps at the time was a difficult task. As such, the natural geography of Italy limited the ability of Renaissance ideas to spread to the rest of Europe.​

Renaissance Geography of Italy

The final reason for the slow spread of the Renaissance from Italy to the other regions of Europe is the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism and the authority of the Catholic Church played a major role in the lives of people throughout Europe. In fact, from 1309 to 1376 the Roman Catholic Church was located in Avignon, France instead of in Rome. This situation increased the influence of the church in mainland Europe. This is important because the Catholic Church was not necessarily open to the new ideas and changing worldview of the Renaissance in Italy and instead wanted to maintain the situation in Europe that had existed throughout the earlier Middle Ages. As a result, this caused many people in places such as western Europe to be less open to the ideals of the Renaissance.​

WHY DID THE RENAISSANCE EVENTUALLY SPREAD OUT OF ITALY?

​ While the Renaissance was slow to spread at first, for the reasons mentioned above, it eventually did spread to the other regions of Europe. As such, historians have identified several reasons for why and how the Renaissance did reach the other kingdoms of the continent, including: a period of peace, innovations in art and publishing, and migrations of people.

First, the Renaissance ideas spread to Europe more quickly once several of the major conflicts had ended. For example, the Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts in Northern Europe between the kingdoms of France and England that occurred from 1337 to 1453. As stated previously, the war was fought over the control of territory in France and ultimately involved multiple kingdoms in western and northern Europe going to war. As a result, these regions were not as open to change and new ideas at the time because they were preoccupied with constant conflict. This slowed or prevented the spread of the Renaissance ideas in the earlier years of the Renaissance. However, when the Hundred Years’ War ended in the mid-15th century it allowed the ideas of the Italian Renaissance from the 14th century to extend north and west to other parts of Europe. As such, Europe experienced a relative period of peace in the 15th century after earlier centuries of war which allowed for more interaction, trade a travel which helped the new ideas to spread.

The second reason for why the spread of the Renaissance eventually sped up was due to innovations in publishing and art. In terms of publishing, the printing press was one of the most significant innovations in all of world history. German blacksmith, goldsmith and printer Johannes Gutenberg developed the first printing press in the mid-1400s and it quickly had a profound impact on the events of the Renaissance (as well as later events such as the Enlightenment). Prior to the printing press, books and other literature were created through a varied assortment of methods (woodblock press, etc.) which were all labor intensive and slow. Gutenberg’s invention was the development of a hand mold that allowed for precise movable type. This meant that he perfected the process of making movable type pieces for easily and quickly constructing type-font documents. This sped up the printing process and made it extremely affordable, which allowed for an explosion in the publishing and printing of books. For example, the Gutenberg Bible was the first book to be mass produced on the Gutenberg printing press. The invention and use of the printing press in Europe was important for the Renaissance because it allowed new ideas and worldviews to spread across the continent more easily. At its core, the Renaissance was about new ideas (such as humanism) overthrowing old views and customs (such as religious beliefs and practises and feudal traditions). Therefore, the invention of the printing press allowed these new ideas to spread and further enhance the overall Renaissance.

New Ways of Spreading Information in the Renaissance

Chris has a master’s degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Renaissance era was a time of both social and technological advances, including a revolution in the ways of communications. Discover the forms of communication in the Renaissance including the Gutenberg printing press, which allowed books to become more affordable for people. Updated: 10/30/2021

A Revolution in Communications

The idea of a communications revolution is something we should all be familiar with. I mean, right now you’re taking a course over the Internet. I’m also willing to bet you use social media and/or a smart phone. Spreading information is something we understand.

During a period of immense social and technological change and innovation that lasted from roughly 1300 to 1600, called the Renaissance, communication was also a huge deal. But instead of smart phones, the information revolution of the Renaissance was centered around the idea of printing.

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Resources created by teachers for teachers

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.

You’re on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Just checking in. Are you still watching?

  • 0:00 A Revolution in Communications
  • 0:30 Forms of Communication
  • 1:06 The Gutenberg Printing Press
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Forms of Communication in the Renaissance

The Renaissance was all about the visual. Things were made to be seen, which made them ideal for communicating political, social, and religious messages. Around 1300, a new, very wealthy merchant class developed, which sponsored huge building projects and enormous wall and ceiling paintings called frescoes. These murals were painted in prominent parts of churches and other buildings so that many people could see them.

The culture of the Renaissance was focused on communication, and the big development was the invention of the printing press. A printing press is a machine that uses stamps with letters to print words. Asia had the printing press since the 11th century, and Europe had basic forms of the press from the 14th century.

The Gutenberg Printing Press

Around 1439 to 1450, the German goldsmith and printer, Johannes Gutenberg, developed a new system of printing with metal movable letters, called movable type. Movable type allowed for assembly-line style printing.

Gutenberg’s printing press changed printing. Suddenly, printers could print up 3,600 pages per day. That’s a lot of pages. Before the printing press, most books were hand-written, often by monks. They took a long time to make, were expensive, and only the rich could afford to buy them.

With the Gutenberg press, books could be printed daily. More importantly, books could be made cheaply, and many more people could afford them. With more books, education rose. The presses printed classical works of literature, philosophy, engineering, and poetry that hadn’t been widely read since the ancient Romans and Greeks. By 1480, 100 cities in Europe had printing presses.

The Gutenberg movable type printing press made information more available and easier to spread. If we compare hand-written books to snail mail (both are forms of communication that spread a little information at a slow pace), then the printing press was the Renaissance-era version of e-mail and Internet search engines. And just like today, giving people access to information equals change.

In 1455, the Christian Bible was printed on the movable type press. Called the Gutenberg Bible, it made the Bible something that anybody could own and read for themselves. Suddenly, people started debating whether or not the Catholic Church was teaching and living by the Bible correctly. This led the German priest Martin Luther to print and distribute a pamphlet of protests against the Church called the Ninety-Five Theses. Thanks to the printing press, Martin Luther’s pamphlet was distributed quickly and widely, and it started the Protestant Reformation.

Think of how, very recently, social media and texting has changed the way we interact. Well, the printing press had the same effect. With the presses, people could spread their own ideas, challenge each other, unite around shared principles, and reject ideas they disagreed with. Eventually, the communications revolution of the Renaissance led to the creation of nationalism, or people unified together under a shared national identity.

Lesson Summary

During a period of social and technological innovation in Europe called the Renaissance, there began a communications revolution. It was centered around the printing press, which allowed people to share ideas, communicate, and express themselves more often and more efficiently. In many ways, it was comparable to the communications revolution that we’ve experienced in the past few years with the Internet and social media.

Around 1450, the German printer, Johannes Gutenberg, developed a new press with a movable type, which allowed for much faster printing. This invention changed everything, making books affordable, which in turn created a new intellectual culture that valued education. Ideas spread much more quickly and created important changes in the social fabric of the time. For example, when Martin Luther’s protests against the Catholic Church, the Ninety-Five Theses, were distributed across Europe, it sparked what is known today as the Protestant Revolution. The printing press changed how people communicated, something we still feel the impact of today.

Learning Outcomes

As you come to the end of the video, you should be able to:

  • Recall what the Renaissance was
  • Describe how the Gutenberg press impacted the Renaissance
  • Explain the changes in communication throughout the Renaissance

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

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