Reflections on the Gutenburg Press and its Relation to Latin by Joshua McKeever

This museum display covers the impact, or lack of impact that the Gutenburg press had on book production in Europe and then around the world.  Printing presses have existed in Asia since at least the 700s, but it took until 1450 for the invention to be independently made in Europe. Prior to this scribes, mostly monks, were responsible for hand copying works to make sure they didn’t fade into obscurity.  The actual press was invented by three men in Mainz, Johannes Gutenburg, Johann Fust, Peter Schoeffer. Unsurprisingly the first book they printed was likely the most common book around, the Latin bible. This comes to little surprise as Latin remained the most widely spoken language in Europe, united the educated even outside the former Roman Empire.  Indeed Latin would remain the language of scholarship for generations after 1450, calling into question some of the printing press’s legacy. I truly did not expect this exhibit to make me question the importance of the printing press, or at least the importance of the moment it was invented. But they make a solid case. Latin persists as the primary printed language much longer than it should have considering how the printing press is famous for eventually help kill off Latin by introducing vernacular language books to the masses.  I had always assumed this was a quick process which took the continent by storm in the 15th century. Yet alongside the Latin, manuscripting processes continued on for generations as well. Be it nostalgia or resistance to change many a scholar at the time refused to admit the faster, cheaper press was superior. So the press was definitely slower than I thought, but it certainly had its time eventually. By 1500 there were hundreds of presses spread out across Europe. The eventual effect of this was a dramatic uptick in books and other written works produced, especially in various vernacular languages.  Though Latin is still prominent in the later works on display here. For example the 1493 history of the world was printed in Latin and German. In addition religious documents were still almost always Latin as the clergy (up until 1967) considered that to be the language of the church. So when Latin fell out of favor with the masses and vernacular languages began to pick up, it was the previously literate institutions of scholarly institutes and the church that kept Latin relevant to the modern era.