Archive for August, 2010


Nova Reperta,-Jan-van-der-%28Giovanni-Stradano%29/Frontispiece-to-Nova-Reperta-New-Discoveries-engraved-by-Theodor-Galle-1571-1633-c.1600.html

Johannes Stradanus [Jan van der Straet]

Nova Reperta [New Discoveries] (c.1580)

This series of 24 engravings celebrated the new discoveries—both technological and geographical—that made the Renaissance world modern and distinguished it from that of the ancients.  Stradanus devoted no less than 9 images to the ‘discovery’ of the New World, and his encyclopedic frontispiece contained most of the other inventions depicted in the remaining plates, including gunpowder, the printing press, the compass, the clock, stirrups, (al)chemical distillation, the cultivation of silkworms, and the treatment of syphilis with the tropical wood guaiacum.

Francis Bacon, from Novum Organuum (Aphorism 29), 1620

We should note the force, effect, and consequences of inventions which are nowhere more conspicuous than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, namely, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. For these three have changed the appearance and the state of the whole world . . .

The Printing  Press, from Nova Reperta (The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg, c 1440-50.),-Jan-van-der-%28Giovanni-Stradano%29/The-Development-of-Printing,-plate-5-from-Nova-Reperta-New-Discoveries-engraved-by-Philip-Galle-1537-1612-c.1600.html

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

Some ideas about why medieval inventions did not make a large cumulative impact on society, as did the ones after the printing press:

New techniques or inventions might be mentioned in writing, but this was usually in a sermon . . .  Before the advent of printing, events of significance, when reported at all, were usually conveyed from the pulpit. [For example] ‘Lenses were already known in the thirteenth century . . . . For three centuries a kind of conspiracy of silence was entered into concerning them . . . they became an object of theoretical study only in the sixteenth century.” [But] News of the invention of spectacles was not suppressed by ‘a conspiracy’ in the later middle ages [though guilds did try to keep secret the secrets of their trades]. [Rather] it was conveyed by word of mouth . . . . It was not that such technical inventions were despised or even undervalued until a new class of capitalists came along; it was rather that in the late fifteenth century, functions of the pulpit [used to spread news as well as religion] began to be taken over by the press. The advent of printing lessened reliance on oral transmission even while providing powerful new incentives to . . . publicize the tricks of various trades. The result was an avalanche of technical treatises and teach-yourself books . . . .



Modern technological culture: what most helped produce it? The emergence of a particular mentality? Developments in social history? Or a history of specific inventions?

Gawain, l. 1846 ff:

“Now does my present displease you,” she promptly inquired,

“Because it seems in your sight so simple a thing?

And belike, as it is little [i.e. less rich and costly], it is less to praise,

But if the virtue hat invests it were verily known

It would be held, I hope, in higher esteem.

For the man that possesses this piece of silk,

If he bore it on his body, belted about,

There is no hand under heaven that could hew him down,

For he could not be killed by any craft on earth.”

Then the man began to muse, and mainly he thought

It was a pearl for his plight, the peril to come

When he gains the Green Chapel to get his reward:

Could he escape unscathed? The scheme were noble!

Then he bore her words and withstood them no more,

And she repeated her petition and pleaded anew,

And he granted it, and gladly she gave him the belt,

And besought him for her sake to conceal it well,

Lest the noble lord should know—and the knight agrees

That not a soul save themselves shall see it thenceforth

With sight.

He thanked her with fervent heart,

As often as ever he might;

Three times, before they part,

She has kissed the stalwart knight.

“The print-made split between head and heart is the trauma that affects Europe from Machiavelli to the present.”

–Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographical Man (Toronto, 1964), p 170.

“[Jacob] Burckhardt connects the [Renaissance] ‘awakening of personality’ with a new spirit of independence and a new claim to shape one’s own life—apart from one’s ‘parents and ancestors.’

–Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (New York: Cambridge U.P., 1979) 243

“[T]he sixteenth century saw a flood of treatises come off the new presses which were aimed at encouraging diverse forms of self-help and self-improvement . . .  . The chance to master new skills without undergoing a formal apprenticeship or schooling also encouraged a new sense of independence on the part of many who became self-taught.”

–Eisenstein, 243-4