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The power of written words

The "Gutenberg Bible"

When Johannes Gutenberg (c.1397/1400-1468) invented movable type printing circa 1450, he transformed the means of communicating knowledge and ideas, setting in train an unprecedented cultural revolution. Most European countries soon started using this technique and by the end of the 15th century more than 25 000 publications had been printed. This represented more than several millions copies.
Books were a means of making an argument and persuading people to accept that argument in many places at once, across vast distances. One author could now debate with many people at the same time. The only effective way to reply in such a discussion was to write and print your own book. Foxe was writing in the 1560s, when the printing press was still a relatively new technology, but it was already recognised as an immensely powerful innovation within sixteenth century European societies. Writers and scholars such as Foxe were aware of the potential of printed words to help and to spread their argument and they were determined to argue persuasively and vehemently that their own particular claims were correct.
Print was a powerful factor in this process and bequeaths to us many of the works now housed on the shelves in the Old Library - print made possible an 'argument in the archives', whose rich legacy adorns these shelves today. Located within these collections of the Old Library of the Irish College in the Centre Culturel Irlandais are many important works that featured in an intense intellectual struggle - a battle, for hearts, minds and, above all, souls during the Reformation and its aftermath: conflict, real and rhetorical, was very bitter from the early 1500s until well into the late 1600s; by the 1700s the division was accepted as permanent but deep tensions, sharp divides and sporadic controversy remained long afterwards.


Encyclopédie or Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers