The Development of the Printing Press and the Decline of the Chronicle as Historical Method

By Emily (Chavie) D. Sharfman
2015, Vol. 7 No. 06 | pg. 2/2 |

While in medieval times the chronicle was the method by which people would hear and read of the most recent news, it was now too long and bulky to compete with the various cheaply printed genres in the print shop. In addition, it could not keep up with the speed with which the other genres could communicate news. By the time a chronicle recorded a contemporary event, passed through the press, and reached the bookseller, it was no longer news. Manuscript newsletters, ballads, and newsbooks could record and communicate events at a much greater speed than could chronicles. With the limitation of the chronicles to the most recent past, and the most recent past being disseminated by other genres, the chronicle’s purpose was becoming obsolete.23

While print shops stopped printing chronicles as they moved in the direction of smaller and cheaper, there were a few exceptions. Printers were afraid to lay out the cost of printing such bulky books, but if the expenses could be offset by the government or by a wealthy patron, printers were occasionally open to printing chronicles. Other times, printers were willing to take the risk, and the chronicles became bestsellers, such as Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Even with the defrayed cost, printers were unlikely to continue to print reissues or new editions, as the venture was too risky. Since the financial elements of the printing press led to the dissemination of the functions of the chronicle, accessible historical topics were expanded.24

As the territory of ‘recent history’ was overtaken by news sources, historians found the world of history more open. They were no longer confined to the recent past; rather they pulled sources together in a historical discovery of the remote past. Coupled with the access to public archives that allowed historians to delve further into the past, this rediscovery of the distant past became their main occupation. The printing press’ destruction of the chronicle moved historians to no longer add records of the recent past onto traditional accounts of the distant past, but to expand their scope to the beginning of time.

In both an underlying and direct way, the printing press played a major role in the historiographical changes that came about at the end of the sixteenth century. Renaissance historians could only begin to record events as centered around human action because of the access that the printing press provided to classical texts that espoused this idea. Historians began to develop a scientific and systematic method of criticism of sources and evidence in their historical writing because they now had access to so many resources, spurring them to look for different copies of works, in order to ensure that their accounts were accurate.

This verification process also began to make them question the validity of oral tradition, which had shaped the medieval chronicles. Due to financial elements of the printing press, historians were no longer confined to the recent past, as they had been with their addendums to chronicles. Accordingly, these historiographical changes cannot be viewed just as a result of a philosophical change, but a technological change - the printing press - that was at its foundation. The movement toward the Enlightenment, and a deepening of humanist ideals, only furthered this decline and lead the chronicle to its ultimate death.


References

Cicero, Marcus Tullius, and Charles Duke Yonge.The treatises of M.T. Cicero, On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship.. London: H.G. Bohn, 1853.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius, and Niall Rudd.The republic and, the laws. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, L I.30

Cheney, C.R. "Introduction", in Levi Fox (ed.),English Historical Scholarship in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. London, 1956.

Collingwood, R. G.The idea of history. . Reprint, New York: A Galaxy Book, 1956.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L..The printing revolution in early modern Europe. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Hale, J. R..The evolution of British historiography; from Bacon to Namier. Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1964.

Menache, Sophia. "Written and Oral Testimonies in Medieval Chronicles: Matthew Paris and Giovanni Villani" in Erik Kooper, The medieval chronicle. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009.

Richardson, R. C..Social history, local history, and historiography collected essays. : Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.

Serjeantson, R.W "Testimony: the artless proof," in Sylvia Adamson (ed.), Renaissance figures of speech. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

White, Hayden V..Metahistory: the historical imagination in nineteenth-century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975.

Woolf, D. R..Reading history in early modern England. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 2000.


Endnotes

  1. R. G Collingwood, The idea of history, (New York: A Galaxy Book, 1956), 56
  2. J. R. Hale, The evolution of British historiography; from Bacon to Namier, (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1964), 10
  3. Hayden V. White, Metahistory: the historical imagination in nineteenth-century Europe, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), 58
  4. Hale, 9
  5. Collingwood, 52
  6. D. R Woolf,Reading history in early modern England. Cambridge (England: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 31
  7. Ibid., 354
  8. Hale, 10
  9. Collingwood, 57
  10. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The printing revolution in early modern Europe, (Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 111-147
  11. Ibid., 83
  12. Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Niall Rudd.The republic and, the laws. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), L I.30
  13. Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Charles Duke Yonge.The treatises of M.T. Cicero, On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship. (London: H.G. Bohn, 1853).
  14. Eisenstein, 115
  15. Woolf, 14
  16. Hale, 11
  17. Richardson, 32
  18. Hale, 106
  19. Sophia Menache, "Written and Oral Testimonies in Medieval Chronicles: Matthew Paris and Giovanni Villani" in Erik Kooper, The medieval chronicle. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), 1
  20. Hale, 12
  21. Woolf, 14-18
  22. Ibid, 26-27
  23. Ibid., 31-32
  24. Ibid., 40

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

During World War II, the black press and several prominent black leaders called for a “Double V” victory against fascism abroad and against Jim Crow at home. With such a slogan, many historians regarded this... MORE»
Advertisement
This paper examines two influential slave uprisings and the treatment these received by both the abolitionist movement and the press. The first section explores the country’s reaction to John Brown’s raid on... MORE»
The wonder of opening a book feels very similar to the experience of opening a wardrobe door and finding oneself in another world.  Stories told to children as they prepare for bed act also as vehicles for transportation of imagination, and when the book opens, a journey begins.  When C.S. Lewis wrote his seven-part series for children, The Chronicles of Narnia, he realized that not only the children in on Earth going to read... MORE»
“News is something someone wants suppressed,” British newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe once said. “Everything else is just advertising.” This point is especially true in war journalism where every story, be it a heart-warming depiction of troops handing out candy to local children or a gut-wrenching depiction of the horrors of war, can be construed as propaganda. Militaries of countries that protect the freedom of the press... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in History

2021, Vol. 13 No. 02
Being a worldwide popular icon, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara has been differently re-appropriated by a variety of movements across the globe; but his reception and symbolization in contemporary China has... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 01
The Civil War was a seminal moment in the historical development in the United States. The American Revolution may have created the U.S. as a sovereign nation, but the Civil War helped to determine what kind of nation America would become. The Reconstruction... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 12
Genocide Memorialization focuses on the community after a genocide in what they choose to remember and how they achieve that goal of memorialization. Memorialization efforts are museums, institutions, policy, law, education, documentaries and first... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 11
This paper examines the peasantry's response to modernization measures taken by Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the pursuit of modernity, the Tsarist Russian and early Soviet regimes altered... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 2020 No. 1
The 19th century, a tumultuous period which saw a momentous change to a way of life, also saw the implementation of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, a decisive change in England’s relationship with its poor. The local parish based poor... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 2020 No. 1
This study analyzes the publications of Dr. Wu Lien-teh, health commissioner during the Manchurian plague epidemics, to demonstrate how poor cultural communication can adversely affect medical care and health policies. Combined with a case study... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 09
The man who powered NASA through the Apollo Era had no background in science or engineering. Rather, NASA achieved one of history’s most thrilling tasks on an ambitious timeline in turbulent political conditions precisely because NASA Administrator... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor
What is the Secret to Success?
5 Tips for Publishing Your First Academic Article