What rendered the Renaissance and technological explosion possible?

#21
The printing press certainly was a key element, but I think there has been too great a focus on the press as "an agent of change" with regard to book making. Large-scale book printing requires some kind of material to print on and that would also have to be produced en masse, and this material would have required some kind of resource which also would have to be produced. The material in question was paper and its production in paper mills North of the Alps started in the late 14th century and expanded from there until the onset of the Gutenberg press, after which it exploded with a stream of improvements making the process more efficient. The corresponding resource was linen whose production also expanded in the region North of the alps in the late 14th century, as the regional and inter-regional trade expanded. Hence, the printing press at the center of a larger process of commercial expansion and technical innovation that enabled the explosion of book production, in the first place. Eisenstein herself points out that the introduction of paper as a cheap mass product alone did not have an effect on the scale as the printing press, which is obviously true, but even though it was not a sufficient condition, it was a necessary one.
To some extent you can't really point to a single cause of anything, history is just the evolution of human societies within their ecosystems.
What do you mean by "ecosystems"? You are saying that the natural environment was the prime cause of the outcomes of the various civilisations?

It is interesting to compare China and Europe. China had paper well before Europe did (Europe had papyrus but that was too expensive for ordinary use). Europe learned how to make cheap paper in the 13th century (and this process was learned from Baghdad, where it had been transmitted to from China). The Chinese also knew how to print by moveable type and again it took much longer for Europe to find out about the technology.

A common factor seems to be that Europe was open to accepting new ideas from far away. It readily adopted new processes from other cultures. I see little evidence of this in the case of China.

It seems that historical/cultural factors may have made the difference. Jesus was born in the 1st Century, near Europe, unknown to China. Christianity spread in Europe, and its message about the fate of human beings in the after life engendered an earnest desire for religious texts. So i think that in Europe there was, because of Christianity, a real economic demand for books; this demand could have been the driving force to invest in the technology to make books.

The search for ancient religious books resulted in the incidental disovery of non-Christian works which were almost discarded as "humanities". The ability to produce books in quantity conveyed these ancient texts, as well as religious ones, to the reading public.
 
Feb 2017
166
Canada
#22
What do you mean by "ecosystems"? You are saying that the natural environment was the prime cause of the outcomes of the various civilisations?
People are a living species in a natural environment, and so human history is ultimately a subset of ecological and environmental history. I mean, I didn't intend to say that the natural environment was the prime cause of various civilizations, but I guess it's true that the natural environment ultimately sets the framework for human history.

In regions where natural resources are sparse, we can't thrive, and vice versa.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
2,725
Sydney
#23
Human environment is as natural as a rainforest
it is made up of the interactions between it's components
there is absolutely no difference between human cities and mold colonies symbiots
ultimately it's a resources manipulating system
the Renaissance with it's various forms and timelines was an intellectual movement toward individualism
compounded by the reformation it saw the break up of the universal power of the church
spread by printing as an "infection "vector
 
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#24
People are a living species in a natural environment, and so human history is ultimately a subset of ecological and environmental history.
But there is also the cultural environment, the set of behaviours and ideas, passed from generation to generation for centuries, which helps govern how people behave. I mentioned Christianity, which began in one small part of the Middle East but in Europe it was adopted as the standard belief system by which everyone's live ought to be governed.

In deciding why the history of China and Europe turned out so differently, I cannot see how the environmental differences can explain the different paths the two civilisations took. I believe the explanations are indicated in the political and cultural factors.
 
#25
Many of the advances started much earlier. Not as late as 15th century.
Like many improvements in agriculture which helped the growth in cities. Wiki says Low Countries, 14th century, but AFAIK that started at in 12th century. Agriculture in the Middle Ages - Wikipedia
Some of it earlier, but only took off sometime after 11th century, like three field drop rotation and extensive use of horses by farmers (collars, shoes, plows). And then we needed more mills, both water and windmills.

Several people mentioned knowledge retrieved after Fall of Constantinople in 1453, but Constantinople had already been taken (and plundered) by the Latins in 1204.
Sack of Constantinople (1204) - Wikipedia
And then you have the Frankish/Italian follow-on kingdoms in the former territory of Byzantium from 1204 onwards.
Frankokratia - Wikipedia

Some of the years given in the page below are quite a bit too optimistic or look doubtful to me. The 12th and 13th century ones are the most important ones. Some jump out like the blast furnace c. 1150, perhaps even earlier.
Medieval technology - Wikipedia

The military revolution was also very important. There were several and the last one (from high middle ages onwards) secured European countries as major world powers.

Chaos also helps a lot.
Long live the splintered political map of Europe of the early to late middle ages, especially in Middle Francia (Italy, Burgundy, Switzerland, Lorraine etc up to Low Countries)
Or should I say many independent minds not hampered or blocked by some centralist dogmatic government. That and a capitalist economy always wins the day.

The Black Death may also have helped quite a bit, oddly enough.
It helped to show the failure of dogma. And one needed to work smarter, not just harder. No longer capable of simply throwing more people at something ...
 
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Dec 2015
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Where Pica hudsonia thrives
#26
Many of the advances started much earlier. Not as late as 15th century.
Like many improvements in agriculture which helped the growth in cities. Wiki says Low Countries, 14th century, but AFAIK that started at in 12th century. Agriculture in the Middle Ages - Wikipedia
Some of it earlier, but only took off sometime after 11th century, like three field drop rotation and extensive use of horses by farmers (collars, shoes, plows). And then we needed more mills, both water and windmills.

Several people mentioned knowledge retrieved after Fall of Constantinople in 1453, but Constantinople had already been taken (and plundered) by the Latins in 1204.
Sack of Constantinople (1204) - Wikipedia
And then you have the Frankish/Italian follow-on kingdoms in the former territory of Byzantium from 1204 onwards.
Frankokratia - Wikipedia

Some of the years given in the page below are quite a bit too optimistic or look doubtful to me. The 12th and 13th century ones are the most important ones. Some jump out like the blast furnace c. 1150, perhaps even earlier.
Medieval technology - Wikipedia

The military revolution was also very important. There were several and the last one (from high middle ages onwards) secured European countries as major world powers.

Chaos also helps a lot.
Long live the splintered political map of Europe of the early to late middle ages, especially in Middle Francia (Italy, Burgundy, Switzerland, Lorraine etc up to Low Countries)
Or should I say many independent minds not hampered or blocked by some centralist dogmatic government. That and a capitalist economy always wins the day.

The Black Death may also have helped quite a bit, oddly enough.
It helped to show the failure of dogma. And one needed to work smarter, not just harder. No longer capable of simply throwing more people at something ...
Fragments might have helped developments rather than hindered it?
Then, I read that local disasters and famines rendered the large centralized state in China necessary for the survival of the Chinese people.
 
#27
Jaap Titulaer, while improvements in agriculture are interesting, I don't see how that lead to the Renaissance. Similarly with the blast furnace, it wasn't like they didn't have iron before then. The invention of the mechanical clock seems significant to me (which seems similar to Chinese inventions), also spectacles (a real boon to reading for people who are getting older).
Unlike in China, clocks became important, apparently for the purpose announcing church services.

The setting up the first universities seems important, the first being Bologna, which was primarily instituted to study the "Digest", the ancient document summarising Roman Law. Notable is the fact that the students were of many different nations, so there was a large demand for people to learn and practice law. The demand for books was supplied by the new invention of printing.
 
Mar 2018
266
UK
#28
Was there then that much of a speedup in technological progress around 1500? Sure, ship design and cannons were improving fast, but was the pace of change significantly faster than before? The more I read of this thread and of developments made in the high middle ages, the more doubtful I am that everything changed in 1450.

I would say that a more significant turning point came around 1700. The enlightenment thinking, the development of rigorous science, the first experiments into mechanised power, the foundation of central banks, etc... and everything eventually leading to the industrial revolution. Is that a better marker of when slow and steady progress started going up exponentially?
 
#29
Was there then that much of a speedup in technological progress around 1500? Sure, ship design and cannons were improving fast, but was the pace of change significantly faster than before? The more I read of this thread and of developments made in the high middle ages, the more doubtful I am that everything changed in 1450.

I would say that a more significant turning point came around 1700. The enlightenment thinking, the development of rigorous science, the first experiments into mechanised power, the foundation of central banks, etc... and everything eventually leading to the industrial revolution. Is that a better marker of when slow and steady progress started going up exponentially?
Oileus, the industrial revolution didn't start until the late 18th century, but, in seeking to find its causes, we look back to what happened before then. We see that there was the "enlightenment" when people used science to investigate the natural world and gained understanding so that technology could be developed. But what caused the enlightenment to happen. We can see that even in the 17th century there were advances such as formulation of the gas laws, Newton's laws of motion. But then how did that happen? We go back and back to trace the origins of modern science, such as the invention of the telescope, but even before that glass lenses were known and used as spectacles back in the Middle Ages. People used spectacles to read, because printed books had become available, because paper had become available, because people wanted books for their spritiual lives and also to read read the works of the ancients. Pivotal inventions, unknown to the ancients, like clocks, glass lenses, cheap paper, printing, all seem to have had their beginnings in the 12th and 13th centuries. These things (particularly books I think) laid the foundations for what would become a virtuous circle of increasing knowledge that led to the science that lead to the technology that started the industrial revolution.
 
Feb 2017
166
Canada
#30
laid the foundations for what would become a virtuous circle of increasing knowledge that led to the science that lead to the technology that started the industrial revolution.
I would put it a bit differently. A part of it was about increasing knowledge, but another was that books led to another avenue of commercialism. Suddenly people could self-teach, rather than rely on a mentor, which would mean an exponential increase in innovation. This also created a kind of arms race for knowledge: not long after education systems became the norm because to compete in an increasingly complex society basic literacy and arithmetic were no longer optional.
 

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