9th Grade New York

Printing Press

This inquiry leads students through an investigation of the impacts of the printing press by examining its utility in society, both as an instrument to preserve cultural products of the past and as an agent of change. By investigating the compelling question “Did the printing press preserve the past or invent the future?” students evaluate both functions of the printing press and consider which had the greater impact. The formative performance tasks build on knowledge and skills through the course of the inquiry and help students recognize the dual nature of the printing press in order to better understand its importance in larger historical phenomena. Students create an evidence-based argument about whether the printing press promoted continuity or change after considering the ways in which it preserved existing systems of belief and thought, enabled the dissemination of information, and led to increased exploration and systemic change within European societies.


Compelling Question:

Did the Printing Press Preserve the Past or Invent the Future?

Staging the Question:

Discuss the difficulties of spreading reliable information after playing a modified version of the “telephone” game using oral, handwritten, and typed information.

Supporting Question What was first printed?

Formative Task List and describe what the Gutenberg press first printed.

Sources Source A: “Treasures in Full: Gutenberg Bible” Source B: Excerpt from Man and Nature in the Renaissance
Source C: Excerpt from The Printing Press: Transforming Power of Technology


Supporting Question In what ways did the printing press preserve the past?

Formative Task Write a paragraph describing the ways the printing press allowed Europeans to preserve thoughts and beliefs.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from “Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution in Europe”
Source B: Map of the spread of printing
Source C: Excerpt from The History of Philosophy


Supporting Question How did the printing press stimulate interest in exploration?

Formative Task Write an explanation of how the printing press advertised, and thus encouraged, exploration.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from American Colonies: The Settling of North America Source B: Excerpt from a letter from Columbus to the Spanish royals
Source C: Map of diffusion of Columbus’s letter


Supporting Question  To what extent did the printing press facilitate change?

Formative Task Develop a claim supported by evidence about the extent to which the printing press facilitated change.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe
Source B: Excerpt from Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words
Source C: “Information Technology and Economic Change”

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Did the printing press preserve the past or invent the future? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Read a Science article and debate whether the impact of social media on contemporary society is as great as or greater than the impact Gutenberg’s printing press had in the 15th century.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Explore the resources available through Project Gutenberg.
Assess: Determine the needs of your local school or community library.
Act: Create CD/DVD resources through Project Gutenberg’s CD/DVD Project to address the area of greatest need.