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Turn its pages and hear all about the birth of mass communication

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When it first appeared in the mid-15th century, the Gutenberg Bible marked the beginning of a revolution in human communications every bit as influential as the birth of the World Wide Web.

It was the first major book produced in Europe using moveable metal type – stronger and easier than using wooden blocks that had come before. It is small surprise, therefore, that it was considered by many to be the most significant invention of the second millennium. The innovation helped kick-start the large-scale production of books quickly and efficiently, and the shift was seismic:  improved access to information led to a spread of ideas which irrevocably shaped the course of human history as we know it.

The exciting University Library app makes it really simple to access this key document of our history. You can turn the pages of one of the most interesting surviving copies of the world’s most important printed book. Its expert commentary gives a fascinating insight into the technological innovations of early printing, the commercial context in which the Gutenberg Bible was produced, and the mindset of its readers.

The innovator whose name is given to this Bible was Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith. He pioneered the use of moveable metal type made from alloys which would melt at low temperatures (making them easy to produce without the need for a blast furnace) but still strong enough to withstand repeated use in a printing press. Produced in Mainz in around 1454, the Gutenberg Bible – sometimes known as the 42-line Bible because of its page layout – was notable for the great accuracy and consistency of its typography, with spaces left for the individual owner to decorate with hand-drawn illuminations and decorations.

This copy of the Gutenberg Bible is considered particularly special because it contains the hand markings of another printer, Heinrich Eggestein, who used it as an exemplar for his own printed Latin Bible produced some 15 years later. It is one of only 48 complete copies known to survive.

The app offers an incredible insight into a pivotal point in human history and the power of ideas. The complete Gutenberg Bible contains over 1000 printed pages, so the app gives selected readings; the books of Genesis, the Psalms, the four Gospels and the Book of Revelation.

Download the free app and you can:

  • Interact with the text quickly and easily. Leaf the through the first printed Latin Bible as it would have appeared fifteenth-century readers.
  • View short video commentaries on Gutenberg, his printing innovations and the Bible’s social and historical significance. These are presented by Ed Potten, Head of Rare Books at Cambridge University Library.
  • Zoom in to see printed words, illuminations and decorations on the paper in remarkable detail– more clearly than with the naked eye.
  • Navigate easily through the text using the ‘bookmarks’ to key sections.
  • View photos of modern reproductions of 15th-century printing technologies.
  • Delve into this unique printer’s copy and see the hash marks which were used by the printer to delineate line breaks for Eggestein’s Bible.
  • Learn interesting new facts: did you know that this edition lay unrecognised for more than a century in a library near Edinburgh until its owner, the 7th Earl of Hopetoun, put it up for auction in 1889?

This unique snapshot of the birth of mass communication is accessible to everyone at the touch of a button. See where the line from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg first began!

Download Words that Changed the World on the Apple Store