These maps are just too pretty not to re-post. They come from Jeremiah Dittmar’s fascinating new paper, Information Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press.
There’s a good summary of the paper at Vox, but the take-home message is probably in two parts. Firstly:
- First, the printing press was an urban technology, producing for urban consumers.
- Second, cities were seedbeds for economic ideas and social groups that drove the emergence of modern growth.
- Third, city sizes were historically important indicators of economic prosperity, and broad-based city growth was associated with macroeconomic growth (Bairoch 1988, Acemoglu et al. 2005).
I find that cities in which printing presses were established 1450-1500 had no prior growth advantage, but subsequently grew far faster than similar cities without printing presses. My work uses a difference-in-differences estimation strategy to document the association between printing and city growth. The estimates suggest early adoption of the printing press was associated with a population growth advantage of 21 percentage points 1500-1600, when mean city growth was 30 percentage points. The difference-in-differences model shows that cities that adopted the printing press in the late 1400s had no prior growth advantage, but grew at least 35 percentage points more than similar non-adopting cities from 1500 to 1600.