Elizabeth Eisenstein, RIP (October 11, 1923 – January 31, 2016)


On February 11, 2016 Lance Strate informed the Media Ecology Association of the passing of Elizabeth Eisenstein with the following:-

I have heard from a few different sources that Elizabeth Eisenstein, author of The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, and the abridged version, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, as well as The First Professional Revolutionist: Fillippo Michele Buonarroti; Grub Street Abroad: Aspects of the French Cosmopolitan Press from the Age of Louis XIV to the French Revolution; and Divine Art, Infernal Machine: The Reception of Printing in the West, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on January 31st.

Her work on the history of printing stands as one of the great achievements in media ecology scholarship, and exemplifies historical research in a media ecological mode. I first heard her speak at one of Neil Postman’s media ecology conferences back in the 80s, she gave the keynote address at the MEA’s 3rd annual convention at Marymount Manhattan College, and was a featured speaker at our 6th meeting at Boston College.

By the way, she was also a helluva tennis player. Just thought it worth mentioning. She will most certainly be missed within the media ecology community.


A Short Biography

Eisenstein, one of America’s most distinguished historians, achieved worldwide recognition while serving as the Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History at U-Michigan, a position she held from 1975 until her retirement in 1988.

Eisenstein (Photo courtesy Elizabeth L. Eisenstein)

Since the time she completed her doctorate at Radcliffe College in 1953, Eisenstein’s scholarship has demonstrated three qualities that only rarely come together: meticulous original research, analysis that has become a focus of historical debate and interpretations that are adopted across many scholarly fields.

Her early work examined the emergence of the professional revolutionary as a new historical type and challenged the dominant view of the French Revolution as a middle-class rebellion in a way so fundamental and stimulating that her work became the focus of several influential symposia and special issues of scholarly journals.

Her subsequent research included the 1979 study “The Printing Press as an Agent of Change,” which has had international influence. Based on massive research in many languages, it examines the conditions in Western Europe that encouraged the spread of printing and demonstrates the crucial role of printing in the dissemination of Renaissance culture, the disruption of Western Christendom and the rise of modern science.

This work shows how printing altered the meaning of memory and conceptions of time and history, and it has been the subject of countless symposia, conferences, scholarly articles and entire books that reflect on the “Eisenstein theory.”

Eisenstein’s professional honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She also served as a Guggenheim Fellow and in 2002 received the Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association. (Source: http://goo.gl/CQzkOy )


In the following 9-minute video Elizabeth Eisenstein discusses From scribal scarcity to the disruptive text.



One Response to “Elizabeth Eisenstein, RIP (October 11, 1923 – January 31, 2016)”

  1. Thank you Alex for sharing this video and news about Elizabeth Eisenstein. I’m sorry to hear of the passing of this wonderful thinker.


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