Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Primary Source Education Modules > The Gutenberg Bible
The Invention  -  Books Before and After  -  Johann Gutenberg  -  Facts about the Book  -  Activities  -  Glossary  -  Teacher Resources


Teaching Gutenberg

Gutenberg Bible display case.

The Ransom Center Bible is one of only five complete copies in
the United States and was acquired in 1978. Out of 48 surviving
copies in the world, only 23 are complete Bibles from Gutenberg's
estimated printing of 150 - 180 sets. Most of the Bibles are in
Europe, one is in Japan, and another is in Moscow.
Photo by Eric Beggs.

The Gutenberg Bible is not only an important artifact in the Ransom Center's collections, it is of world significance, which is why it is on permanent display in the gallery and housed in a special enclosure.

Knowledge about Gutenberg, his invention, and the historical influences and consequences of the first substantial book printed with movable type grows and changes as scholars uncover new information. Based on current understanding of our Gutenberg Bible, two themes, The Invention and Books Before and After Gutenberg, have been developed to tell the story of the invention and the rapid spread of this new technology.

Of course, the Gutenberg Bible can be a challenging resource to all learners because it is written in Latin. To lessen the frustration and difficulty of analyzing an object not written in English, the Center's experts have provided context and related objects to enable learners to make sense of their own observations.

Why should students study Johann Gutenberg?

The Invention

Just what did Johann Gutenberg invent? What need in society was he addressing with this invention? How did he adapt existing technology for a new use?

This theme focuses on what is known about how Gutenberg printed the Bible, why he chose a Bible for his first large-scale printing project, what the book looked like when first printed, and what is unique about the Ransom Center's copy.

Books Before and After The Gutenberg Bible

When and where did writing begin? What were the tools and materials that ancient and medieval writers used? What were the innovations in reading and writing? What changed with printing?

This theme focuses on the technology and materials of writing from 3000 BCE to 1450 CE, from cuneiform tablets to medieval illuminated manuscripts. It then traces the social and cultural impact of printing technology upon the late medieval European world.


Activities for students ranging from K-12 are based on the content provided in the two themes, The Invention and Books Before and After Gutenberg. The images provided are designed to guide students in visual analysis and focused inquiry. Learning Activities are designed to help students think critically about Gutenberg and his times, record observations of artifacts, and generate questions about the Gutenberg Bible based on their observations.

Principal contributors to this website include:

April Garner, Project Coordinator
Elizabeth Garver
Amanda Price
Lisa Richter
Linda Ho