Historic Print: A Look at some of History’s Most Important Documents and Books

Much of modern history is determined by documents. Whether it’s a treaty, agreement, proclamation, or a book, writing binds people and countries together. There are hundreds of years of historic print material, ranging from handcrafted books to documents that protected life and liberty.  

Here are some documents and books that changed the course of history and reflect the power of the written word to change minds and shape nations: 

  • The Magna Carta. Written in 1215, this document for the first time discussed the rights of men, mainly their ability to have justice and fair trials. It’s the foundation of many societies’ adherence to law and order, including the need for accountability for leaders to follow the established laws.  
  • The Gutenberg Bible. Created around 1450, this version of the Bible was produced by Johanes Gutenberg utilizing his famous printing press invention. It was the first mass-produced book in Europe, and represents a technological turning point, and reflects the Bible’s importance on world history and culture. 
  • The Declaration of Independence. Very likely the most famous document for the United States, the Declaration of Independence was finished on July 4th, 1776 and represents the beginnings of a new nation. The United States’ growth and impacts on the world continue to reflect this document’s words. 
  • The Emancipation Proclamation. The famous proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves residing in states in rebellion. This action encouraged more than 200,000 black saves to join the war effort, and it also rallied support to the North. 
  • “On the Origins of Species”. Charles Darwin’s text changed the ways people think about the natural world and human’s own evolution. Published in 1859, the text presented natural selection, a branching pattern of evolution, and other concepts that became the basis for evolutionary theory. 
  • “The Wealth of Nations.” Published in the same year as the Declaration of Independence, the “Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith setup the basic tenets of capitalism and economics. It still provides the basis for capitalist economies, and continues to shape civilization.  
  • The Cyrus Cylinder. Created in 539 BCE, this cylinder by Cyrus the Great notes the freeing of slaves held in Babylon, which historians point to as the first abolitionist document in history.  
  • “The Complete Works.” Shakespeare’s complete collection, published between 1594 and 1634 represents the English-language works that have most shaped literature and drama for the preceding 400 years.  
  • “The Meaning of Relativity.” Albert Einstein’s book gives non-technical people his thoughts on the theory of relativity. It’s a vitally important work that sets the stage for modern exploration and innovation and greatly expanded the ways people and scientists think about the world.  

 Thousands of years of historic print have produced countless documents, decrees, books and other materials. Many mark turning points in world and country affairs, where people’s actions were guided by words. For businesses looking to make their mark on the world, Image Source offers a wide range of Xerox printers, scanner, and copiers that create and keep essential documents.


Featured Photo authors were the barons and King John of England. Uploaded by Earthsound. – This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. It is also made available on a British Library website.Catalogue entry: Cotton MS Augustus II 106, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78606