Image for post
Image for post

The Power of Literature to Shape History

When one thinks of the people and events that have shaped history, rarely do they think of the authors and their works that have affected the path history takes. Yet the written word is one of the most powerful tools that people have used to direct the course of history.

Religious Writings

Religion has always been a powerful force in shaping history. Why? Because people get passionate about it. Only the topics that spark passion can supply the written word with the power to change the world’s future. Religion is definitely one of them. Of the religious works written, two stand out as having the largest effect not through speech, preachings, or even the acts of the individuals as much as the writings which people have used to justify their words and their actions — The Christian Bible and the Islamic Koran.

The Bible

Taking the Jewish scriptures and adding on the teachings of the Messiah, Jesus, Christians have compiled through the ages the works that is now called The Holy Bible. Not talking about Christianity itself but the written religious works, the history changing actions began the day Guttenberg finalized the creation of his printing press and used the Bible as the first project to be printed on the machine. Nothing has been the same since.

The religious text in the hands of the common man propelled the Reformation forward which dramatically changed all of Europe and eventually that of the Americas. The biggest religious power in the West was shaken and torn apart. Politics and religion became entwined to a degree that created a bond that was completely inseparable for hundreds of years.

The Bible was also used as the foundation and reasoning for the Crusades where the Europeans invaded the Holy Lands of Jerusalem and surrounding areas that were occupied by the Muslims in an attempt to ‘free’ it from the infidels. This changed much of Europe’s political and social paths as well as that of the Middle East. Many of these can still be felt today in both sections of the world with many ripple effects reaching out around the globe.

The Koran

Though compiled many years after the Christian religious works, the impact felt is no less dramatic. The entire Middle East has been shaped by the Islamic written word from borders to politics as well as the interactions between the Middle East and the West.

Just as the West used the Christian Bible to justify the wars of the Crusades, the Koran has been used as the basis and reasoning for wars and the actions of zealots that have catapulted the world into new dimensions of warfare of political stances. From defending their borders to initiating terrorist attacks, the religious words have been used to change the face of history.

Both religious texts have been used for good and to justify evil with both being enough to change the path of individuals, nations, and the world.

Social Causes

Many pieces of literature have risen up to fight for social causes. The vast majority have been tied into the religious texts, allowing them to use the power of the written word together to surge forth and change laws, policies, politics, and social orders. Here are just two that have helped to shape society as well as politics.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

It has been said that this book was the spark that set the fire of the American Civil War. The truth is that this is one of many works written against slavery, but it take center stage and lead the charge. Through the book, Harriet Beecher Stowe explored the many sides of slavery from the gentle owner who did not want to harm the slave yet was pressured by society to be harsh to the owners who had no qualms of separating mother and child and killing disobedient slaves.

Through the power of words written for all to read, the social topic of slavery was front and center and on the tongues of all citizens. The other side also rose up and used the written word to battle for slavery from religious and scientific viewpoints. Both sides realized that there was more power behind words than behind the actions and speeches of politicians. It was only when both sides got to a point of heated arrogance did all words break down and war exploded on the scene.

The end result was a nation torn apart and rebuilt, society sent down a course that would be a rollercoaster ride for generations, and a society that would have to readjust itself to new dynamics. This would eventually spill over into international relations.

The Jungle

This is one piece of literature that flies under the radar many times, but the effects of its publication is felt every time a person bites into any piece of food in the United States and in many cases beyond.

Upton Sinclair through the use of a fiction novel was able to bring to the public’s attention the disgusting and unsanitary conditions found within plants that processed foods from butchered meat to the ingredients within sausages and such products. What the public was consuming made even the most stout stomach take a flying leap. The publication of the book had government representatives and social activists looking into the truth of what when on behind closed doors. They were appalled at what they found. The result were stringent food preparation laws that only grow each year and keep the public safe.

This one book is the reason for the ingredient lists on the foods you buy, the gloves and hairnets worn by food preparers, and clean conditions where the food is prepared. Who says fiction can’t change the world?


None of these sections really stand alone. The impact of religious written texts inevitably spread over into society and politics. Social pieces of literature impact religious individuals as well as the political powers that sway a government. It is more divided on where they originate from. So we can’t leave out how the written word has come from the political arena and the impact it has had on nations and the world.

The Enlightenment Works

To pick one piece from the Enlightenment that impacted the world is hard, but the books that came from that period changed history dramatically. The early Americans, still British citizens, were reading the authors of the Enlightenment. They were inspired by the words and used many of the European writers as the foundation for their Declaration of Independence and that of the Constitution of the United States.

How did this change the world? America became a major powerhouse on its own, impacting many of the nations around the world over the last few hundred years. The thoughts of the Europeans written down to share with others during the Enlightenment helped to propel a colony to rebel and step out on its own. The result has forever changed the face of the political globe.

Political Pamphlets

Politicians have known since the written language was constructed and shared with the masses that speaking has power, but the written word can carry further and allow the power to last longer. They have used it quite well since then.

Political pamphlets were a powerful tool used in the early days of the printing press. Politicians would write their stances on a particular topic in pamphlet style and then scatter them about the city. Everyone would read them and talk about the words the politician had penned. This would then shift over into loud voices from the masses that strong armed politicians and helped to change laws and political moves.

This also made its way into newspapers where politicians sometimes spent bottles of ink and quite a bit of money to argue points back and forth. Many laws seen today were created through such powerful means.

Yes, But…

Yes, guns and swords, treaties, and political marriages have all changed the course of history. But it is the power of literature that has been forgotten. Through the written word, much of history’s path has been redirected. Words are powerful. And when placed on paper, their effects can last for generations.

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store