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Reading Publics in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Renaissance Europe



Despite burgeoning interest in print culture, the history of the book, and reception studies, much empirical and critical work remains to be done on the rise and development of reading publics in early modern Europe. Printed books helped to create and reinforce important networks of readers founded upon intellectual, social, and ideological interests. At the same time, however, designations of the Renaissance as ‘the age of print’ make it easy to forget that manuscripts circulated widely and scribal culture retained a powerful presence, creating its own sets of social relations (often very different in nature from those transacted in print, even when the same individuals were involved). Aside from the ongoing need for closer investigation of both these media in relation to questions of material production, diffusion, and socio-cultural contexualization, the realm of book consumption has been particularly neglected. By consumption, we mean the effects of print and manuscript culture upon the act of reading and its broader implications (religious, ideological, intellectual, literary), for both individual readers and networks of readers. Kallendorf (Virgil and the Myth of Venice, 1999), for example, has shown how Venetian readers of Virgil formed a closely knit community, one whose social and political values were mapped onto the classical text and whose reading in turn contributed to the shaping and consolidating of Venetian ideology.

Closer study of these fields and questions (in both print and manuscript) has been facilitated by rapid developments in scanning and digitization, which have begun to make available, often in unprecedented numbers, new primary resources and materials. And yet, the availability of these resources not only varies greatly depending on language, author, country, and period, but also calls for careful methodological reflection. The workshop will offer an opportunity to compare digitized versions with the physical inspection of manuscript and printed copies, in order to provide students with a clearer sense of digitized resources available (and planned) for the study of textual communities in early modern Italy, France, Spain, and England; and, at the same time, to prompt scrutiny of the advantages, problems, and limitations of digitization.


PROGRAMME LEADERS: Prof. Simon GILSON, Dr David LINES and Dr Maude VANHAELEN (University of Warwick), with Dr. Paul F. GEHL, Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing at The Newberry Library

The programme aims to address all the above issues. Three themes will be used to explore and contextualise how books, both Latin and vernacular, both in manuscript and in print, were produced, distributed, and consumed. A key set of questions to be addressed throughout are:

  • the role of reading in fostering networks, developing ideas, and forging (shared) ideological beliefs;
  • consideration of the differences (and similarities) between print and manuscript cultures and their impact upon reading communities;
  • comparisons between reading practices and networks in Italy and other European countries.

The cycle of activities will consist of:

a. a one-day comparative workshop on reading publics and the religious controversy in sixteenth-century Italy and England at Warwick, 11th November 2011; schedule here. (Word Document)

b. a one-day workshop examining the constitution of reading publics in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Europe (France, Italy, Spain, and England) at The Newberry Library, March 19th 2012. Further details here.

c. a two-week workshop for competitively selected participants at Warwick, July 9-20 2012. Further details of the programme here.




Pietro Cerone

Pietro Cerone, El melopeo y maestro, 1613. Author portrait. Newberry Case VMT 6 .C416m