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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

EUI - European Strategies for Printing and Popularising Renaissance Medicine

Awarded: NOK 2.2 mill.

Project Number:


Project Period:

2019 - 2022

Subject Fields:

How was the innovative communication technology of its time, the printing press, put to use in Early Modern Europe to disseminate medical knowledge across borders both linguistic and literal? Comparing related texts in several languages, published in different towns with various audiences in mind, reveals how that knowledge was adapted to local conditions. What changes, and what remains unchanged? When a new form of communication technology removes barriers to sharing knowledge, new voices emerge, and new groups can absorb information they previously had no access to. It happens today on the Internet, and it happened with printed text in the 15th century, when the invention of the printing press made it easier, quicker and cheaper to produce text. Established players may find themselves facing readers and interlocutors unfamiliar with the written and unwritten rules of the game, while new players now can find a place for themselves. The early printers needed to match their publications to the right audience. It was not easy to tell in advance which books would sell, and as their yearly output was limited the choice to publish a given text was an important and difficult one. The plague tract was a reliably popular genre, and as such a relatively safe bet. Over the course of the 15th century, more than a hundred such plague tracts were printed, in Latin, French, German, Italian and several other languages. They all draw from the same well of established knowledge, developed and conserved by the faculties of medicine, based on a corpus of texts in Greek, Latin and Arabic. In the large university towns, such as Paris and Bologna, a system for producing handwritten texts for student use had been put into practice. These are the conditions under which the new printers worked, when they had plague tracts translated to the vernacular and printed. It was no longer necessary to read Latin in order to access these texts. At the same time, the cheaper printed books were still not cheap; far from everyone would be able to afford a printed plague tract. While interest in these books was likely high -who wouldn't want to learn how to escape the plague? However, a reader looking for practical advice risked disappointment. The learned authors of the early printed plague tracts were often more interested in definitions and references to authoritative texts than practical matters. By tracing how texts and knowledge spread through Europe we can learn how knowledge was shaped by, and shaped, the art of print.

Doktorgradsavhandlingen har nådd en tilfredsstillende ferdighetsgrad på normert tid.

A book history project examining selected early modern medical texts in order to track the development of the book as information technology. Compares Renaissance instructional compilations in French, English and Italian, with reference to the Latin tradition, in order to establish how different writers and publishers reacted to the challenges and opportunities of print. Medical books aimed at the layperson were mostly written by academics. Both bridging and often seeking to control the gap between learned and popular knowledge, the medical manual is uniquely suited to a transnational, comparative and interdisciplinary approach combining intellectual and cultural history. The international web of production and circulation the printed book developed, and developed with, is today undergoing a profound change as it encounters new, digital forms of communication. In order to respond to these changes, we need to understand just why books are the way they are.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam