Italian Incunabula in Cambridge: LRBS Short Course

Monday 11 - Tuesday 12 May 2020, Cambridge University Library

Register here

Cost: £180 Standard | £140 Student, including lunch and refreshments

Date and time: 10:00-16:45, Monday 11 - Tuesday 12 May 2020

Location: Cambridge University Library, West Rd, Cambridge CB3 9DR

Contact: Eleanor Hardy (020 7862 8683) 


This short course starts from a collection-based approach to explore how the introduction of movable-type printing changed the way of producing and circulating culture in the Western world in the fifteenth century. It makes use of incunables held by Cambridge University Library. It focuses on incunables printed in Italy or known to have circulated in Italy. Advanced seminars will explore the new printing processes, material features of the printed books, the transmission of texts and images from manuscript to print (and back again) and their early reception. In addition to examining dozens of incunables and learning to write research-based catalogue descriptions, participants will learn to make use of new digital tools for researching and cataloguing early printed books and images.


Eight seminars as indicated in the schedule below.


No assessment is required. However, participants will have the opportunity to write or enhance a catalogue record for use in the Material Evidence in Incunabula database (MEI) or the 15th-Century Illustration database (15CI).

Day 1 - Monday, 11 May 2020 Describing Italian Incunabula

10:00 - 11:00 Introduction: Features of Italian Incunabula

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15 - 12:15 A Brief History of Early Italian Printing

12:15 - 13:30 Lunch

13:30 - 14:30 Making Incunabula

14:30 - 14.45 Break

14:45 - 15:45 From Manuscript to Print and Back Again

15:45 - 16:00 Conclusions

Day 2 - Tuesday, 12 May 2020 Researching Italian Incunabula

10:00 - 11:00 Illustrations in Italian Incunabula: New Research Tools

11:00-11:15 Break

11:15 - 12:15 Case Study: Chronicles (Fasciculus temporum and Supplementum chronicarum)

12:15-13:30 Lunch

13:30 - 14:30 Provenance Research and Italian Incunabula

14:30 - 14:45 Break

14:45 - 15:45  Cataloguing as Research

15:45 - 16:00 Break

16:00 - 16:45 Practical Exercise: Creating Catalogue Records

Other Expectations

  • Regular attendance. Due to the object-based discussions, attendance in person is crucial.
  • Bring a laptop. This is in order participate fully in the final activity.
  • Core readings. Read at least three texts in advance of the course. For these purposes, a text consists of a single article or a single chapter. If a full book is listed, the intended text is the introduction; if you would like to go deeper, a second text could include any chapter of your choice.

Core Readings

  • Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century Now in the British Museum, vols 6–8.
  • Gutenberg-Jahrbuch.
  • Incunabula Project Blog, Cambridge University Library, 2010–present.
  • Private Lives of Print: The Use and Abuse of Books 1450–1550, online exhibition, Cambridge University Library, 2014,
  • Lilian Armstrong, The Impact of Printing on Miniaturists in Venice after 1469, in Printing the Written Word: The Social History of Books, circa 1450-1520, ed. by S.L. Hindman (Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 174-202.
  • Cristina Dondi, ‘The Venetian Booktrade: A Methodological Approach to and First Results of Book-based Historical Research’, in Early Printed Books as Material Objects [see below], pp. 219–228.
  • Elisabeth Giselbrecht and Elizabeth Savage, “Printing Music: Technical Challenges and Synthesis, 1450–1530,” in Early Music Printing in German-Speaking Lands, ed. Andrea Lindmayr-Brandl, Elisabeth Giselbrecht, and McDonald Grantley, (London; New York: Routledge).
  • Lotte Hellinga, Texts in Transit: Manuscript to Proof and Print in the Fifteenth Century (2014)
  • Laura Nuvoloni, Aldus Manutius: A Humanist Printer for Humanist Readers, online exhibition, Cambridge University Library, 2015,
  • Victoire Massena, Études sur l’art de la gravure sur bois à Venise. Les livres à figures vénitiens de la fin du XVe siècle et du commencement du XVIe (Florence: Olschki, 1907-1914), i-vi (Facsimile: Torino: La Bottega d’Erasmo, 1964).
  • David McKitterick, Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450–1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2003). Especially chapters 3–4.
  • Nigel F. Palmer, ‘Blockbooks: Texts and Illustrations Printed from Wood Blocks,’ Journal of the Printing Historical Society new series 11 (2008) 93-118
  • Ed Potten, Emily Dourish, et al, Emprynted in thys manere: Early Printed Treasures from Cambridge University Library (Cambridge: Cambridge University Library, 2014)
  • Brian Richardson, Printing, Writers and Readers in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
  • Early Printed Books as Material Objects, Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, Munich, 19-21 August 2009 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010)
  • Eric White, Editio princeps: A History of the Gutenberg Bible (2017)

This event is run in collaboration with the Cambridge University Library and the Book and Print Initiative