The Book in the Renaissance

Course Organiser: Dr Paolo Sachet
10-14 July

This course aims to provide participants with a comprehensive overview of the printed book during the Renaissance, broadly intended as the trans-European cultural renewal relying on the recovery of antiquity and spanning from mid-fourteenth century to mid-seventeenth century. Through a series of engaging seminars, students will be given the opportunity to explore the impact of printing at the dawn of the early modern era and to put the phenomenon in its appropriate historical context. After a preliminary insight into the concept of ‘Renaissance’, the first six seminars will focus on printing and humanism, with particular attention paid to those European printers who specialised in the publication of classical literature in Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as in the dissemination of the necessary tools for learning those languages (e.g., the Manutius, Froben and Estienne families).

The second half of the course (seminars 7-12) tackles six crucial topics, concerning printing in non-European languages and locations, the role of printing in the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, the rise of institutional censorship, and the practice of collecting Renaissance books through to the present day, especially in England. To encourage student involvement, classes will comprise: three visits to the libraries of the University of London (Senate House, Warburg Institute and SOAS); first-hand observation of several printed artefacts either borrowed from Senate House library or consulted in their digitised form; guided exploration of the main online repertoires (e.g., ISTC, EDIT16, VD16, ESTC, USTC, BsB and OnB digital libraries, Project Gutenberg, Europeana, DFG-Viewer, E-Rara, Gallica). The closing seminar will be devoted to a recapitulation, addressing doubts and curiosities in preparation for a final visit to the British Library and one last display of exceptional books.

Course Outline


1 What is the Renaissance? (including visit to Senate House)
2 Printing and Humanism in the Quattrocento


3 Humanist Printers: Italy (including visit to the Warburg Institute)
4 Humanist Printers: Germany and Switzerland
5 Humanist Printers: France


6 Humanist Printers: the Netherlands and England
7 Printing in Semitic and Eastern languages (including visit to SOAS Library)
8 The Rise of Vernacular Printing


9 Printing and the Reformation
10 Printing and the Counter-Reformation
11 Lay and Ecclesiastical Censorship


12 Collecting the Renaissance in Modern England
13 Recapitulation (including visit to the British Library)

Outcomes for Students

Participants will have the opportunity to hone their bibliographical and scholarly skills through a variety of challenging encounters with primary sources, including handling digitised copies appropriately. They will also be supplied with the necessary theoretical and practical tools to fully appreciate the many cultural, material, political, religious and economic aspects connected to printing as an agent of change and to the Renaissance as a founding era in the history of Europe and of modern scholarship. 

Recommended Introductory Bibliography

J-F. Gilmont, ed., The Reformation and the Book, Aldershot 1998
L. Jardine, Erasmus, Man of Letters: The Construction of Charisma in Print, Princeton 1993 M. Lowry, The world of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice, Oxford 1979
I. Maclean, Scholarship, Commerce, Religion: The Learned Book in the Age of Confessions, 1560-1630, Cambridge 2012
A. Nuovo, The Book Trade in the Italian Renaissance, Leiden 2013
A. Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance, New Haven-London 2010

Paolo Sachet obtained his PhD at the Warburg Institute, while working as a consultant in the London antiquarian book trade. He is currently a FCS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Istituto di Studi Italiani, Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano). His main research interest is the impact of printed books on the cultural history of early modern Europe, including the use of printing by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century governments, European textual scholarship on classical and patristic literature, and the history and collecting of early Italian printed books, especially those issued by the Aldine press. He has published on these topics in peer-reviewed journals and collective volumes.