French 245A and Italian 215: Authors, Readers and Censors in Early Modern Europe: From the Printing of Books to the Management of Information (1450-1800)

Instructor: Professors Déborah Blocker and Diego Pirillo

This course fulfills the Critical Approaches and Methodology requirement for the DE in REMS.  It may also count as an elective.

This seminar introduces students to the fundamentals of book history (the invention of the printing press, the material forms of the book, and the development and control of the book market), but also to what in the field is now called scribal culture, that is the continued circulation of manuscripts during the age of the printing press and, more generally, the lasting and constant competition between books and manuscripts in the high culture of early modern Europe. The class mainly investigates the development of the book and manuscript markets in light of the larger question of how the Renaissance and the early modern period came to terms with the ‘overload of information’ that marked the early age of print, adopting new strategies to gather, store and appropriate knowledge. Particular attention will be dedicated to examining how information (mundane, political, literary and artistic, scientific, etc.) was produced and circulated, the guises under which it travelled, the ways in which it was policed and how it was received.

This seminar also has a practical purpose, which is to make students more capable of finding, describing, and adequately using the print and manuscript sources they will need to study in the context of their dissertations. All classes take place in the Bancroft Library and students will be exposed to a variety of rare materials during most sessions of the seminar. We also learn how to analyze and describe rare these documents (bibliographical description) and we discuss how libraries and archives developed and are currently organized when it comes to early modern materials. Finally, the course addresses the question of the growing availability of early modern print and manuscript sources over the internet, both investigating how they can be located and discussing the drawbacks of studying such materials in immaterial formats.

This course will be useful both to students of literature (in French, Italian, English, Spanish and Portuguese or German, as many of the fundamentals of book and information history are similar across Europe) and to historians in general. Historians of art, music and philosophy will also find the course of interest, given how important rare books and manuscripts sources now are for these fields as well.

The course deals with Europe as a whole and is taught entirely in English and, but many of the rare books and manuscripts studied are in French or in Italian, because of the instructors’ current specializations. For those students wishing to do the assigned bibliography exercises on either French or Italian materials a reasonable reading knowledge of French and/or Italian is needed. For those students possessing reading knowledge neither of French nor of Italian, alternative bibliography exercises in either English, German, Hebrew, Latin and/or Ancient Greek can be set up, in consultation with the instructors. All students will however be required to read all secondary readings in the English language, even when mostly French and/or Italian materials are discussed therein.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes