image of a Francesco Negro title page

Francesco Negro on a 1508 title page (click to enlarge - 867 KB jpg file)


At this point in each chapter, I give a quick summary of its contents.  The blog format is aimed at inviting discussion.  This spot right here is a good place for readers to offer comments on the overall structure of the book, the formatting of the  blog, and generally how the whole thing functions.

This Introduction describes the sources and methodological issues involved in studying the textbook history of the Renaissance. It also outlines some themes of the remainder of the book: moral instruction as part of elementary education, student-teacher relations, successful marketing strategies, and the growth of textbooks for vernacular language instruction.

Posted by admin on September 11, 2008
Tags: Introduction

Total comments on this page: 15

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barrym on whole page :

I have been navigating the Humanism for Sale website for about a week. It took me a little while to get used to the format, but now I really like the way it works. It’s a very different experience than reading a book. I find it easier to get an idea of the content as a whole, most likely because it’s so easy to go between chapters, much easier than flipping pages.

December 8, 2008 1:41 pm
pzelchenko on whole page :

Paul, I’ve been trying to sort out my frustrations about CommentPress. (There’s also a competing product called Diigo that I was comparing a couple of months ago.) I think the problem lies not necessarily in the products themselves, but possibly in the fact that works like yours are really already so practically comprehensive and complete that it seems almost a little late for individuals to interact with them.

If I were to get into this book (actually, I can’t wait to delve into the stuff on Erasmus!), I would need to set aside a significant amount of time — at my desktop computer. But the product is so well constructed already that it actually merits being locked up and printed so that I can read it in a comfortable chair! I also find myself looking for structure, illustrations, and so on, and being disappointed.

I don’t know if it’s my old-fashioned “book” mind that craves the staticity and controlled nature of a printed and bound product (would a younger, more postmodern reader prefer this format?) or if there is something objectively qualitative about a “ludic reading” experience (cf. Sven Birkerts) that calls for being away from the depths of the machine and precludes too much interaction.

Every discussion like this first calls to mind talmudist concentric marginalia and then the joyous “conversation” of scribbling notes in the margins of our own books. Maybe I just need to find more quiet time and space to be able to read these works carefully. I just went through the Rime of the Ancient Mariner online and I was fidgeting for half of it!

February 14, 2009 9:42 pm
Paul F. Gehl on whole page :

Thanks to both of you for your comments on usability. I think there is a problem for some readers when a long text with an extended argument is broken up into short bits. (See Diana Robin’s comment on the next section –took her just two posts to get frustrated). I hope better indexing will help this in future.

February 16, 2009 6:48 am
sgaylard on whole page :

Alas, I’m also a bit of an old-fashioned book fiend, although the idea of a book on a blog — a scholarly work that truly invites conversation — is marvellous. While I agree that it’s quite hard to read a scholarly text like this on a computer screen generally (eye strain, internet issues, clunky computer, etc), I think the text might be easier to read if it were possible to spread it out across the screen in two broad columns (like the “book” reading function in MS Word), rather than having all of the text squashed to one side while the comments and the contents fields occupy two-thirds of the screen. I’m not suggesting that comments and contents fields disappear — it’s lovely to be able to see them alongside the text — but perhaps the contents at least could be arranged horizontally at the top of the screen? Just an idea. I was also wondering if there’s a way to flag or annotate pieces of text for my own personal use to come back to next time I log in to carry on reading — ? Ironically enough, I do feel strangely “lost” in the text — despite the helpfully descriptive contents, I really miss being able to flip through the pages to get a better idea. Perhaps it just takes a little more getting used to (I’ve only been navigating the site for about a week).

March 31, 2009 10:22 pm
MQuinlan on whole page :

I really enjoyed this book! Many things I didn’t know, several good leads for furthering my research, and it’s always fascinating to see that textbook companies and the individuals that run them are following centuries-old patterns. In my field (visual arts) there has often been criticism of government censorship of the arts. At least as heavy a censorship, although much more subtly imposed, has been the bottom line of textbook publishing– what plates cost, which images are already licensed to profitable companies– all of this has much to do with what is easy or difficult to teach, and therefore what is taught. The internet is changing this somewhat, as it now is for book publishing in general. Go Gehl!

April 5, 2009 1:49 pm
MQuinlan on whole page :

Two further general comments:
1- Perhaps this has already been addressed by others, but the illustrations seem to have morphed over the course of the chapters from the somewhat less desirable (in my opinion) enlargements which occasionally make the original image smaller as they show it in its context (I think I had noted this at 1.07 par 2) to later images that I could see in detail (such as 6.03). I can see where others might prefer the whole book view however. Can you provide both?
2-I enjoyed the tone of the book, especially where the inevitable wrangling among scholars had broken out.

April 5, 2009 2:08 pm
Paul F. Gehl on whole page :

I am going to ask for help on this apparent change of aspect in the pictures, which was not intentional.

April 6, 2009 6:49 am
Paul F. Gehl on whole page :

Looking closer, it seems that this change really is more apparent than real. At some places in the text (as here) we have chosen to use partial, detail images in text and a full-page shot in the pop-up. Elsewhere the pop-up is merely and enlargement. In any case you should always be able to zoom in further on the pop-up by merely clicking on the portion fo the image that interests you.

April 14, 2009 12:48 pm
eardissi on whole page :

This is a great work. I appreciate the broad inquiry on a main field, not so well known. It is important for Italian history of learning, schooling, literature, piety. The format is perect, althought I hope it will became a book soon. Erminia Ardissino

June 7, 2009 8:39 am
John Vincler on whole page :

There is something wonderful about this image embedded as it is on this page. The detail photo given here (in section 1.08) of the comic strip-like illustration at first obscures the text embedded in commentary to which you refer earlier in this section. (The detail image of the “comic” shows the verso only; you must click on this to reveal the whole spread including the recto with the text and commentary.) This immediately calls to mind (for this reader) the meta-critical nature of the text you as author have created: that is a text that opens itself up for comment and critique. While your 21st century text is a dynamic, digitally morphing (not to say living and breathing) thing, the text you refer to is also an example of an earlier interactive project, evidencing a history of interpretation that required thoughtful planning and design to make sense of the polyphony of voices both authorial and critical/interpretive.

So much has changed and yet so much stays the same. This brings into sharper focus the messy business of “print culture.” We see the text embedded in commentary (e.g. the recto page of the photo illustration), we can think of the convention of the scholarly footnote, and then we can see CommentPress providing a newer digital model at work here in your text. (The “comic strip” provided in this same illustration, sets up another very different but parallel example.) This reminds me once again that “print culture” is never fully coherent, it can only point us towards the profound role technology plays in the process of interpreting old texts by adapting old or inventing new strategies for creating new texts. This process is never as neat and as linear as it may at first seem. And certainly not every innovation offers an improvement.

At this moment of profound change in scholarly publishing and experiences of reading, it is particularly useful to be jolted a bit out of the conventions of the book, so that we just might be better able (or at least differently able) to reflect upon the book in its various and sometimes wonderfully deviant forms. I know I’ve read someone else expressing this same sentiment (I think it was Roger Chartier):

Perhaps the computer can provide a site for scholars to better and more clearly examine the nature of the book…

September 5, 2009 11:56 pm
Paul F. Gehl :

Thanks, John, for drawing the analogy between the Renaissance commented page and the kind of dialogue we are attempting here at Humanism For Sale. In fact, the interplay of base text, commentary by several critics across nine or ten centuries, and illustrations in the new technology of print is exactly the kind of cumulative, collaborative scholarship we are hoping to promote. It already exists informally within circles of colleagues and friends, but putting it online changes the dynamic for the better and offers a (perhaps utopian) opportunity to enlarge the conversation still further.

I do think, however, that it is worth trying to figure out what is NOT staying the same. For me, the highly structured Renaissance page offers a hierarchy of authority that is not congenial today. Exactly because there are specialists out there who know more about a specific text than I do, my research report is open to question and correction. And because a number of artists and designers have made notes too, I have acquired new eyes for the beauty or interest of things that looked ordinary or even banal before.

Again, these comment fields let me add notes on things I am observing anew. For example, in this page the type in this detail from a title page seems to sag. This irregular effect sometimes actually occurs in early printing, but here it is an illusion caused by the way the photo was cropped to show just the text. In the fuller image given at 0.07, you can make out clearly that it is caused by the fact that the page would not lay flat for the photographer. For both conservation and aesthetic reasons, I prefer to have the bowing of the page shown, but just here it may cause some viewers to judge the facts of the printing wrongly.

September 13, 2009 3:28 am
Ken Gouwens on whole page :

This book is wonderfully rich throughout. I like having the images right with the text, and in such high quality that one can see a lot by enlarging them. How many printed books have plates that are remotely this informative or beautiful?
Sometimes I lost the thread from section to section when reading chapters on-screen. When I printed out some chapters in toto and read them the old-fashioned way, on paper, the problem vanished. Perhaps I’m just not a good reader of computer screens (are our students better at it, I wonder?).
Is there any way to make the footnote markers “live” so that one can click on them to gain access and return to the same place in the text? I ended up consulting far fewer of them as I read than I normally would do. Also, since the citations in the notes are overwhelmingly in short form, a live link to the bibliography would help immensely. Eventually I figured out I just needed to download the .pdf of the bibliography and keep it open on the side of the screen.

Thanks, Paul, for putting your book online! This is a great resource to which I’ll return again and again.

September 28, 2009 10:19 am
dyocum on paragraph 2:

“Humanism for sale” is a wonderful new way to make a scholarly contribution in such an important field of Renaissance studies. I look forward to finish reading the book.

May 24, 2010 2:33 pm
Anna Grau on whole page :

I love the interactivity of this project, but find it visually a bit overwhelming. I wonder how the parallel columns affect accessibility, for example via screen-reader technology.

October 11, 2018 1:35 pm
Paul Gehl :

Hi, Anna. You have put a finger on a real problem. This software was developed for reading on a screen and it does not read well on either tablets or smart phones. We have found this a major problem with undergrads, who want to be able to do their class assignments on their phones.

October 11, 2018 3:31 pm

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