The author addresses his reader (click to enlarge - 713 KB jpeg image)

The author addresses his reader (click to enlarge - 713 KB jpeg image)


Most of what we know about the circumstances and dates of composition of Mancinelli's works comes from the elegant Ciceronian letters that preface individual works. They were usually reprinted with the original dates in later editions. The prefaces had a dual function. They situated individual works in Mancinelli's network of patronage; and they were meant to stand as samples of humanist letter writing which could be studied and explicated in class like any other specimen of good prose. Mancinelli's early prefaces were addressed to his students or former students, or to their parents. They assume a community of learners centered upon the school of the master. The dedicatees were usually urban professionals, often themselves intellectuals -- canon and civil lawyers, doctors, notaries, and theologians. For the early works, almost all of them were natives of provincial Velletri. This fact of mid-range, local patronage bespeaks the professionalism achieved by humanist teachers in Mancinelli's generation. Mancinelli taught in institutional schools, and never, so far as we know, aspired to serve as tutor to an aristocratic family. Tutoring jobs of the sort were available and highly desired well into the sixteenth century; but it was in Mancinelli's day entirely possible for a humanist to have a teaching career without the benefits or burdens of personal, noble patronage.


Printing, of course, also played a role in this professionalization of teaching. In a private tutor's classroom there was little need for printed books, even after they were available, since one or two students could manage with a few manuscript copies and might even benefit from the exercise of copying their own texts directly from those owned by the master. By the fourteenth century, the growth of urban schools had created a demand for relatively large numbers of elementary schoolbooks and these were produced to standard patterns by commercial stationers. (20)  The application of printing to this production process increased the potential for standardized curricula and for teachers to work with ever larger numbers of students. Almost immediately, it also permitted the quick production and widespread diffusion of entirely new textbooks.


Mancinelli was well placed to take advantage of this novel publishing opportunity and he even referred to it directly in the first of his surviving prefaces, saying, in effect, that no one has done this task before, and that printing the basic rules on difficult points of grammar is labor-saving for the teacher and beneficial to students in that they can progress more quickly. The advantages Mancinelli cited were specific to the printed book. The teacher no longer had to dictate and correct manuscript textbooks for student use in the classroom. Students could move faster because they did not have to write out their own copies of basic books or correct faulty ones obtained from stationers. (21) Note that speedy learning of this sort is most beneficial to the student who is a quick study. Much medieval and Renaissance basic schooling was aimed at identifying early on which students had the gifts to go on to further study and weeding out the others. Mancinelli elsewhere expressed a later ideal that the moral value of study makes Latin useful even for less gifted students; but he adhered to older pedagogical principles sufficiently to feel that quicker students should be given the (now printed) means to move along at their own pace.

Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(20)  Gehl 1993, 56-70.
(21)  Mancinelli 1477b.

Posted by admin on September 19, 2008
Tags: Chapter Three

Total comments on this page: 16

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Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 1:

On Mancinelli’s prefaces and dedications, see now the essay in Lazzari 2005, 107-112.

February 24, 2009 2:30 pm
Paul Gehl on paragraph 2:

A very well nuanced description of the kinds of patronage available to Mancinelli is given in Dugald McLellan’s Antonio Mancinelli ad Orvieto, cit. at section 3.01, especially pp. 57-61 and 71-72.

June 14, 2015 10:11 am
cmoghadam on paragraph 2:

I find this statement about the availability of tutoring positions and Mancinelli’s apparent refusal to accept them telling about the philosophy of a humanist at the time, especially since tutoring jobs were “highly desired well into the sixteenth century.” Knowing what we know about humanism during the Renaissance, there could be several reasons why he would refuse such a position. One could be that Mancinelli was solely interested in educating as many students as possible, even if that meant refusing the benefits that came with “personal, noble patronage.” Similarly, it seems to me that humanists would advocate a sort of “mass education” or public education that did not rely on social class (perhaps with the exception of Montaigne). Mancinelli’s decision may very well have been working toward this ideal of education for all, which had now been made possible by the advent of printing.

February 3, 2016 4:13 pm
Paul Gehl :

Hi, CM! It is always difficult to speculate about motives absent specific evidence, but in Mancinelli’s case we have a rich body of prefaces and personal and business letters that address many of the points you raise. You are correct to see Mancinelli’s motives in the context of public education (though at the period we have to remember that that left out most working class people and almost all women). I think the key to his attitude is in his small-town origins, where a cadre of local notables wanted to improve education locally. It’s unlikely than any of them could see to see the results we do as a result of printing –really widespread literacy. But Mancinelli did recognize printing immediately as a tool for making his job easier and making his students’ work easier too.

February 3, 2016 5:17 pm
falone on paragraph 3:

I found this part very important because it shows that the mass production of print textbooks allowed a large population of learners to access some material and information more proficiently than with manuscripts. Also, the fact that the it promotes “standardized curricula” is appealing because by that, we can see the movement of one or two individuals leads towards the goal of a global movement, with some elaborated rules and principles. I would like to know hat kind of difficulties such a movement could have faced to finally be efficient because, as we know there is no (r)evolution without possible deadlock.

February 3, 2016 10:24 pm
Paul Gehl :

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that the “printing revolution” was not like a political upheaval. We think of it as revolutionary because it did in fact change the world; but it happened slowly everywhere and at different speeds in different places. Gutenberg first printed around 1450; Italians only got the technology in the late 1460s, and it did not really transform classrooms for another generation after that. Mancinelli offers a good study because he was an early adopter. And because he is attested as such. Many teachers probably experimented with print in a similar way, but their little textbooks do not survive to tell us about it.

February 4, 2016 4:55 am
falone on paragraph 4:

Does the end of this paragraph meant that with manuscripts students were more into the repetitive aspect (copy of the originals, imitation) of learning rather than the creative one? Knowing that the print is one of the best revolution that happened during the renaissance, we tend to ignore the fact that before that,some traditional methods and methodologies of knowledge transfers seemed to be efficient and effective. Should we forget the manuscripts and oral ages to only focus on the invention of the printing press? Should the old teaching and learning style absolutely lose their appeal to allow the to shine? I am just wondering because I am particularly interested in the relationship between past and new techniques in sciences since I know that the debate between old and new generation of scientists always exist.

February 3, 2016 10:51 pm
Paul Gehl :

You ask some big questions here, and they are ones that the advent of printing threw into high relief. The new, cheap, and standardized textbooks made many classroom tasks easier and they made it easier for students to take work home; but they did not immediately cause a revolution in teaching methods, mostly because teachers and schools were very conservative. Rather more than nowadays, educators valued traditional methods.

February 4, 2016 5:03 am
Abdoul Seth Compaore on paragraph 4:

Most teachers had had some education to humanist ideals and the theories of the humanism were universally accepted in the sixteen-century. Printing, and then the business of publishing came along as a way of popularizing and commercializing education. Even though education was strongly influenced by the Jesuit model and conservatism, this paragraph explained how great deal the widespread diffusion of textbooks had brought some advantages in the traditional way of teaching basic grammar rules to students. The paragraph also emphasizes the issues of incorrectness in the textbooks by limiting the mistakes populated by the manuscripts copies. It also provides students with meaningful older pedagogical principles. It depicts the quickness of the instruction and the curriculum. Most of all, Mancinelli put a stress on how well the publishing opportunity protect the integrity of Latin. My immediate assumption is this idea of the professionalization of teaching and a kind of mercantilism in the humanist way.

February 4, 2016 1:08 am
Paul Gehl on paragraph 4:

I’m not sure what you are getting at here, Abdoul, but you are certainly right that printing allowed the creation of textbooks as market objects in competition with each other for use in the schools. I don’t think this resulted in making humanists into merchants or humanism into a commercial enterprise, but it did mean that one part of the humanist achievement, went on the market in a way that was not true before printing. This is the import of my title Humanism For Sale.

The Jesuits are the subject of a later chapter, and you can actually read their educational work as an attempt to corner the market.

February 4, 2016 5:10 am
Emily on paragraph 3:

When discussing “a private tutor’s classroom,” are you also discussing the more elite class? If so, does class play a role in how and why these textbooks were used? For example, Montaigne pushed for a distancing from typical copying of manuscripts and instead encouraged exploration and deep reflection. In this case, would upper-class education add to the growing need for textbooks for exploratory purposes, or perhaps avoid textbook copies altogether?

February 4, 2016 10:12 am
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 3:

Hi, Emily. I don’t think there is an either-or here. Good teachers adopt the best textbooks, and though there are many other things that go into marketing textbooks, class is not very overtly one of them. Certainly, private tuition was restricted to the wealthy –either aristocrats or well-to-do merchant families– but the teacher will use the texts that best fits his/her students’ needs. What differs is that a private tutor can use pretty much any text, manuscript or printed, and tailor the curriculum closely to one or two students, while a schoolmaster is going to find distinct advantages in using printed texts that are designed for use by many students in a single classroom.

To your other point, Montaigne-style reflective reading and meditation, this was an ideal for most humanists, but it is largely a goal for intermediate and advanced students, not for grammar school kids.

February 4, 2016 11:23 am
Lkaxw6 on paragraph 4:

You mentioned earlier that humanism and humanistic teachings experienced a rather quick decline in popularity, and I was wondering if you agree that technological innovation was a main contributing factor in this abrupt decline. In my opinion, there must be an equilibrium of sort between education and innovation, especially from a humanistic perspective. While bulk printing allowed more students access to education, it also forced students to learn in a specified way that seems to contradict many humanist teachings. You touch on this with your comment that “speedy learning of this sort is most beneficial to the student who is a quick study”. While Mancinelli claims to be a humanist, it appears that as he becomes more invested in himself and innovating the “humanist classroom”, he loses sight of the ideals that shape humanistic education.

February 8, 2016 7:55 pm
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 4:

Innovation is never quite this radical in the fifteenth century and even less so in conservative areas like language teaching. While it is true that printing had the potential to standardize instruction across schools and whole regions, that happened only slowly and certainly did not come to fruition in Mancinelli’s lifetime. Moreover, Mancinelli never abandoned his humanist ideals. He was happy to adopt the new technology, but I think it was pretty much impossible for someone in his generation to make a radical break with the ideals he inherited from earlier humanists.

February 9, 2016 1:21 pm
KhalildRahman on paragraph 4:

Hi Dr. Gehl,

I may have missed it in another section, but I was wondering if there were any institutions or bodies that regulated what was printed/diffused? Of course there are examples such as that of Martin Luther who used the written word to express discontent with the censorship of the established church, but were there any measures in place to ensure that what was printed was not used to deceive the masses? The advent of technology that rapidly diffuses information seems to me as a double edged sword, with those whose agenda includes actually spreading useful knowledge with others whose agenda includes falsification of major historical events, revisions to fit a prescribed world view, etc. It seems as though with the cost of owning or running a printing machine, only the elite had the opportunity to spread knowledge, possibly to the detriment of others. As always with technology there is this potential for benefit or hinderance, and I’m wondering what other downsides, if any, there were to the introduction of print? (other than printing errors) I’m mostly thinking along the lines of how rewriting information by hand and story telling are two very effective ways to memorize information rather than simply reading printed words on a page and memorizing, which may lead to pacification in smaller tutoring style settings

February 11, 2016 11:55 am
Paul Gehl on paragraph 4:

To start with your last remark first, Khalil: Some commentators at the time insisted that having print copies so easily available would make memorizing less necessary and they worried about its effects. The ancient Greeks had the same worry, or claimed to, about writing itself. And of course, educational alarmists now claim that digital media are ruining the abilities of young people to think and read reflectively. The difference is that now we have neurological instruments that let us measure such things. We will know (to some degree) about how present day young people differ from their elders and even more about the next generation; what we do not know is how the earlier technologies changed ancient or early modern brains.

Regulation in the Renaissance was –to our eyes– unimaginably inefficient. Local governments could keep surveillance on and regulate local trade, but there were no systems to extend that control very far. Printing eventually spawned many attempts at press regulation and censorship, but, as Luther’s case demonstrates, it was not at all effective in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century; and even later, you just had to go to the next town with a willing printer to get something into print. Control of the market for school books was more effective in the sense that teachers had to approve what was used, but there was a lot of competition. The only case of a textbook that was really widely imposed is described in Chapter 5 below, for the Jesuit schools, and even there some teachers did not conform entirely.

February 11, 2016 3:31 pm

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