The narrative in this online book proceeds episodically and topically rather than in chronological order for one reason. There was no single history of educational publishing in Italy at the period. Textbook authors and publishers often had large ambitions, but textbook markets were largely local and regional. (10) Every city and town had teachers with needs the new technology of printing could address. Even the publishing histories of some highly popular textbooks break up, after a first or second edition, into separate histories of their exploitation in different local or regional markets. Chapter five will explore one international publishing success; but we will find that even the highly centralized Jesuit order had difficulty unifying the curriculum in its Italian schools.


We may recognize four aspects to this Italian textbook regionalism. First, printers respected and continued certain practices of manuscript production for the schools. In traditional pedagogy, every teacher was to some degree an author of the texts he used. Even texts in longstanding use were modified at almost every copying for the specific needs of a given classroom. (11) Teachers in the first age of print were unwilling to relinquish this sovereign power to customize texts, even though the easy availability of printed textbooks encouraged the opposite behavior, standardization. Teachers could at every period create local, miniature markets. Perhaps the most extreme case in sixteenth-century Italy was that of Evenzio Pico, a grammar master who spent his career teaching in Ancona and published one textbook in a single edition directed entirely at a market of his own students. (12)


Secondly, the humanist pedagogy in its ascendancy just as print came along emphasized the use of classroom texts as sources of imitative composition. An essential tool of such pedagogy was paraphrase, a classroom practice that promoted the instability of texts by encouraging readers at all levels to rewrite texts repeatedly, often phrase by phrase. Erasmus (ca. 1466-1536) was an influential exponent of this sort of mimetic paraphrase, but he did not invent it. It was a commonplace of humanist pedagogy and it contributed to the fragmentation of markets for textbooks. (13) We will discover a revolt against this practice in the mid-sixteenth century, but one that emphasizes how commonly teachers expected to rewrite textbooks for local use, even those that represented editions of classic texts.


Thirdly, educational conservatism, a constant in every period, meant that even the most obvious and salutary reforms of textbooks were adopted only slowly. New titles relied on the marketing power of their authors, and old ones continued in use in some schools long after they had gone out of general use. Even before 1400, humanist writers started to complain about the Doctrinale of Alexander of Villa Dei (1175-1240); but it was the best selling intermediate grammar of the fifteenth century and was still in use in some schools in the early seventeenth century. In other markets, as we will see, self-consciously archaic textbooks -- medievalizing in content and design -- were offered as alternatives to what some teachers and parents saw as over-modern, internationalizing educational practices. (14)


Lastly, marketers often chose to publish local authors as such, either because they had some local reputation as fine teachers, or because there was some advertising value in their status as local celebrities. Perugia had a particularly strong market of this sort. The city's most famous humanist was Francesco Maturanzio (1443-1518), whose works were published Europe-wide, but who also had a local reputation that ensured he would be reprinted at Perugia into the seventeenth century. A century later, Marcantonio Bonciari (1555-1616) had a similar if smaller publishing fame, centered in Perugia but extending to Rome and Venice. A different fate awaited Maturanzio's student Cristoforo Sassi (1499-1574), who was professor of rhetoric at Perugia. His grammatical textbook got at least twelve editions in the latter half of the sixteenth century, but it could not really be considered influential since the book did not succeed in Venice or Rome. (15) Sassi was published mostly at Florence, where he could be considered a Tuscan celebrity.


Modena, by contrast to Perugia, had no very lively publishing tradition. A grammarian there like Giovanni Briani (active 1570-1600) could not hope for even the regional reputation of Sassi. Briani's entire output was printed at Modena. Neither his original Latin grammar nor a primer he edited ever got a second printing. Books like Briani's were probably not true market products all; they aimed at use in a single school. In economic terms they were subsidized, non-competitive products like many other humanist publications. In some cities, moreover, the progress of the Counter-Reformation worked to encourage the purchase of local (and locally censored) books in preference to those imported from outside Italy or even from suspiciously heterodox Venice. (16)


Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(10)  On such localism, Sandal 1986, 248-249, 255; Houston 2002,120-123. A clear index of the persistence of local markets is offered by the way two Neapolitan grammar masters dominate the South Italian inventories at the very end of the century analyzed by Campare 2006, Cosi 2006, and Ottone 2006. For some perceptive pages on regionalisms in the larger humanist movement, Cox 2003, 687-689. Another example of the value of inventories for studying textbook history is offered by Franceschini 2003, 52-54.
(11)  For examples, Kind and Rix in their introduction to Erasmus 1963, 6-7; Villa 1984, 263-271; Black 2001, 126.
(12)  Pico 1560.
(13)  Greene 1986, 11-17; Copeland 1991, 83-86; Moss 1999, 148-154; Jeanneret 2001, 247-256; Frazier 2005, 192-202.
(14)  On educational conservativism generally, Sandal 1986, 243, 301-306; Rummel 1995, 15-17; Jensen 1996, 70-71; Black 2001, 270-273 and 2007, 50; on the Doctrinale, Ford 2000, 161-168; Milway 2000, 118, 121, 135-136.
(15)  The earliest recorded printing in fact was made at Venice in 1562 by Giovanni Griffio, who was certainly an effective distributor to the school market; but that book is very rare today, suggesting it had no great success. All the later printings were at Perugia or Florence.
(16)  Briani 1581; Donatus 1585. On Sassi and Perugian provincialism, Carlsmith 2002, 215-216. For the comparable case of Brescia, Querini 1739, part II, 1-76; Veneziani 1988 and Signaroli 2003. On Naples and localism in an earlier period, Santoro 2007, 40-44. On Counter-Reformation localisms more generally, Ceriotti 1999, 491-496.

Posted by admin on September 16, 2008
Tags: Introduction

Total comments on this page: 15

How to read/write comments

Comments on specific paragraphs:

Click the icon to the right of a paragraph

  • If there are no prior comments there, a comment entry form will appear automatically
  • If there are already comments, you will see them and the form will be at the bottom of the thread

Comments on the page as a whole:

Click the icon to the right of the page title (works the same as paragraphs)


No comments yet.

pzelchenko on paragraph 2:

Fascinating. On-demand custom printing was not invented in the 1990s. In fact, there will be a curve away from customizability as industrialization increases: the page makeup processes get more specialized, presses become larger and faster, and the distance from man to work increases. Now we have a curve back toward the personalization. But the system is so complex now that teachers still can’t customize very well. What most teachers do for customization is photocopying.

February 13, 2009 11:28 pm
Lauren Madak on paragraph 1:

I find it quite fascinating that textbook markets were generally local and regional in early modern Italy, perhaps because I’m used to thinking of textbooks being standardized and marketed nationally. Are there any examples, though, of a regional market being influenced by an international one, or vice versa? I have the publishing market connections between Venice and London in mind, so I’m curious about the ways, if any, local textbooks markets may have been influenced by international ones for other types of books.

September 23, 2009 12:10 pm
Paul F. Gehl :

This is an interesting question, Lauren: one that has not been written about very much. One place you might look for hints is Kristian Jensen’s 1998 article on the fortuna of Aldus’s grammar–it is cited in the bibliography at humanismforsale.org. There is also some literature on Venetian publishing for markets in Hungary and the Balkans. Specifically on English customers for Italian books there is some literature too. I will have to look for it and give you furhter cites in a later post.

September 23, 2009 4:43 pm
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 7:

To the literature on the Brescian case cited in note 16, see now: Simone Signaroli, Maestri e tipografi a Brescia (1471-1519), Travagliato-Brescia, 2009, 35-37.

March 28, 2010 7:42 am
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 6:

When this paragraph was written (in 2008), the Donatus diligenter recognitus that Briana probably used in this school was known in a single edition. As of this writing (December 2010), EDIT16 shows four separate editions all known in single copies. By 1570s it was styled et nuperrime auctus and remained in print in the shop of Briani’s publishers until after 1590.

December 12, 2010 9:11 am
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 5:

Further on Maturanzio, see now the contribution of Erminia Irace and Maria Alessandra Panzanelli Fratoni in Maestri, insegnanti e libri a Perugia, Milano, Skira, 2009, pp. 138-143, including illustrations of books with his notes an commentaries.

January 24, 2011 2:44 pm
Abby Jordan on paragraph 4:

Very interesting! It seems like aspects of this continue today. In the trend of making texts that were in much older styles, was the content modernized, or was it too put into the context of older traditions?

October 6, 2011 10:26 pm
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 4:

As I go on to describe below, especially in chapter 5, both the content and the style of presentation were sometimes deliberately archaic. It is not exactly like buying antiques today, however, since the products were intended for immediate practical use. Not even like a modern printer opting for old-fashioned wooden type –that is practical, but not offered as the ideal model for modern printing.

October 7, 2011 9:25 am
indradjojo on paragraph 3:

The idea of paraphrasing struck me in this paragraph. While these readers would rewrite texts repeatedly,one of the ways students in the ancient times would memorise texts was by reading over and over again. However, paraphrase usually means a rewording of the text, so did these readers copy texts word for word or did they rewrite using their own words? What would happen to these copies too once they were written? Did they give them away?

October 11, 2011 10:52 am
Paul Gehl :

We really don’t have too many clear, direct sources to tell us how the compositions of students were done, but sometimes notes of the sort survive as scrap paper. Well into the 17th century, however, people used wax tablets for various kinds of note taking, and that is probably how these exercises were most often performed. Paraphrase as a formal exercise always means rewording; it is a way to imagine ideas anew and to learn what kinds of expression work best.

October 11, 2011 7:53 pm
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 5:

Maturanzio’s international influence is also documented by Ann Moss, Renaissance Truth and the Latin Language Turn (Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 200-205

June 12, 2014 8:33 am
ddreezee on paragraph 6:

Interesting to see the polarity of different printers in different markets. Protectionism is an ageless idea.

May 2, 2016 12:24 pm
Paul Gehl on paragraph 5:

Perhaps because it was a university town, Perugia had a livelier printing scene than one might expect from a small and provincial city. Dennis Rhodes points out (La Bibliofilia 117 (2015), pp. 231-234) that at least two grammar books published there now survive in single copies. That one grammar by the internationally known Giovanni Battista Cantalicio (d. 1515) and another by the obscure Angelo Fino (dates unknown) survive in this way suggests that the city had a micro-market for single editions of such works, presumably created at mid 16th century for a local school. Cantalicio is in fact another example of a Perugian master (he taught grammar there ca. 1488) whose textbooks achieved international status because they were publsihed in Siena, Rome, Venice and elsewhere. The Perugian edition mentioned by Rhodes is the only one known to have been printed there, and it dates from some years after the author’s death.

July 1, 2016 6:11 am
Paul F. Gehl :

Correction: As EDIT16 (the online bibliography of sixteenth-century Italian imprints) progresses, we now know of three other editions of Cantalicio’s textbook printed in Perugia. One of these editions is represented in a single surviving copy and the others have two and four known copies each (that is, known to date, of course). This argues further for a local tradition of a schoolmaster or masters in the 1570s and 80s who adopted this textbook, either for its intrinsic value or because of the tradition that Cantalicio had taught at Perugia. Another locality where the text got editions quite late is Florence. Then too, three of the rare surviving copies of the late Perugian editions survive in libraries at Assisi (which is just a few miles from Perugia), suggesting that there may have been a school there which adopted Cantalicio’s textbook some 70 years after his death.

September 27, 2016 8:25 am
Paul Gehl on paragraph 1:

Further to the matter of regional print markets for grammars, see Kristian Jensen, “Elementary Latin Grammars Printed in the Fifteenth Century: Patterns of Continuity and Change,” in Von Eleganz und Barbarei. Lateinsche Grammatick und Stilistik in Renaissance und Barock, Wiesbaden, Harrassowiz, 2001 (Wolfenbutteler Forschungen, 95), 103-123,esp. 113-115.

June 23, 2017 9:48 am

You must be login to comment.
Create an account or login