0.03 Some Perils of Generalization
For Latin schoolbooks, which is my primary subject in this section, there are several terms (like “rudimenta,” which I mention here, or “manuale”) that should indicate elementary texts, but they simply aren’t used regularly, especially early on. This specific kind of description of intended audience is usually included later on in the title or in a preface or introduction where it will specify “for boys” or “for young people.” I discuss this further in chapter six, at 6.07 and 6.19
Although there was no uniform vocabulary to describe textbooks, were there some areas that attempted standardization of textbook vocabulary?
You are pointing to a commonplace in textbook history, that these books were literally used to pieces. But I also think we overstress this point too much. We still have a chance to find more examples. Just in the last ten years or so, copies of editions we did not know about (or did not know survived) have turned up, because librarians are cataloging online and their records show up internationally to be recognized by scholars. And we are far from having full cataloging still for many European libraries, especially those in small towns or private institutions.
It’s intriguing to think that a whole slew of textbooks could have existed that we simply don’t know about. It’s interesting to wonder where all these resources could have gone, since they no longer exist, while it seems as if something that was used in such a wide area should have had a better survival rate.
A new and highly useful resource on Leto and his students is the website http://www.repertoriumpomponianum.it
The group that runs the site has a conference scheduled for 2010 on “Percorsi di cultura libraria fra Quattro- e Cinquecento.” Proceedings from the last conference will soon appear in print: _Pomponio Leto tra identita’ locale e cultura internazionale._ Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Teggiano 3-5 ottobre 2008 (Roma: Roma nel Rinascimento / Teggiano: Parco Letterario “Pomponio Leto”, forthcoming ).
Well, I’m all for studying historical texts. But one of the basic principles is to look at them carefully on their own terms and avoid anachronisms at all cost. Generalizing is always a peril, and anachonism is among the problems we risk when we generalize. With reference to your specific observation, the peril is in overstating the identity of printed books. Standardization as we know it is hard to impose on early printed books. Certainly they are more standardized than manuscripts, but by our measures they vary immensely from copy to copy both in production terms and in patterns of use.
I tried to respond to this paragraph and after hitting “add comment” it disappeared so I will attempt again. I wonder if it was more beneficial to students in the Renaissance to recieve their education from teachers and regionalized texts rather than from mass printed materials. I agree that the classroom “affords us a window on groups of readers, but does not always give us a clear view.” This statement could not be truer as we face standardized testing efforts based on mass produced generalized text books which are used in classrooms. Students struggle to comprehend material and ‘keep up’ yet don’t actually learn and it is evident on their tests and in their interactions with one another in and out of the classroom. It does not really surprise me that students do not choose to expand their horizons by exploring older considerably more difficult texts of old.
It would seem to me that prior to the invention of mechanical printing presses the distribution of texts would vary from one another greatly, which would influence the overall learning of material in the texts by students. The ability to mechanically print texts led to standardized testing and teaching to the masses, removing the regionalizing. I think your point that “the classroom affords us a window on groups of readers” is still true and although the delivery of texts have become more standardized and consistent the view is still not clear. You state that as students grow intellectually as readers they “employ these skills with increasing degrees of individualism”, Educators are faced with a decreased level of overall understanding and comprehension of material in and out of the classrooms by the students who stuggle to grow individually in the face of standardized testing and mass production of classroom textbooks. I wonder if it was more beneficial to have students learn from regional texts created by their teachers.
You two have put your finger(s) on one of the things on our to-do list. We are developing a database of images in Humanism For Sale (and other pages from the books illustrated here) that will have details about the editions and the copies photographed. Our plan is to make it possible for you to link directly from the images here to the database, which will also include notes on design and marketing features of the books in question. All pending time and funding, naturally.
To SGaylard’s list I would also add page height & width.
Moral: The Devil is in the Generalizations
Thanks for this source.
These images are so intriguing — it might be helpful to give author, title, publishing date as the label for each image, rather than waiting for the reader find the same info in the text. I think this would allow for easier visual comparison.
Yes, the Devil are is the generalizations!
An important new contribution to the evidence available is Annemarieke Willemsen, Back to the Schoolyard, Brepols, 2008, which presents a broad range of physical evidence (archaeological to artistic) for the architecture, implements, and practice of medieval and early Renaissance classrooms. It is lavishly illustrated.