8.01 A Market for Humanism
The issue of teachers publishing their own books certainly has resonance today. Some scholars are pilloried (in my view, rightly so) for requiring students to purchase privately published course readers at exorbitant prices. On the other hand, I myself did a primary source reader for Italian Renaissance courses (Blackwell, 2004) because I got so frustrated with finding one that suited my own teaching needs. I have made precious little money off it, but that was not the reason I published it.
“Humanism for Sale” is surely parallel to numerous other self-published (non-text-) books, some of which have had impressive circulation over time. Having just taught it to a class of ten graduate students, I can say that it provoked lively discussion on numerous levels, including of course the contrast between printed texts and online texts. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I was struck by how easy it was for the students to gain access to this text: whereas several other excellent monographs from the past decade now cost well over $100 and, if not purchased, must be obtained via interlibrary loan, “Humanism for Sale” popped right up on students’ computer screens. Perhaps, as “Google Books” becomes more comprehensive (see Tony Grafton’s recent essay on the subject, online in the New Yorker, I believe), the contrast in access will be less stark; but for now, surely, it is highly significant. This mode of publication fills a need that I suspect is rapidly increasing.
Re.03. The identification of humanism
and the humanist movement in early
modern Europe with elementary
Latin pedagogy in its commercial
forms trivializes humanism. Yes, there
is always a connection between
education and its commercial uses
and value. But, again, a distinction
needs to be made between the
philosophy of humanism as a world
view, on the one hand, and one of its
most rudimentary components:
i.e. the teaching of Latin grammar
and its transmission via little sayings supposely culled from Latin authors.
Yes, elementary Latin grammar was
sold — and sold successfully — as
you have shown. But I find
it confusing and reductive to identify
humanism with the teaching of the
mechanics of one language.
Re .03. I think it is much too sweeping a generalization to say that a hallmark of
humanist thought was the use of
commonplaces. A hallmark of
humanist pedagogy yes. But of
humanist thought, no. To say this
would be to suggest that humanism
(the rediscovery, cultivation, and
preservation of the once lost thought
and literature of Greece and Rome)
itself consisted in, or could be
boiled down into, slogans.
The idea of “retailing commonplace thoughts” gives a whole new slant to the notion of “intellectual property,” since things bought and sold (even ineffable things) do amount to property. (Indeed, when such things go into print, they cease being ineffable.) What’s interesting in this Renaissance context, though, is that private ownership of the property is not prized. Commonplaces are “common” property whose value lies precisely in their commonness, and the student/teacher/orator establishes his (or her) worth by demonstrating command of the common stock of wisdom (which might be “ownership” of a different sort). This whole attitude toward a commonly-held “intellectual property” obviously speaks to a different conception of selfhood in the Renaissance, to different conceptions of ownership (one wonders how this might be reflected in legal documents), and (obviously) to different conceptions of the author/artist. I think the whole notion of the wholesaling/retailing of classical culture is very fruitful and provocative.