Universiteit Leiden

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Vernacular Books and Reading Experiences in the Early Age of Print

Wednesday 25 August 2021 - Friday 27 August 2021
Leiden University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden

About this event

In the first 150 years of European printed book production, the new medium of print evolved from its indebtedness to manuscript culture into a full-grown means of communication and articulation. It developed its own conventions and became ever more widespread, in a geographical as well as a social sense. At the same time, the development of print culture added new impulses to the dynamic relations between Latin and the vernaculars. Already in the early decades of print, commercial printers tried to cater to as large a readership as possible, including the ‘illiterate’: those who had little to no knowledge of the Latin language. While initially the majority of titles were printed in Latin, the vernaculars gained ground as languages of arts and sciences, commerce, religion, and literary expression. Reading in the vernacular could be a matter of preference or even of intellectual statement (e.g. cha mbers of rhetoric) just as well as a matter of literacy. It was at the crossroads of the readers’ specific needs and expectations, the technical possibilities of the press, and the expert knowledge and commercial interests of the printer and/or the editor(s), compositor(s), and woodcutter(s) that vernacular reading experiences took shape.

This conference explores how reading experiences were shaped both by producers and users of vernacular books. By adopting an international and interdisciplinary perspective (combining book history, literary history, art history, religious studies, and history of knowledge) during the conference and within the foreseen volume, we aim to contribute to the next step towards a comparative study of printing strategies and users’ practices in the first 150 years of printing vernacular books in Europe. Placing studies of (reader’s responses to) books in various languages and with a variety of texts (scientific, literary, religious) next to each other, we hope to reach a transregional view and an interdisciplinary interpretive framework of the early printed vernacular book. Ideally, each session will contrast the perspective of the book producers with the perception of the users.

We approach reading as an embodied, material practice that is affected both by texts and their presentation, with a particular interest in the interplay between language, form and content, and between intended and actual readers. Apart from being read attentively, books could be viewed, selectively consulted, extensively annotated, modified in a variety of ways (by adding other handwritten or printed texts, by colouring images et cetera), or used as a prop. An increasing number of studies explore how matters of layout, paratext, illustration, and language were tailored to appeal to an intended readership. Similarly, substantial scholarly attention is being paid to real users’ practices by way of analysing the traces that they left in printed books. In both strands of research, however, there are still challenges in moving from case studies towards more comparative, synthetic overviews. With respect to traces of use, their singularity is an important issue. Equally, translat ion or p resentation strategies are often signalled in studies of individual vernacular texts – or of texts in a single vernacular, or a single genre. Through its comparative and interdisciplinary outlook, this conference and the foreseen volume aim to make inroads into these challenges.

For more information, please refer to the programme. Attendance is free, but please register via this link.

The ludo scachorum, Dutch, Gouda: Gerard Leeu, 1479. The University of Manchester Library, Incunable 17262
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