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Cheap Print and the Academic Market: the Printing of Dissertations in Sixteenth-Century Louvain

Malcolm Walsby


Schools and universities were one of the main markets for cheap works in early modern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of students bought short grammars and other basic educational books that sustained printers in many regions. Yet interaction between the press and university faculties was not limited to such fare; the staff and more senior students also commissioned the printing of many other works. The large and complex treatises that today sit on the shelves of many rare book libraries throughout the world stand testament to their productivity. But it would be wrong solely to equate universities with these expensive statements of academic endeavour. By the second half of the sixteenth century, the doctoral students of many European universities began to have brief summaries of their thesis published by their institution’s assigned printers. In many cases, these summaries were so short that they fitted neatly onto a single printed sheet. As a result, much of this production has disappeared over the centuries. This is particularly true for religious dissertations produced in Catholic theology faculties. Our understanding of this type of ephemeral printing hinges on the chance survival of a small number of items that often only offer a few clues as to patterns of production and consumption of this type of cheap print. This study offers a rare opportunity to deepen our understanding of this publishing phenomenon through the analysis of a surprise discovery of a large number of Catholic dissertations bound into a single volume in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Miscatalogued and unknown to scholarship, this volume contains over two hundred single sheet items printed in Louvain for students of one of the most prestigious theology faculties in sixteenth-century Europe. This find revolutionises our knowledge of study cheap academic publishing in the Catholic Low Counties: previous scholarship had only unearthed three printed dissertations published in the city before 1601. The work of a number of different printers over just twelve years, this exceptional find enables us to study patterns of production over a short period of time. It will identify recurring traits and seek to establish a typology of religious dissertation printing in Louvain. The discovery of the Paris volume also allows us to address other important issues for which we previously had even less data: the question of the distribution and consumption of these single sheet items. The organisation of the imprints within this Sammelband points to a policy of systematic collection that reveals at least one way in which such items could be preserved for future reference. The attempt to create a thematic categorisation and the implications of the inclusion of duplicate dissertations are also analysed. Finally, the presence of annotations on a number of items are also examined in order to help us understand how and by whom this cheap print had been so carefully collected.
Les écoles et les universités étaient l'un des principaux marchés pour les ouvrages bon marché dans l'Europe du début de l'ère moderne. Des centaines de milliers d'étudiants achetaient de petits livres de grammaire et d'autres ouvrages éducatifs de base qui faisaient vivre les imprimeurs de nombreuses régions. Cependant, l'interaction entre la presse et les facultés universitaires ne se limitait pas à ce genre d'ouvrages ; le personnel et les étudiants plus âgés faisaient imprimer de nombreux autres textes. Les traités volumineux et complexes qui trônent aujourd'hui sur les étagères de nombreuses bibliothèques de livres rares dans le monde entier témoignent de leur productivité. Mais il serait erroné d'assimiler les universités à ces coûteux témoignages de l'effort académique. Dès la seconde moitié du XVIe siècle, les doctorants de nombreuses universités européennes ont commencé à faire publier de brefs résumés de leur thèse par les imprimeurs attitrés de leur établissement. Dans de nombreux cas, ces résumés étaient si courts qu'ils tenaient sur une seule feuille imprimée. Inévitablement, une grande partie de cette production a disparu au fil des siècles. Ceci est particulièrement vrai pour les thèses religieuses produites dans les facultés de théologie catholiques.
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hal-01519855 , version 1 (27-02-2023)


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Malcolm Walsby. Cheap Print and the Academic Market: the Printing of Dissertations in Sixteenth-Century Louvain. Andrew Pettegree. Broadsheets : Single-sheet Publishing in the First Age of Print / Pettegree, Andrew ed., Brill Academic Pub, pp.355-375, 2017, 978-90-04-34030-5. ⟨10.1163/9789004340312_016⟩. ⟨hal-01519855⟩
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