Skip to main content

Disciplining History. Censorship and Historiography in Early Modern Europe

Final Report Summary - DISHIS (Disciplining History. Censorship and Historiography in Early Modern Europe)

Objectives and scientific impact
The project Disciplining History: Censorship and Historiography in Early Modern Europe was developed by Cesc Esteve at the research group Seminario de Poética del Renacimiento [Renaissance Poetics Seminar] ( between May 2012 and April 2014, under the scientific and academic supervision of Professor María José Vega Ramos, the scientist in charge at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona [Autonomous University of Barcelona] (Spain). The project approached the study of relationships between censorship and historiography on three fronts: 1) by drawing up a detailed description and systematic classification of authors, works and genres of historical literature on the sixteenth century indices of prohibited and expurgated books; 2) by using case studies to analyse the reasons why those historiographical works placed on the indices were prohibited or expurgated, and what the repercussions were; 3) by making a comparative analysis of the manifestations of censorship discourse and the various modalities for the control of history among the institutions, instruments and persons wholly or primarily concerned with censorship—that is, the ideological, doctrinal and legal discourse established in the indices, rules included in the catalogues, pragmatic sanctions and, in general, any statutory measure intended for the surveillance of texts and ideas—and disciplinary writings, in other words, the theoretical and normative or prescriptive discourse established principally in treatises or arts on the writing and reading of history, in treatises and commentaries on the education of princes and the art of governing, in commentaries on historiographical works and in preliminary writings (dedications, prologues, authorisations, endorsements, censures) in chronicles and works of historical narrative.

Apart from specific results obtained in the course of the project in the form of publications and dissemination measures, Disciplining History has made three major contributions to its field of study. Firstly, it has helped fill a substantial gap in the knowledge of the history of the censorship of historiography in the Early Modern period by undertaking a much-needed systematic classification of the historiographical works indexed in the catalogues of prohibited and expurgated books. This task has enabled us to provide an overview of the censor’s control of historiography within a broad temporal, geographical, political and cultural framework, since the classification ranges from the first indices of the University of Paris in 1544 to those of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions promulgated in the 1580s, and also includes the indices of Leuven and Antwerp, Venice and Milan and the catalogues of the Roman Inquisition published in the second half of the sixteenth century. This classification gives the scientific community a kind of map of repression and of the Church’s control of history and supplies a supranational, comparative context that enables us to compare and contrast the censorship policies (such as criteria, instruments, and degrees of effectiveness) of the various institutions involved in the surveillance of printed matter and to reach a clearer understanding of the conditions of censorship actions in specific authors and texts.

The second significant contribution made by this project stems from the application of a broader and more versatile conception of censure and censorship to the study of the ideological control of history. This has enabled us to gather together and compare, as modalities of the same disciplining discourse, explicit institutionalised forms of surveillance and repression (such as the suppression and expurgation of texts and censorship prior to publication) and ways of defining history and setting the standards to regulate it (for example, by formulating theoretical principles and methods for the research, reading, and writing of history and by introducing a professional ethic for the historian). In the latter case, the ideology and instruments and practices of control and censorship operate in an implicit, often ‘soft’ fashion and are inherent in the convictions, precepts and arguments that support how historiography ought to be. This way of understanding censorship has enabled us to identify points of contiguity and discursive complicity between ideas and practices traditionally confined to two separate if not opposing spheres: ideological control and political repression on the one hand, and the formation of knowledge (in this case, historiographical) on the other.

From this derives the third relevant contribution that this project has made to the history of modern historiography: it has allowed us to reconsider the relationships between censorship and historiography and to study the former, not merely as a force that conditioned, obstructed or hindered the progress of historiography as a science for spurious reasons, but also—since censorship is present in the discourse of historiographical theory and criticism—as a force with significant positive and productive effects on shaping history as a knowledge discipline. Seen in this light, the project helps rethink the role of ideology and politics in the process of social and cultural advancement of historiography in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and points to the need to revise the way this role fits into the modernisation of the science of history.