The idea that underpins this project is to use the material evidence from thousands of surviving 15th-c. books, as well as unique documentary evidence — the unpublished ledger of a Venetian bookseller in the 1480s which records the sale of 25,000 printed books with their prices — to address four fundamental questions relating to the introduction of printing in the West which have so far eluded scholarship, partly because of lack of evidence, partly because of the lack of effective tools to deal with existing evidence. The book trade differs from other trades operating in the medieval and early modern periods in that the goods traded survive in considerable numbers. Not only do they survive, but many of them bear stratified evidence of their history in the form of marks of ownership, prices, manuscript annotations, binding and decoration styles. A British Academy pilot project conceived by the PI produced a now internationally-used database which gathers together this kind of evidence for thousands of surviving 15th-c. printed books. For the first time, this makes it possible to track the circulation of books, their trade routes and later collecting, across Europe and the USA, and throughout the centuries. The objectives of this project are to examine (1) the distribution and trade-routes, national and international, of 15th-c. printed books, along with the identity of the buyers and users (private, institutional, religious, lay, female, male, and by profession) and their reading practices; (2) the books' contemporary market value; (3) the transmission and dissemination of the texts they contain, their survival and their loss (rebalancing potentially skewed scholarship); and (4) the circulation and re-use of the illustrations they contain. Finally, the project will experiment with the application of scientific visualization techniques to represent, geographically and chronologically, the movement of 15th-c. printed books and of the texts they contain.
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