Communities of Print


Dr Rosamund Oates & Dr Jessica Purdy, Manchester Metropolitan University

In 2018, the Communities of Print research network hosted a conference in conjunction with Chetham’s Library, Manchester. The conference sought to bring together a range of researchers from PhD candidates to ECRs to established academics who all shared an interest in the history of the book, the history of reading and the history of print culture. The edited volume, Communities of Print: Books and their Readers in Early Modern Europe, was born out of this conference. It sought to bring together a group of scholars who could provide a new perspective on book history through the exploration of the different communities across a large geographical area that were engendered by the production and consumption of printed material.

The Gorton Chest. Image reproduced with kind permission from Chetham’s Library, Manchester

The volume is split into three sections, each of which highlights a different element of early modern print culture in Europe. The first section focuses on the networks that book production and consumption created. So, Drew Thomas’ chapter provides an interesting overview of the production of counterfeit versions of Martin Luther’s texts that were sold in huge quantities in the German city of Augsburg during the Reformation. Julianne Simpson’s chapter examines the international sales network developed by famed Dutch printer-publisher, Christopher Plantin in the sixteenth century. The co-editors’ chapters are also featured in this section, and both take a localised approach to the study of the reception and circulation of books in early modern England. Rosamund Oates puts her detailed knowledge of the book trade in early modern York to great use in her consideration of the production and circulation of books in Yorkshire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, examining the ways in which a network of people purchased, lent, borrowed and exchanged books. Jessica Purdy’s work on the Gorton Chest parish library in Lancashire, founded in the mid-seventeenth century, provides an overview of the collecting practices employed in compiling this library and considers the marginalia and marks of readership left in these volumes by early modern readers.

The second section examines the communities of readers that were brought together by printed texts. In the first chapter of this part of the volume, Flavia Bruni deftly navigates the complex networks of readership within the religious communities of early modern Italy, highlighting the ownership, lending and borrowing of books by friars of the Mendicant Order. Flavia’s chapter is followed by Forrest C. Strickland’s exploration of book ownership and use by Protestant ministers in the Dutch Republic, and focuses specifically on their readership and application of works by the Church Fathers to their ministry before Michael A. L. Smith shifts the focus back to early modern England with his consideration of the voluntary devotional communities in the north west of England in the second half of the seventeenth century into the early decades of the eighteenth.

Having considered production and circulation networks in the first two parts of the volume, the final section of the work places the spotlight firmly on the different individual readers who read the same books at different points in time during the early modern period. Nina Adamova’s detailed exposition of the densely annotated copied of the Nuremberg Chronicle, once in the possession of various members of the Lancashire-based Gudlawe family and now held in Chetham’s Library in Manchester, uses the extensive marginalia to highlight the active nature of early modern reading. Next, Kathryn Hurlock’s chapter on the numerous readers of David Powel’s Historie of Cambria focuses on the role of Henry Tudor’s Welsh origins in the resurgence of interest in Welsh genealogy in the early modern period and demonstrates the Historie’s use by famous contemporary writers in the construction of their own works. The penultimate chapter of this volume, written by Catherine Evans, brings to the fore two of George Herbert’s poems, Sunday and The Church Porch, and seeks to rehabilitate their negative reputation by demonstrating Herbert’s guidance of his audience through his works, evolving his readers from a fractured community to a more homogeneous group. Tim Somers’ chapter completes the volume with a masterful examination of early modern micrography as a trend that provided a new way of reading at a glance popular texts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including the Lord’s Prayer and the Book of Common Prayer.

The process of bringing this book together was particularly stimulating, in that it provided the opportunity for the editors to work with a wide range of specialists in various book history-related fields of study. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience: Rosamund and Jessica were thrilled by the positivity and enthusiasm of their contributors to the volume, and would like to warmly thank everyone involved for their contributions.


Communities of Print: exploring relationships and networks through the print culture of early modern Europe
is published by Brill

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About the Editors:

​Rosamund Oates is a Reader in Early Modern History at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has published widely on the English Reformation, with particular interest in preaching and reading history. Her current research focusses on deafness in early modern England.

Jessica Purdy completed her PhD in early modern book history in 2021. She is currently a lecturer in Early Modern British History at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has a particular interest in reading history and the history of libraries in the Tudor and Stuart periods.

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