From Gutenberg to Luther

64826Printed book cultures in Scandinavia before 1525 were formed by their vicinity to expanding European book markets. Collections of prints were founded, decisions on printing books in Scandinavia were based upon thorough knowledge of what printers on the continent achieved in question of volume, quality and price. Building on a large database of contemporary provenances and statistical analyses of every possible aspect of peripheral book markets, as well as on new readings of many old and new sources, this book recalibrates scholarly looks on Scandinavian book history before the Reformation. The result is a fresh portrait of a dynamic period in cultural history which places Scandinavia, though in the geographical periphery of Europe, in the middle of European printing.

Fun, right?!  Brill have sent a copy (PDF) for review.

The volume is comprised of the following chapters:

Introduction
1 Printing in and for Scandinavia before the Reformation
2 Scandinavian Book Trade and the European Context
3 Book Collections and Collectors: Churches and Monasteries
4 Book Collectors and Collections: Universities and Schools
5 Book Collectors and Collections: Private Owners
6 The Reception of Printed Works
Conclusion: Transnationalism and a Model for Scandinavian Pre-Reformation Book History

These are followed by a series of technical appendices:

Appendix 1 The Malmö List
Appendix 2 Books from the Principal Pre-Reformation Danish Religious Libraries
Appendix 3 The Lecturer’s Library in Slesvig
Appendix 4 The Inventory of a House Belonging to the Bishop of Odense, 1530–1532

And the work concludes with:

Bibliography
Index

The great benefit of this careful study is the light it sheds on the stage upon which the Reformation played out in far Northern Europe.

We are informed, on the very second page, that

Scandinavian book history must be understood as an integral part of European book history and examined in the light of European information and communication circuits and with all participants considered. This study will re-evaluate Scandinavian pre-Reformation book history, locating it within transnational structures and networks of printer-publishers, merchants and bookbinders, and customers and readers. Its primary concern is not intellectual history but the material history of printed books and images (p.2).

And so our author commences a thorough historical investigation of that culture, showing that not only were libraries often quite small but that before the Reformation some were shrinking. In one example, a Scandinavian library went from 127 books in 1461 to 76 in 1525 (footnote 3).

There are also very many charts and tables.  For instance, here’s one which shows the cost of books in the period under consideration.  The greatly varying costs are quite extraordinary:

Untitled

The book collections belonging to monasteries and churches, universities and individual readers all reveal the presence of not only large numbers of books but also a wide array of authors and works that are in keeping with the reading habits and literary canon found elsewhere in Europe (p. 312).

From first to last we are instructed in Scandinavian book culture.  We are the recipients of important details gifted us by the author of this volume, details which we find nowhere else in a convenient form ‘under one roof’ (as it were).

The drawback of the volume, of course, is that it is too brief and too narrowly focused.  I say that because what we need now is a volume which moves to the South and discusses book culture in the Germanic lands in the same period of time.  That volume; a volume such as that, would be a windfall to Reformation scholars.  My hope is that our author, a very gifted academic, will write such a volume in the very near future.

In the meanwhile, until that happens, Reformation scholars should take full advantage of the volume at hand.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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