Communicating the European Printing Revolution 1450-1500

Cristina Dondi - United Kingdom

Cristina Dondi is Professor of Early European Book Heritage in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Oakeshott Senior Research Fellow in the Humanities at Lincoln; she is also the Secretary of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL).

I grew up in Modena, Italy, and took my degree in Medieval History from Università Cattolica of Milan. I was an Erasmus student to Cambridge in 1990/91 an opportunity which shaped the rest of my academic and personal life. I took my PhD, also in Medieval History, at King's College, London, working on the liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades, and its adoption by the Military Religious Orders of the Templars and Hospitallers.

My work on incunabula started during my second year at King’s, after answering a job advertisment from the Bodleian Library: in 1996 I joined the team which was preparing the Library's Catalogue of incunabula, Bod-inc, which was published in 2005 in six volumes. I never left Oxford.

I was the first Lyell Research Fellow in the History of the Early Modern Printed Book, University of Oxford (2002-2005) and JRF at Lincoln College. My research on the production, distribution, and reception of all Books of Hours printed in Italy in the Fifteenth Century was published in 2016: Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy. The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre, Biblioteca di Bibliografia Italiana, 204 (Florence: Olschki, 2016), 754 pages.

Between 2009 and 2011 I held a British Academy Research Development Award (BARDA) with Prof. Nigel Palmer, Faculty of Modern Languages, for an investigation on "The Venetian Book-trade in the 15th Century: material evidence for the economic and social history of the Renaissance", for which I created the database Material Evidence in Incunabula, now the collaborative enterprise of over 400 European and American libraries and over 160 editors.

I received a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant (2014-2019) for the project "15cBOOKTRADE: An Evidence-based Assessment and Visualization of the Distribution, Sale, and Reception of Books in the Renaissance".

In December 2017 I was conferred the honour of “Cavaliere” of the Order of “Stella d’Italia” (OSI) by His Excellency The Ambassador of Italy Pasquale Terracciano on behalf of the President of Italy, during a ceremony at the Ambassador’s residence in London.

Research Interests
The Project Team uses the material evidence from thousands of surviving 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 objectives 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: 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; and 4. the circulation and re-use of the illustrations they contain. Finally, the project developed scientific visualization techniques to represent, geographically and chronologically, the movement of 15th-c. printed books and of the texts they contain over time and space.

To celebrate the end of the project and share its surprising results with the general public we organised a large exhibition in Venice, Museo Correr and Marciana National Library (1 Sept. 2018 – 7 Jan. 2019): Printing Revolution 1450-1500. Fifty Years that Changed Europe.

Session in-depth

The ERC-funded 15th-century Booktrade Project (2014-2019) assessed the impact of the new technology, printing with movable type, on the development of early modern Europe, by studying the books which still survive today in their thousands: who used them and how. Data from hundreds of European and American libraries were, and continue to be, collected in a large, international, collaborative database. A scientific visualization software was created to trace the distribution and use of books over time and space, and the formation and disperal of libraries.

At the end of the project a large and innovative exhibition at the Correr Museum of Venice introduced the public to its surprising results. The project was also able to capture the interest of the international media and broadcasting.