Conférence : Ann Blair, « Paratexts and Print in Renaissance Humanism », Londres, British Library, 9-10, 12 décembre 2019

Three lectures by Ann Blair on paratexts and print in Renaissance humanism.

Mon 9 Dec 2019, 19:00 – 20:00
The Impact of Printing on Paratexts

The first of three lectures by Ann Blair on paratexts and print in Renaissance humanism.

How do we know what to expect from a book? Our first impressions are typically formed not from the text itself but from the paratexts which surround it, such as dustjacket and blurbs, title page, table of contents, preface, index. Paratexts have a history, as their norms and forms have varied across cultures, genres, and time periods.

Gutenberg’s invention in mid-15th-century Europe made it suddenly possible to produce hundreds of copies of a text with unprecedented speed and at significantly lower cost per copy. But the new technology also required high expenditures upfront which needed to be recovered through the sales of as many of those printed copies as possible. Thus one of the new functions of paratexts in the age of print was to attract buyers. Learned books especially needed to appeal to readers far beyond their original context of production in order to sell enough copies, because they posed significant barriers to access: they were among the largest and most expensive printed books and they were written in Latin, a language common to the educated across the continent, but inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. How did this new expectation of a broad and impersonal geographic circulation transform paratexts in the transition from a manuscript culture to the age of the printed book?

Tue 10 Dec 2019, 19:00 – 20:00
Experiments in Humanist Paratexts

The second of three lectures by Ann Blair on paratexts and print in Renaissance humanism.

Learned books in the Renaissance often featured abundant and varied paratexts. Some were designed to create authority for the book and its topic; others provided aids to the reader in navigating a long and difficult text. Some of the new paratexts devised by humanist authors and printers proved short-lived experiments; others had a long legacy (though not always continuous). Because they talk about the book and its text, paratexts offer unique insights into the process of producing the book and the various people and social dynamics involved in it, as well as the task and skills expected of the book’s readers.

Thu 12 Dec 2019, 19:00 – 20:00
The Limits of Paratexts

The final lecture by Ann Blair on paratexts and print in Renaissance humanism.

Surviving copies are typically the main evidence we have of the process by which early printed books were written and produced. But when we also have external evidence about the book’s production or reception, we can see that paratexts offer only a snapshot of hopes and ideals which were not necessarily borne out in reality. Paratexts were designed as representations of the production process and of the author’s (and others’) intentions rather than as information for the book historian. So we should read them critically or ‘against the grain’ without passing up the chance to learn from them (by reading ‘with the grain’).

The lecture is followed by a wine reception.

Ann Blair
is Carl H Pforzheimer University Professor at Harvard University, where she specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe (16th-17th centuries), with an emphasis on France. Her interests include the history of the book and of reading, the history of the disciplines and of scholarship, and the history of interactions between science and religion.


Informations pratiques :

Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road

Free | Ticket required

+44 (0)1937 546546


Florence Larcher

Florence Larcher est doctorante à l'Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Ses recherches sur les images de saint Roch en Italie de 1350 à 1680 l'amènent à étudier la peinture murale, la sérialité et l'itinérance des peintres.

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