Prof Brian Richardson

Print and Trust in Renaissance Italy

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


Printing introduced not only a new technique of reproducing texts, but also a more commercial ethos in their production and distribution. Scribal culture, in contrast, depended on social capital and interpersonal trust, being network-based and mainly non-commercial.


In Renaissance Italy, an age already anxious about the merits of trusting and of being trustworthy, those responsible for publishing texts in print needed to make new kinds of claims about the reliability of their books. They asserted increasingly that works had been carefully corrected. However, the principles followed by editors were not always sound and proof-correction was often inadequate. Furthermore, the authenticity of some printed texts could be compromised by the stricter censorship imposed by the Holy Office in the second half of the sixteenth century.


Publishers’ claims about the trustworthiness of printed translations also became more prominent during this period. Trust could be elicited indirectly through the reputation and prestige of publishers, but evidence of the origins of an edition could be falsified. The trend towards asserting trustworthiness in print, as opposed to manuscript, seems to respond to a growing awareness on the part of readers that their trust was being stretched increasingly thin.


Brian held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship from 2005 to 2008, working on the circulation of literature in Renaissance society with particular reference to manuscripts and the spoken or sung word. In 2009 he was co-investigator in a Workshops project, supported by the AHRC, on Scribal Culture in Italy, 1450-1650.


Brian gave the Panizzi lectures for 2012 at the British Library on the topic of Women, Books and Communities in Renaissance Italy (podcasts and slides here). In 2011-15 he was principal investigator of a project, funded by the European Research Council, entitled Oral Culture, Manuscript and Print in Early Modern Italy, 1450-1700. He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003.

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