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J. Christopher Warner, The printing of dissertations in sixteenth-century Louvain. A reconsideration in light of other samples and factors

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The printing of dissertations in sixteenth-century Louvain. A reconsideration in light of other samples and factors

J. Christopher Warner  in De Gulden Passer, vol. 96 (2018), nr. 2, pp. 183–244


Understanding of the history of academic publishing in the Low Countries generally, and of the printing of broadsheet theological dissertations for Louvain University in the latter half of the sixteenth century specifically, has been much advanced by Malcolm Walsby’s recent study of a Sammelband of over two hundred bound examples in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). Walsby’s analysis of this volume is here in some respects supplemented, in others corrected, by directing attention to other specimens that survive in Belgian libraries and archives, by additional information concerning the Louvain printers who produced dissertations for the university in this period (Reinerus Velpius I and II, Jacobus Heybergius, Andreas Corthoudt, and Joannes Masius), and by consideration of the relevant historical circumstances in which these printers mostly operated, i.e. the conditions of social, commercial, and institutional crisis that were the result of war, the protracted garrisoning of soldiers in Louvain, and a devastating plague. Much is learned by these means, including the revelation that during the mid-1570s, contrary to what is understood to have been normal practice ever afterwards, no single printer held an exclusive contract to print dissertations, but different presses issued them concurrently; the attributions of dissertations printed by Reinerus Velpius I and II, much confused in presently the only published and online sources documenting the contents of the BnF Sammelband, can with some confidence be put right; there are exceptions, including two in the BnF Sammelband, to Joannes Masius’s usual practice of printing dissertations anonymously; and most crucially, though interpretations of this evidence must necessarily be tentative, the content and typographical features of dissertations – for example the relative numbers of their conclusiones in response to the quaestio, or the presence or absence of an ornamental frame, a date, the printer’s name or address, or the phrase ‘In Seminario Regis Catholici’ – represent responses to changing conditions during this period of calamity for the city and university, and thus afford tantalizing additional clues on the economic value and the political and academic meaning attributed to these prints.