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Tribulations of academic book publishing — in the 16th century (the Lyell lectures 2010)

by on June 8, 2010

Professor Ian Maclean delivered the Lyell Lectures in Bibliography for 2010, under the title ‘Scholarship, commerce, religion: the learned book in the Age of Confessions, 1560-1630. ‘

In taking us through the operations of the market in learned books, one that faced transformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, as it does now, Professor Maclean examined the relationship between learning and the hard, sometimes grubby, mechanisms for giving communication a material form.

The personalities of patrons, publishers, authors and agents, introduced in the active if not very admirable figure of Melchor Goldast von Haiminsfeld (1578-1635), emerged throughout these lectures, each holding particular religious convictions, personal ambitions and business rivalries.

Goldast, for one, was not above using deception to promote publications, a theme which resonates today as scientific publishers feel the tensions of scholarly peer review, patronage (now from industries) and struggles for priority.

Religious divisions were interposed between learned books and readers. These were often expressed in censorship imposed before or after publication. Ensuring that a book reached publication required courtly skills of diplomacy as well as business sense.

Meanwhile the shifting of economic power within Europe unsettled traditional markets and opened new ones, requiring new practices in promotion and retailing.

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