The Economic History of the Book

A.Y. 2021/2022
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The course aims to provide an historical analysis of books as objects and communication tools in different contexts, together with an examination of publishers' activities in different areas, with a focus on the economic and commercial ones. The course is designed to provide students with a long-term perspective for understanding current developments in the book world, including digital ones.
Expected learning outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:
Describe the history of, and developments in, print culture.
Conceptualise, contextualise, and discuss the history of printed communication and its marketing planning models.
Understanding and contextualize the political economy of reading.
Describe and analyse the basic feature of printed materials.
Assess the relationship between printed communication and its social, cultural, economic and political context.
Critically analyse the development of digital libraries and their societal impact.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Third trimester
Teaching method. Students will be able to participate remotely in livestreamed lessons according to the class schedule. Lectures will also be recorded and released using Microsoft Teams or ARIEL. All information will be communicated via ARIEL.
Program information. The program and reading list will not be changed.
Exams. Oral exams will be conducted online using Microsoft Teams, or in person, if allowed.
Course syllabus
The invention of the printing-press in the 15th century was the technological innovation that had the greatest impact on society until more powerful media were invented in the last century. This course will provide a rigorous historical understanding of the ways in which the printing revolution gained strength, thanks to the efforts of book producers in creating a market for this new commodity. We will analyze the birth of new professions within a novel economic sector; we will regard readers as purchasers and consumers. Our focus will be on the economic aspects of this epochal change. In order to provide a long-term perspective on book history, this course will take into consideration more recent developments of the publishing sector, including mass-digitization of printed books and the e-book market and readership. The course comprises students' presentations and discussions, and visits to special collections for a hands-on experience with early printed books and other primary sources.
[Program with reference to descriptor 1 and 2]:
Gutenberg and the invention of the printing-press. The spread of printing-press in Italy. The printing-press in Venice: reasons behind the success of Europe's first capital of book production. Technological aspects: the organization of work in the printing workshop. The distribution and sale of printed books: development of booksellers' networks. The fairs model vs the branch distribution model. The publishing mark and its protection. Book privileges: the political economy of states in the printed book sector. Aldo Manuzio and the humanistic publishing. The great dynasties of the European press. Demand and supply in the book world. The book shop and its management. The Index of Forbidden Books and the control of the printing sector. Publishing in Europe in the early modern age: the Plantin-Moretus dynasty. Books and knowledge society: how printed books changed the world (spread of Humanism; Reformation and Counter-Reformation; knowledge development in medicine, architecture, science...). The great publishers in the twentieth century. The contemporary publishing industry in Italy. Mass digitization of books (Google Books). E-books and reading in the digital era.
Prerequisites for admission
Teaching methods
In-class lessons combined with practice exercises and library visits. The students are invited to develop several themes independently and to report and discuss them with participants during the class hours.
Teaching Resources
The material in preparation for the exam consists of resources made available on the Ariel platform, possibly from supplementary essays and from the volume Federica Formiga, L'invenzione perfetta. Storia del libro, Bari-Roma, Laterza, 2021, pp. 1-7, 15-22, 27-86, 123-139, 161-178.

[For non attenders]:
The preparation for the exam consists of the study of the following volume:
Federica Formiga, L'invenzione perfetta. Storia del libro, Bari-Roma, Laterza, 2021.
Assessment methods and Criteria
The evaluation takes place by means of an oral exam: test questions to verify not only knowledge and comprehension but also communications skills about the themes in the course. The subject of the evaluation will possibly be the oral report presented by the student to the class.
Lessons: 60 hours
Professor: Nuovo Angela Maria
Educational website(s)