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Medieval and Early Modern Studies: From Manuscript to Print: Media Change in the Low Countries


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


The invention of printing at around 1450 fundamentally changed the world of text and image production. Literary production and written communication within the medieval manuscript culture can be characterized by the limited – if not small – numbers of copies of texts for an elite literate audience. Printing made possible the mass production, distribution and consumption of texts, in which an ever increasing group of actors could participate: authors, editors, translators, artists, printers, publishers, booksellers, bookbinders, and, most importantly, readers.

This fundamental ‘media change’, which can be compared to the transition from print to digital in our own time, has been the subject of much scholarly research and debate in recent years. However, the development in the Low Countries, where printing started in the 1460s, is still in need of further investigation, in spite of the fact that the city of Antwerp, which in the decades around 1500 accommodated a large number of printer pioneers, became one of the first printing capitals of the world.

This course looks at the effects of the media change from manuscript to print in the Netherlands. It will address questions concerning the interconnectedness of literary culture (in the widest sense) and the emerging art and commerce of printing. Did the printing press create new genres of texts in the fields of literature, religion, history and science? What was the effect of printing for (private) reading and new audiences? When and how did the new techniques of textual production became successful commercially and culturally and how did they relate to other trades and industries? How did printing effect the traditional production of manuscripts? In what way did the authorities, secular and ecclesiastical, react to the new medium? Did ‘the book’ change in its physical presentation, including the use of illustrations?

We will study these questions on the basis of international discussions in the field, but applied to a number of case studies from the Low Countries. Students select a topic for their own research using both primary and secondary sources, culminating in an oral presentation and written paper. The course includes excursions to several libraries and collections and a special meeting on the relevance of our knowledge of the media change at the end of the Middle Ages for the current transition to the digital age.

Course objectives

  • Students will obtain an insight in the (international debate on) transition of textual production, dissemination and consumption from manuscript to print during the period 1470-1540;

  • Students will learn to initiate, formulate and implement productive research questions;

  • Students will gain practical experience in working with rare primary source material;

  • Students will be able to reflect on the causes and effects of media change, in the past as well as in the present.


The timetable is available on the Arts and Culture and the Resma Literary Studies website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminars 13 × 2: 26 hours

  • Literature and preparation: 13 × 4: 52 hours

  • Writing paper (including reading/research): 202 hours

Assessment method

  • Reviews of essays from the reading list (15%)

  • Presentation (25%)

  • Paper (60%)

ResMa students that take this course will write a paper that reflects the demands of the Research Master. That is, they will have to formulate more complex and original research questions than the MA students, include a critical positioning towards the state of the art of its subject, and produce a longer paper (7000 words including bibliography instead of 5000 words).


The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Reading list

  • Communication

Reading list

The reading list will be announced via Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. G. Warnar
Prof.dr. P.G. Hoftijzer