Books in Early Modern Europe: A Discussion with Simon Franklin, Andrew Pettegree, and Arthur de Weduwen


If you are reading this, it’s probably hard—nearly impossible—to imagine a world without writing—without print, books, newspapers, signs, graffiti, advertisements, forms, letters, texts, internet memes, and New Books Network blogposts like this one. How would you do your work? How would you communicate with your friends and family? How would you learn about the world around you?

The historians in this conversation have written path-breaking books that deepen our understanding of an age when the written word was still emerging as a feature in everyday life. These books focus on different places—Russia and the Netherlands—where writing and print emerged quite differently but they share a deep erudition and ambitious methodological creativity in endeavoring to account for the ephemeral.

Simon Franklin is Emeritus Professor of Slavonic Studies at University of Cambridge, Clare College. His books include Writing Society and Culture in Early Rus, 950–1300 (2002), The Emergence of Rus, 750–1200 (1996), co-authored with Jonathan Shepard, and Information and Empire: mechanisms of Communication in Russia, 1600–1850 (2017), co-edited with Katherine Bowers. In The Russian Graphosphere, 1450–1850 (Cambridge UP, 2019) Franklin reconstructs with deep erudition and carefully contextualized sleuthing the concrete and conceptual ways in which people in Russia from the mid-sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries encountered various types of writing.

Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen are historians at University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Pettegree’s books include The Invention of News (2014), Brand Luther: 1517, printing and the making of the Reformation (2015), and most recently, The Book at War: Libraries and Readers in an Age of Conflict (2023). Arthur der Weduwen followed up his award-winning first monograph, Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century with the newly released State Communication and Public Politics in the Dutch Golden Age (2023). As has Simon Franklin, they have brought great creativity to the history of texts. Known for its now world-famous still life paintings produced by the affluent incubator of capitalism that was the seventeenth-century Netherlands, Bookshop of the World: Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age (Yale UP, 2020) shows us that what was going onto the canvases in the Dutch Golden Age paled in comparison to what was coming off the printing presses. With many unexpected revelations, this ambitious attempt to account for the (perhaps?) countless texts that did not survive demonstrates how the production, distribution, and consumption of books was central to economic, political, and cultural life in seventeenth-century Netherlands. They continue to collaborate on the Universal Short Title Catalogue and have also co-authored The Library: A Fragile History (2021).

Erika Monahan is the author of The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Cornell UP, 2016) and a 2023-2024 Alexander von Humboldt Fellow

Your Host

Erika Monahan

Erika Monahan is the author of The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Cornell UP, 2016) and a 2023-2024 Alexander von Humboldt Fellow

View Profile