0.02 Regionalisms

The narrative in this online book proceeds episodically and topically rather than in chronological order for one reason. There was no single history of educational publishing in Italy at the period. Textbook authors and publishers often had large ambitions, but textbook markets were largely local and regional. (10) Every city and town had teachers with needs the new technology of printing could address. Even the publishing histories of some highly popular textbooks break up, after a first or second edition, into separate histories of their exploitation in different local or regional markets. Chapter five will explore one international publishing success; but we will find that even the highly centralized Jesuit order had difficulty unifying the curriculum in its Italian schools.

We may recognize four aspects to this Italian textbook regionalism. First, printers respected and continued certain practices of manuscript production for the schools. In traditional pedagogy, every teacher was to some degree an author of the texts he used. Even texts in longstanding use were modified at almost every copying for the specific needs of a given classroom. (11) Teachers in the first age of print were unwilling to relinquish this sovereign power to customize texts, even though the easy availability of printed textbooks encouraged the opposite behavior, standardization. Teachers could at every period create local, miniature markets. Perhaps the most extreme case in sixteenth-century Italy was that of Evenzio Pico, a grammar master who spent his career teaching in Ancona and published one textbook in a single edition directed entirely at a market of his own students. (12)

Secondly, the humanist pedagogy in its ascendancy just as print came along emphasized the use of classroom texts as sources of imitative composition. An essential tool of such pedagogy was paraphrase, a classroom practice that promoted the instability of texts by encouraging readers at all levels to rewrite texts repeatedly, often phrase by phrase. Erasmus (ca. 1466-1536) was an influential exponent of this sort of mimetic paraphrase, but he did not invent it. It was a commonplace of humanist pedagogy and it contributed to the fragmentation of markets for textbooks. (13) We will discover a revolt against this practice in the mid-sixteenth century, but one that emphasizes how commonly teachers expected to rewrite textbooks for local use, even those that represented editions of classic texts.

Thirdly, educational conservatism, a constant in every period, meant that even the most obvious and salutary reforms of textbooks were adopted only slowly. New titles relied on the marketing power of their authors, and old ones continued in use in some schools long after they had gone out of general use. Even before 1400, humanist writers started to complain about the Doctrinale of Alexander of Villa Dei (1175-1240); but it was the best selling intermediate grammar of the fifteenth century and was still in use in some schools in the early seventeenth century. In other markets, as we will see, self-consciously archaic textbooks -- medievalizing in content and design -- were offered as alternatives to what some teachers and parents saw as over-modern methods.(14)

Lastly, marketers often chose to publish local authors as such, either because they had some local reputation as fine teachers, or because there was some advertising value in their status as local celebrities. Perugia had a particularly strong market of this sort. The city's most famous humanist was Francesco Maturanzio (1443-1518), whose works were published Europe-wide, but who also had a local reputation that ensured he would be reprinted at Perugia into the seventeenth century. A century later, Marcantonio Bonciari (1555-1616) had a similar if smaller publishing fame, centered in Perugia but extending to Rome and Venice. A different fate awaited Maturanzio's student Cristoforo Sassi (1499-1574), who was professor of rhetoric at Perugia. His grammatical textbook got at least twelve editions in the latter half of the sixteenth century, but it could not really be considered influential since the book did not succeed in Venice or Rome. (15) Sassi was published mostly at Florence, where he could be considered a Tuscan celebrity.

Modena, by contrast to Perugia, had no very lively publishing tradition. A grammarian there like Giovanni Briani (active 1570-1600) could not hope for even the regional reputation of Sassi. Briani's entire output was printed at Modena. Neither his original Latin grammar nor a primer he edited ever got a second printing. Books like Briani's were probably not true market products at all; they aimed at use in a single school. In economic terms they were subsidized, non-competitive products like many other humanist publications. In some cities, moreover, the progress of the Counter-Reformation worked to encourage the purchase of local (and locally censored) books in preference to those imported from outside Italy or even from suspiciously heterodox Venice. (16)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (10) On such localism, Sandal 1986, 248-249, 255; Houston 2002,120-123. A clear index of the persistence of local markets is offered by the way two Neapolitan grammar masters dominate the South Italian inventories at the very end of the century analyzed by Campare 2006, Cosi 2006, and Ottone 2006. For some perceptive pages on regionalisms in the larger humanist movement, Cox 2003, 687-689. Another example of the value of inventories for studying textbook history is offered by Franceschini 2003, 52-54.
  • (11) For examples, Kind and Rix in their introduction to Erasmus 1963, 6-7; Villa 1984, 263-271; Black 2001, 126.
  • (12) Pico 1560.
  • (13) Greene 1986, 11-17; Copeland 1991, 83-86; Moss 1999, 148-154; Jeanneret 2001, 247-256; Frazier 2005, 192-202.
  • (14) On educational conservativism generally, Sandal 1986, 243, 301-306; Rummel 1995, 15-17; Jensen 1996, 70-71; Black 2001, 270-273 and 2007, 50; on the Doctrinale, Ford 2000, 161-168; Milway 2000, 118, 121, 135-136.
  • (15) The earliest recorded printing in fact was made at Venice in 1562 by Giovanni Griffio, who was certainly an effective distributor to the school market; but that book is very rare today, suggesting it had no great success. All the later printings were at Perugia or Florence.
  • (16) Briani 1581; Donatus 1585. On Sassi and Perugian provincialism, Carlsmith 2002, 215-216. For the comparable case of Brescia, Querini 1739, part II, 1-76; Veneziani 1988 and Signaroli 2003. On Naples and localism in an earlier period, Santoro 2007, 40-44. On Counter-Reformation localisms more generally, Ceriotti 1999, 491-496.
Switch to Dark Mode
Show Comments