Early printed textbooks

Nicolas D'Orbelles, Venice, 1500

The most-printed titles of the early printed book market have little in common with today’s bestseller list.  Renaissance printers supplied a huge demand for theological books, including the works of the early Christian fathers and devotional works like books of hours or The Imitation of Christ.  Textbooks were also a best-selling genre in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  Latin grammar books for young  students were especially popular, though there is no way of knowing how many of these sorts of books were produced.  Unlike well-known monuments of early printing, schoolbooks were rarely preserved by the people who owned and used them.

Of the more than 400 incunables (books and fragments of books printed before 1501) in Special Collections, the bulk fall into the category of theological works: Bibles, biblical commentary, devotional works, and collections of sermons.  The incunable collection also contains several surviving textbooks which would have been used in universities.  The liberal arts curriculum in the medieval and renaissance periods included grammar, rhetoric, logic, mathematics, and astronomy.  Examples of textbooks from these subjects can be found in Special Collections — some with annotations from the scholars who used them.

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