In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women and the Book Trade

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Renaissance and Reformation Women and the Book Trade
Helen Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0349


Interest in women’s work in the Renaissance and Reformation book trades has been stimulated by the maturation of two important scholarly fields: the study of women’s literature and history, and the history of the book. Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance (Pettegree 2010, cited under General Overviews) exemplifies the ways in which recent scholarship has established the emergence of print as central to the production and articulation of national identity, religious reform, and international scholarly communities. The books and articles listed in the first half of this bibliography reveal much about women’s participation in the book trades across Europe and into the New World, but also make it clear that there is significant work still to be done, both in the form of individual, local, or national case studies, and in the form of ambitious comparative research. Seeking out the particularities of women’s engagement in the work of publication and with the products of the early modern book trade not only illuminates the operations of printing and bookselling in this period, but also pushes scholars to take a wide view of “publication” and of the role of consumers (purchasers, readers, and patrons) in shaping the print marketplace. The second half of this bibliography, largely but not wholly restricted to the English example, details important work on women and manuscript or scribal publication, how women entered into print and were presented (or presented themselves) as female authors, how print itself was imaginatively gendered, and women’s influence as buyers and readers.

General Overviews

The works listed here constitute influential overviews of the emergence and influence of printing with movable type. Bell 2002, and Erdmann 1999, along with chapters included in Aquilon and Martin 1988, are specifically concerned with the work of women; Johns 1998, Raymond 2006, and Rostenberg 1971 are attentive to questions of gender while not taking women’s work as their central focus. Eisenstein 1979, Febvre and Martin 1958, and Pettegree 2010 offer essential accounts of the development of printing in Europe. Spufford’s important account of literacy (Spufford 1981) includes details of women’s engagement with books as readers and sellers.

  • Aquilon, Pierre, and Henri Jean Martin, eds. Le livre dans l’Europe de la Renaissance. Paris: Promodis, 1988.

    A collection of papers delivered at an international conference held in Tours in 1985, with sections on (1) bookmaking and material bibliography, (2) sociocultural aspects of major printing centers, (3) publishing enterprises and programs, (4) scholarly publishing, (5) religious warfare and propaganda, (6) and libraries and collections. Includes chapters from Postel-Lecocq (“Femmes et presses à Paris au XVIe siècle: quelques exemples,” pp. 253–263), and Beaud (“A propos des éditions grecques de trois officines parisiennes (1539–49),” pp. 197–208).

  • Bell, Maureen. “Women Writing and Women Written.” In The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Vol. 4, 1557–1695. Edited by John Barnard, D. F. McKenzie, and Maureen Bell, 431–452. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    A concise overview of women’s roles in book production and creation (focused on the London book trades), which argues that scholars need to pay attention to the material contexts of printing and publishing when considering the relationship between women and printed texts.

  • Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

    Seminal study of the emergence of printing, which emphasizes its impact on institutions, modes of thought and knowledge, and the emergence of the new science. Though Eisenstein’s technological determinism has been the subject of subsequent critique (e.g., Johns), the book, whose findings Eisenstein reprised in a single volume titled The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1983), remains a crucial study of print networks and the production of knowledge.

  • Erdmann, Axel. My Gracious Silence: Women in the Mirror of Sixteenth-Century Printing in Western Europe. Luzern, Switzerland: Gilhofer & Ranschburg, 1999.

    Erdmann, a Swiss book dealer, dedicated himself to collecting books published or printed in Europe between 1501 and 1601 by or about women, or published by women. The publication of this book coincided with the sale of his collection to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Part 1 details women in the book trades, while Part 2 collects biographical information on women writers, illustrators, and printers in early modern Europe.

  • Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. L’apparition du livre. Paris: A. Michel, 1958.

    A major survey of the history of printing, with detailed accounts of book production, book trade networks and mechanisms, and the visual appearance of the printed book. English translation by David Gerard, The Coming of the Book: the Impact of Printing, 1450–1800 (London: NLB, 1976).

  • Johns, Adrian. The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226401232.001.0001

    A major study of the print trades in 17th-century London, with an emphasis on the manufacture of credit in and through print. Johns is attentive to the work of women within the book trades, particularly as mercuries, and explores the overlaps between domestic space and the print shop.

  • Pettegree, Andrew. The Book in the Renaissance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

    Pettegree moves from the introduction of printing in Europe to the creation of a European book market; the role of the book in major social, political, and religious transformations; questions of scientific and medical practice; and the dissemination and collection of books. Throughout, Pettegree explores the impact of print, and the failures as well as successes of early book trade agents and their products.

  • Raymond, Joad. Pamphlets and Pamphleteering in Early Modern Britain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    Groundbreaking exploration of the pamphlet culture of early modern Britain, with a particular emphasis on the 17th century. Throughout, Raymond is attentive to the presence of women in the book trades, particularly as hawkers and mercuries. Chapter 7 addresses female authorship in relation to the pamphlet press.

  • Rostenberg, Leona. The Minority Press and the English Crown: A Study in Repression, 1558–1625. Nieuwkoop, The Netherlands: B. de Graaf, 1971.

    A still valuable study of oppositional printing for the English market by both Catholics and Puritans. Rostenberg is attentive throughout to questions of gender and women’s agency, providing details of women’s involvement in illicit print and their roles in maintaining recusant households and communities.

  • Spufford, Margaret. Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its Readership in Seventeenth-Century England. London: Methuen, 1981.

    An influential account of cheap print and its distribution. Spufford provides evidence of women’s work as hawkers and provincial booksellers. Reprint, Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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