"Book Project: Legal Books and Beyond in the Iberian Worlds. Normative Knowledge Production in the Age of Printing Press". - Max Planck Studies in Global Legal History of the Iberian Worlds

Research Project

This collective volume aims at better understanding the phenomenon of early modern normative knowledge production in the Iberian Worlds, by combining legal historical research with the categories and methodologies of book history and media history.

The first volume of this series “Max Planck Studies in Global Legal History of the Iberian Worlds” (Knowledge of the Pragmatici) has highlighted the importance to focus on media such as pragmatic normative books, related to the sphere of canon law and moral theology, for understanding how normative knowledge reached a wider audience, thus contributing to the normative literacy in the Early Modern Iberian Empires. Moreover, the second one, (The School of Salamanca: A Case of Global Knowledge Production) has for the first time explored the School, seen both as an epistemic community and a community of practices, as a global network of normative knowledge production.

This volume project somehow pushes the discussion further by taking another perspective. The aim is to observe from different angles the case of a specific pragmatic book, written by an author belonging to the school of Salamanca, which was both emblematic and extraordinary: Manual de Confessores by Martín de Azpilcueta (1492-1586). By “bridging the gaps” between the worlds of book history and legal history (Hespanha, 2008), the book aims at assessing if and how the analysis of the global production, circulation, and consumption of this pragmatic book (Darnton, 1982), could contribute to the understanding of the early modern normative knowledge production in the Iberian Worlds.

The Manual had an extraordinary success: it was a real best-seller in the early modern period. Mainly produced and largely used in Tridentine and Post-Tridentine Europe (Turrini, 1991; Angelozzi, 1981), it had a ‘global’ circulation, being omnipresent, from the New World book trade to Asian libraries (López Gay, 1959; Rueda, 2005; González Sánchez, 2011). But Azpilcueta’s case is also emblematic of the instability of normative knowledge in the age of the printing press (Jonhs, 1998): an incredible number of editions, translations, and compendia circulated between the 16th and 17th centuries, storing and mobilizing in different media forms, languages, and settings, the normative knowledge contained in the Manual. Of course, only very few of them were supervised by Azpilcueta himself.

In this book, it is not (only) a matter of looking at the authorial transformations in the editions supervised by Azpilcueta during his life, but rather to open up the observation field to the huge universe that escaped Azpilcueta’s control, which primarily followed the logic of the book market. In other words, looking at a specific case, the book aims first of all at understanding the role of the book market in normative knowledge production. We try to explore the different factors that made the Manual to become a bestseller. Moreover, together with the book, the contributions are be also looking at all the different media forms, not only printed (such as additions, integrations, compendia) but also manuscript (handwritten excerpts, compendia, and critical reactions), that originated from the book itself.

More in general, the idea is to put Azpilcueta’s Manual in a global perspective, by analysing its global production, circulation, and consumption from some concrete, local, observation points on the Globe. In other words, the aim is to see if and how this global bestseller served and was adapted to the local needs, as well as to analyse if and how, in the different geographical, political and religious context, the Manual contributed to the ‘legal literacy’ (Korpiola, 2019), reaching different kind of readers: from learned canonists to common people.

As a starting point, the contributions could consider investigating the following dimensions, that allowed the more recent historiography to put “in motion” Darton’s “communication circuit”: the “materiality”, “sociality” and “spatiality” of the production, circulation, and use of the book (Bellingradt and Salman, 2017).

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