The Production of Knowledge of Normativity and the Early Modern Book Trade


The Max Planck Partner Group "The Production of Knowledge of Normativity and the Early Modern Book Trade" is one of over 90 Partner Groups worldwide, which are funded by the Max Planck Society and aimed at promoting research through international cooperation. Led by Manuela Bragagnolo, in cooperation with Thomas Duve, it is based at the University of Trento.

The aim of the research is to investigate the extent to which – following the emergence of the early modern book trade – the production, circulation and consumption of legal books had an impact on the production of knowledge of normativity. The intention for this Group is to examine this hitherto neglected topic by combining, in an interdisciplinary way, the methods and issues of legal history, book history and the history of knowledge, from a perspective that sees legal history as the history of knowledge. This takes up the advice of António Manuel Hespanha, who invites us to consider the development in jurisprudence not only as the result of ideas, born solely of the intellectual achievements of famous jurists, but also as the result of material and social processes of production. This is a perspective long adopted by historians of science, who have emphasized the interdependence of ideas with the social and material context of their formation. Applying this perspective to legal history will help distil the peculiarities of the production of knowledge of normativity in the early modern age from the analysis of the materiality and sociality of law books, which, at that historical juncture, resulted in the emergence of the first-ever global scale book market.

In the early modern period, in fact, one of the contexts in which knowledge of normativity was produced is related to the combination of two factors: globalization and a media revolution. And this provides a privileged observation point for understanding the roots of the challenges of the contemporary legal system, which is also characterized by the transnational and global dimension of law, and the challenges associated with the use of new media.

Following the "discovery" of new worlds, the growth of early modern empires and the activities of Christian missionaries, for the first time law was produced and circulated on a global scale. In addition, the new technology of printing made available new regulatory media. Although printing was not in itself an agent of change, and manuscript culture continued to be a key component of knowledge production, conditions were created for the development of the book trade, in which new actors – printers, publishers, booksellers, and merchants – contributed to the global production, circulation, and consumption of books. This was a "circuit" that political power sought to control and regulate by means of new legal instruments. These, among other things, forged an incipient definition of the notion of author in the publishing system.

How the "nature" of early modern books and the logic of the book trade shaped knowledge, particularly early modern scientific knowledge, is already being studied. How the "nature" and logic of the book trade in the early modern age contributed to the production of knowledge of normativity on a global scale remains to be explored – and this is our goal: to investigate to what extent and how the production, circulation, and consumption of normative books impacted the production, organization, and circulation of knowledge of normativity in the early modern age.

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