Widows in the Growing Print Industry, c. 1550-1700 (WidowsPrint)

funded by the European Research Council (Starting Grant)

The advent of the printing press spurred crucial intellectual, economic and social developments in early modern Europe. Widows of master printers could also have played a key role in this, especially in the Holy Roman Empire, as it was then home to one of the fastest-growing print industries with a conspicuously high number of women printers. Yet the exact nature of the industry’s growth, and women’s contribution to it, is extremely difficult to reconstruct as a key variable - the print runs of editions - has remained elusive.

WidowsPrint will break significantly new ground by addressing this deficiency. Based on a large array of different archival sources, the project will record systematically all known print runs to create a diverse and representative dataset for early modern Germany. Thus, we can establish which factors determined the size of an edition, survey the total output of individual print shops and highlight gender aspects of book production. In a second step, the project will show how widows pursued economic advantages from powerful institutions (such as universities) and it will analyse how widows' economic agency changed in the 16th and 17th century as book production progressively moved from single workshops to larger family enterprises. Finally, WidowsPrint will use image recognition software to trace the exchange of printing material. This will reveal to what extent widows collaborated with other producers, allowing the professional networks of women printers, hitherto hidden from view, to be reconstructed.

WidowsPrint will radically reappraise the role of widows in the German print industry and analyse how economic developments influenced their rights and their agency. Concurrently, the project will provide a model to estimate the actual size of the output of early modern print shops. This will lead to a substantial change in our understanding of the availability of these important commodities when major transformations were taking place in Europe.


SLUB Dresden, (Public Domain Mark 1.0)