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Medical genres in the early printing press

AuthorsArrizabalaga, Jon
KeywordsMedical Genres
Printing Press
Spread of knowledge
Fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
European intellectual history
Health practitioners
History of medicine
Issue Date2019
PublisherCIHAM Éditions
CitationEcritures médicales. Discours et genres, de la tradition antique à l'époque moderne : 311-334 (2019)
AbstractThe invention of a workable instrument to produce types allowed Johann Gutenberg to develop around the 1440s a business-like system to print written texts by means of separately cast and combinable characters, namely the printing press. This system was first perceived as an effective means of copying manuscripts more cheap and quickly. The earliest printers indeed confined themselves to reproducing works that had for centuries circulated as manuscript codices, the details of presentation of which they tried to copy. Like many machine made things, the new texts were ugly, if undeniably cheap, and on one or the other count were sometimes seen as not being real books. Nevertheless, from its original home in the Rhine Valley, the press quickly spread in the 1460s and particularly the 1470s to Italy, Paris, the Low Countries, Central and Northern Germany, Eastern Europe, the Iberian kingdoms, the rest of France, England, and the remainder of Europe. This can suggest that indeed the commercial possibilities of cheap texts were being realized in big print runs and a buying market. It needs not now be emphasized how important such a change was for the spread of knowledge in all fields; but we should avoid giving the press a unique responsibility for everything that happened in European intellectual history in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Undoubtedly, manuscripts continued to play a far from negligible role for the transmission of knowledge in Europe for a long time after the arrival of the press, particularly in those disciplines later institutionalised. To some extent this also applies to medicine. However, the early institutionalisation of learned medicine and the gradual spread of its knowledge, practices and values, to other health practitioners meant that the printing press soon became instrumental to fixing some new literary medical genres, as well as to developing and diversifying others that were more or less grounded in the ancient and medieval medical tradition.
DescriptionArrizabalaga Valbuena, Jon. "Medical genres in the early printing press". En: Moulinier-Brogi, Laurence; Nicoud Marilyn (eds.). Écritures médicales Discours et genres, de la tradition antique à l’époque moderne. Reconocimiento a cinco siglos de medicina española. Lyon-Avignon : CIHAM - Éditions, 2019, p. 311-334. ISBN 978-2-9568426-0-6.
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