One of our fondest imagined ideas is that the Convivencia, the Golden Age of inter-cultural exchange among Muslims, Christians and Jews in medieval Spain was an era of great intellectual flowering. Somewhat surprising to have Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden run the numbers and find out that, in fact, Spain published somewhat less than Western Europe in those centuries. Still, they were publishing a fair number of titles.
(Buringh and van Zanden count unique titles and editions, manuscripts, then, printed books after Gutenberg)
Less surprising though more dispiriting is the fact that after the Reconquista triumphed in 1492, and Spain expelled Jews and Muslims, it published very few books.
“The decline of Spain was almost equally dramatic. Its share in
European production dropped from roughly a third in the tenth century
to only 2 to 2.5 percent from 1600 to 1800. Spain did participate in the
boom from 1000 to 1300 and maintained a level of book production not
far below the Western European average in the high Middle Ages. But
per capita book production slipped to less than a quarter of the
European average in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Spain’s
decline as a publishing center thus coincided with the “Golden Age” of
Spanish economy and society.”
Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries
This article estimates the development of manuscripts and printed books in Western Europe over the course of thirteen centuries. As these estimates show, medieval and early modern book production was a dynamic economic sector, with an average annual growth rate of around one percent. Rising production after the middle of the fifteenth century probably resulted from lower book prices and higher literacy. To explain the dynamics of medieval book production, we provide estimates for urbanization rates and for the numbers of universities and monasteries. Monasteries seem to have been most important in the early period, while universities and laypeople dominated the later medieval demand for books.
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009