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Petrus Camper, M.D. (1722-1789) on Women

On the Moral Education of Children
Petrus Camper's drawing essay 21 “Raising Happy Children” (#21)
essay 23 “Raising Happy Children” (#23)
essay 25 “Raising Happy Children” (#25)
essay 26 “Raising Happy Children” (#26)
essay 28 “Raising Happy Children” (#28)
essay 29 “Raising Happy Children” (#29)
essay 31 “On Daughters” (#31)
essay 33 “French Boarding Schools” (#33)
essay 34 “On Religion” (#34)
essay 35 “On Humanitarianism” (#35)
Nancy Jenison, M.D.

Nancy Jenison, M.D. (1876-1960)
on Ethical Practice

Guatemala 1939 by Dr. Nancy

"Reappraising the Ivory Tower Myopia Revealed by Elizabeth Lewisohn Eisenstein (1923-2016)" by Miriam Claude Meijer

Understanding the real significance of Elizabeth L. Eisenstein's pioneering book, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe seems to have faded with time. Academic jealousies or the lack of appreciation for Western civilization have colored judgments. Eisenstein's revisionist study reduced a convoluted historiography in one fell swoop: the far-reaching formative powers of the (freeing) printing press. With impressive historical imagination, she articulated the effects of printing which eluded definitions for years. Fixity in print permitted full recovery of old texts as well as access to an abundance of standardized records exposed discrepancies, contradictions, and the historic limits of geographical knowledge. The scholars who were pursuing traditional pursuits were forced to reexamine evidence, which in turn, led them into unpredictable directions. Eisenstein was able to rewrite the causes for the Renaissance, the Reformation, the rise of modern science, and the Enlightenment by incorporating an unacknowledged revolution that liberated the literary elites from the material restraints of scribal culture.


The intellectual consequences of the 15th-century shift from scribes to printers were surveyed for the first time in Elizabeth Eisenstein's seminal study, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe. This communications revolution consisted of access to a great abundance of and more uniform texts. Eisenstein's achievements do not seem always understood by today's library science students or millennials who no longer study Western Civilization. Most historians of modern Europe acknowledged the new presses for disseminating Protestant views beyond Rome's control. But Eisenstein's elegant insight was to recognize that a single inanimate invention was the common denominator behind the important movements in the 15th through 17th centuries. Eisenstein spelled out the effects produced by printing which are by no means self-evident.

Secondly, Eisenstein accounted for why long-lived scientific theories became less acceptable even before anyone had made new observations, new experiments, or new instruments. By emphasizing the obvious more and by reexamining familiar facts, Eisenstein demonstrated that the shift from script to print preceded the changes in worldviews. Unanticipated consequences resulted when new means came to the aid of those pursing long-sought goals. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was celebrated for redoing the Saint Jerome Vulgate, Martin Luther (1483-1546) for returning the church to the age of pure Christianity, Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) for "restoring" anatomy, and Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) for reforming the Christian calendar. These luminaries had all set out to serve the Church — not subvert it — but the implementation of a new technology turned their attention into new directions. The abundance of more uniform texts made it possible to perceive discrepancies between data and description never previously laid so bare. After inconsistencies and anomalies became more blatant, curious individuals began to distrust received opinion and reexamined evidence. The advent of printing sharpened the distinction between the fresh and original versus the repeatable and copied.

Thirdly, Eisenstein traced how the printing press affected the religious and the scientific traditions in markedly different ways. Attempts at emendation and the pursuit of long-lived goals had a different outcome for theologians than for natural philosophers after printing. Classical scholars were motivated to get closer to all the wisdom that God had initially imparted to humankind. Ultimately this lofty mission would fail: "Not only did vernacular translations fragment the religious experience of the peoples of Latin Christendom and help to precipitate prolonged civil wars; but successive polyglot versions brought the erudite scholars of the Commonwealth of Learning no closer to finding the pure original words of God" (Eisenstein, p. 699). Once plain texts, plain speaking and open books were associated with Protestant doctrine, Catholic reaction adopted contrary measures to defend mystification, elitism and censorship. Another path diverged from the impact of print: collective feedback creating scientific big data. The advantage of issuing identical images bearing identical labels was that scattered observers could feed back information to publishers. The limits of old authorities became obvious when readers could see that the ancients knew scarcely one quarter of the entire globe. An open-ended investigatory process pressing against ever-advancing frontiers replaced the single corpus passed down from generation to generation. The multivariable outcomes from the new powers of the press concealed the singular innovation.

Until Eisenstein, only book specialists appeared interested in printing subject matters. Eisenstein did not research archives but synthesized the very large monographic literature by bibliophiles, rare books custodians, librarians, typography or bibliography experts, and literary scholars concerned with press-variants. When social historians provided new data about books, they rarely connected the broader implications to Western civilization. However, Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media did inspire Eisenstein with the insight that the more a medium is used, the less conspicuous it becomes. Although the discipline of history investigates major changes and perspective, historians had generally overlooked the effects exerted by their own medium.

Historians equated the "rise of the reading public" almost always with the "rise of the middle class," even though aristocrats were printers' earliest patrons and the advocates for vernacular languages over Church Latin. Eisenstein noted that historians too often made the advent of an "industrial" society responsible for conditions that were actually formed by the revolution in communications. It was not the spread of literacy but rather the changes within the already-literate elites that interested Eisenstein. The "high" culture of Latin-reading professionals was no longer in fashion in academia when Eisenstein began her research on how printing affected the elites' reading materials. Eisenstein called the shift from one kind of literate culture to another kind of literate culture the unacknowledged revolution. She found that the increased freedom from slavish copying and memory training gave a new leisure to the learned class. Energies no longer wasted on retrieval and preservation could be channeled into new research.

Both Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97), in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, and Max Weber (1864-1920), in The Protestant Ethic, debated an elusive modernizing process while ignoring the changes wrought by printing. They granted the new technology no role in shaping new views other than in disseminating them afterwards. When historians set the intellectual and political revolutions in the context of a pre-industrialized society instead of a post-print society, they are placing the cart before the horse. The features of these contested movements not previously present were clues to the textual traditions upon which each movement relied. It was not the characteristics of humanism, the recovery of pagan wisdom, but the novel conditions of printing that enabled researchers to reproduce and then surpass the exceptional resources of ancient Alexandria and Pergamum.

In 1620 Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the brilliant English philosopher, gave the printing press the lead in the trio he designated to have changed the world:

We should note the force, effect, and consequences of inventions which are nowhere more conspicuous than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, namely, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. For these three have changed the appearance and state of the whole world ... (Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, Aphorism 129, as cited in Eisenstein, p. 43).

The eminent French historian, Fernand Braudel (1902-85), however, demoted printing to a position between artillery and ocean navigation. In modern lingo, "hard power" appeals to male historians more than "soft power." In contrast to warfare and the discovery of new continents, the development of printing had an inconspicuous rather than cataclysmic effect on society, yet the new products had a more immediate impact than many "external" events. Europe's 17th century is considered to be the "century of genius" but heroics are not necessarily the sole account for the history of science. "Without detracting from the strong personal flavor of each separate creative act," Eisenstein explained, "we may also make room for the new print technology which made food for thought much more abundant and allowed mental energies to be more efficiently used" (p. 688).

Every book was a manuscript prior to Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400-68). Scribal culture refers to the activities of multiplying books and storing data after the invention of writing but before movable type. Conditions that prevailed near the bookshops of ancient Rome, in the Alexandrian library, or in certain medieval monasteries and university towns, made it possible for literate elites to develop a "bookish" culture. "Books" moved from roll to codex; perishable papyrus to parchment and the more durable vellum. Scribal transmission preserved the Christian faith for more than a millennium, although the output was much less than what was produced in the Muslim and Byzantine centers. The so-called "book revolution" of the 12th-century Europe created a "putting-out" system, with copyists no longer confined to one room. In scribal culture, the advancement of learning took the form of a search for lost wisdom.

Words risked being miscopied or misconstrued whenever books were copied by hand. Drawings and maps could become blurred or smudged over time, detached or lost. This made it seem as though earlier authorities had been obscure on purpose. Since standardization and synchronization have become so common since the invention of printing, it is difficult to imagine their complete absence when books were handwritten. No uniform world maps existed even during the great voyages of exploration. When historians attribute the incapacity to achieve error-free precision to indifference or stupidity, they are neglecting the conditions of scribal culture. Eisenstein found Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965) ungenerous to 16th-century scientists. He seemed absent-minded about how the technical literature inherited in the 16th century was subject to discontinuities that have since been filled in by four centuries of printing.

Thomas Kuhn (1922-96), who introduced the idea of "paradigm shifts" in his 1964 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, called the errors from the passage of time a "counterfeit problem." Insofar as Copernicus objected to, in Kuhn's words, "the diffuseness and continued inaccuracy of the Ptolemaic tradition," the Polish astronomer was describing conditions that characterized all scribal texts. The difference with Copernicus, Eisenstein countered, "was partly because these 'monstrous' features had become more visible and also because he did not have to put up with them any more" (p. 595). Copernicus had the opportunity to rework the computations by Alexandria's Ptolemy (100-160) with the positions of sun and earth reversed. It was not the experience of manuscript or maritime discoveries but what became of them that changed history. Much as Viking landfalls had preceded Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), there had been careful stargazers before Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), who made accurate observations of the planets. What were unprecedented were the ways new worlds and new stars could now be recorded and confirmed. While the distinction between making discoveries and securing them may seem subtle, it is a significant clarification about the causes that shift paradigms.

Gutenberg's invention might not have spread at all under different circumstances. Rulers or priests could have withheld the printing press from freewheeling urban entrepreneurs. But printers' workshops appeared within a few decades in every important municipal center. Eisenstein defined print culture as the post-Gutenberg developments only in the West. Her advent of printing referred to the presses beyond the Rhineland during an interval that began in the 1460s and coincided with the era of incunabula, i.e. books printed before 1501. By 1500, the age of printers had thoroughly replaced that of the scribes. The drastic reduction in the number of man-hours required to make books increased book production greatly. The "average" output of incunabula ranged between 200 and 1,000 copies. The circumscribed contents of the walled libraries of antiquity or the Middle Ages were disclosed to the general public. The first century of printing produced a bookish culture that differed little from that of the scribes. Manuscripts were printed rather indiscriminately from a backlog. The range of titles in a given library was enlarged rapidly but the sorting out of their contents required much more time. Scribal inaccuracies were reproduced through print, but eventually the age-old process of corruption was arrested and reversed. Since the expanding printing industry required larger markets than the Church alone, the most successful presses occurred at the crossroads of commerce and outside ecclesiastical control.

The power of the press was driven by its dual capacity to satisfy selfishness and altruism. Early printers put their firm's name, emblem and shop address on the front page of their books. Title pages entailed a significant reversal of scribal procedures because printers placed themselves first. Unlike other late medieval inventions, moveable type was able to advertise itself. Thanks to its association with monks, lay philosophers and scholars, printing enjoyed a higher status than the other mercenary trades. Early printers reinforced in their prefaces that theirs was an elevated calling. Their colophons and booksellers' catalogues were among the first printed materials to treat readers as potential buyers and guide them to their shops. Also, printers' switching to Arabic numbers for pagination resulted in more accurate indexing, annotations, and cross-referencing.

Scholars mingled with artisans in the early printing workshops. When humanists and anatomists hired illustrators for their texts, they were not continuing manuscript illuminations but starting a new enterprise. For the first time the work of a skilled draftsman could be preserved intact in hundreds of copies. Vernacular editions of the ancients required collaboration with the Latin-reading literati. The versatile master printer often combined both roles. The larger the vernacular reading public, the more craftsmen were encouraged to attract purchasers and even disclose trade secrets. Printing presses were a different kind of shop structure because they encouraged new forms of cross-cultural interchanges between diversely skilled workers. Specific Christian needs contributed to interactions among scholar-printers who handled biblical editions and translations.

The first dated printed product from Gutenberg's workshop was a papal indulgence. Since the scribal inheritance came to Renaissance scholars in scrambled form, it would take time and labor to unscramble them. The linguistic and the calendar problems posed respectively by the polyglot Bible and the dating of Easter turned out to be particularly sensitive to the impact of print. The more Greek texts were unearthed, the more corrupt Latin translations could be purified. By 1520 all major Greek texts had been translated into Latin; scholars also mastered Hebrew and Arabic. The astronomical data from the Alexandrians and Arabs were indispensable for reforming the Christian calendar.

The recovery of dead languages followed the same pattern as the recovery of ancient texts. A process that had previously been intermittent became subject to a continuous, incremental construction thanks to the fact that print could secure findings permanently. Eisenstein took issue with Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) associating the Renaissance's recovery of the classical past with the new optical effects that painters had devised:

In the Italian Renaissance the classical past began to be looked at from a fixed distance [our italics] quite comparable to the "distance between the eye and the object" in that most characteristic invention of this very Renaissance, focused perspective ... this distance prohibited direct contact ... but permitted a total and rationalized view (Panofsky as cited on p 183).

The capacity to see the past from a "fixed distance" was not obtained by a graphical perspective but rather by the intellectual perspective that Eisenstein called typographical fixity. The 15th-century Italian Renaissance differed from both the 9th-century Carolingian and 12th-century classical revivals — not thanks to some Burckhardtian "primacy of Italy" — but due to previous revivals being limited and transitory.

Eisenstein distinguished between a diachronic (over time) aspect and a synchronic (in space) aspect for print culture. Typographical fixity refers to printed copies in sufficient quantities to be preserved over long duration to successive generations for reconsideration and augmentation (Eisenstein as cited in Baron, p. 415). This paved the way for the systematic development of investigatory techniques and a variety of auxiliary disciplines. Of all the new features introduced by the duplicative powers of print, preservation was the most important; it saved many valued texts from extinction. Abundant supplies of paper rather than scarce and costly skin insured preservation. Unlike the texts that had been previously retrieved only to be lost again, the new technology secured and coordinated the scattered labors of the far-flung humanist-printers on an unprecedented scale. Gradually the Renaissance antiquarians pieced together Roman chronology, topography, law and religion. Eisenstein concluded that the past could never have been studied at a "fixed distance" until printing constructed a uniform temporal and spatial framework.

Typographical fixity distinguishes the Protestant Reformation from the medieval heresies in much the same way as the Italian Renaissance did from the medieval revivals. The outpouring of Protestants' tracts and cartoons were too vivid for historians to not notice the new medium's role in this revolt. In addition, praise of Gutenberg's inventive genius came from Germans trying to counter prior claims to cultural supremacy made by Italian literati. Printing not only transformed the roles of translators but of "Italy as a whole." Northern scholars could learn Greek and teach it to successive generations without leaving their homes. The very power of the papacy diminished as trips over the Alps became less necessary.

The Roman Church tried to contain the new forces released by Gutenberg but printed books were more portable than pulpits, more numerous than priests, and their content more easily internalized. It was not new information so much as a new medium that changed domestic life most profoundly. The war between the Roman Church and the printing press would continue for the next four centuries. After the Council of Trent, almost the entire Republic of Letters had to go "underground" in Catholic Europe. The Catholic Index of Forbidden Books handed Protestant firms not only a list of profit-making titles but free advertising.

The Vatican's censorship moved Protestants into high gear, although Catholic orders inaugurated the intellectual conquest of Asia by Western science. Religious motives for scientific inquiry were too deeply rooted in Western Christendom to be a Weberian by-product of Protestantism. Christian believed that God supported the study of His Creation. Science, however, entailed a different use of the press than efforts to spread glad tidings to all people.

Given the limited circulation of scientific treatises and the small number of readers able to understand them, historians of science have not emphasized printing. A founding father of the specialty, George Sarton (1884-1956), did acknowledge that the double invention of movable type printing and copper plates engraving was seismic but he otherwise did not incorporate the latter's impact into his narratives. Standardization, Eisenstein analyzed, entailed the publication of numerous copies of the same text or image, chart, map on the same date (Baron, p. 414). The "art of writing by mechanical means" (ars artificialiter scribendi) was foremost a duplicating process. Augmented book production in fact changed the nature of individual intake. The wider range of reading-matter surveyed at one time by a single pair of eyes heightened awareness of contradictions previously concealed by commentaries and compilations.

It was not the practice of dissection that distinguished 16th-century anatomy from that of the 13th century but fixing the full recovery of the Galenic corpus in print. The ancient authority on human anatomy underwent critical scrutiny. Vesalius suddenly realized that Galen of Pergamum (130-210) was discussing a vertebra that found only in the spine of a monkey but never in human beings. In addition, the publication of errata was a new capacity to broadcast corrections accurately.

When scattered lay readers could view identical texts, images, maps and diagrams simultaneously, they grew more confident in the accuracy of mathematical constructions, figures and numbers. The theorems of Pythagoras (c. 570-c. 495 BC), Euclid (fl. 300 BC), and Archimedes (c. 287-c.?212 BC) survived scrutiny whereas Roman numerals, Galen's anatomy and Aristotle's (384-322 BC) physics did not. Mathematical equations and diagrams had a more limited appeal than artists and dissectors' anatomical illustrations. Publishing the decimal notation by Simon Stevin (1548-1620) and logarithm tables by John Napier (1550-1617) reduced the time of calculating by hand. Copernicus's life spanned the very decades when so many changes, now barely visible to modern eyes, expanded knowledge. Unlike anatomists or physicists, astronomers have to study observations made at different intervals over long time periods. Every important work on ancient astronomy was published by 1544: Copernicus surveyed a wider range of records than had any pre-print astronomer. Similar to Martin Luther during the decade after 1517, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) during the decade after 1633 could count on numerous printers to render the Pope's power ineffective while selling books.

Another by-product of the new forms of standardization was a heightened appreciation for individuality. Portraits of artists who had lived before the 15th century were made up. Portraits of Erasmus, Luther, Montaigne, etc., however, were multiplied with sufficient frequency as to remain recognizable even today. The intimacy that Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) portrayed in his essays assured solitary readers that the isolating sense of singularity was universal. The empathy induced by novel reading has been attributed to various humanitarian movements.

Even though the new so-called "silent instructors" (i.e. printed books) did no more than duplicate lessons already being taught in classrooms and shops, they cut the subordination bonds between pupils and masters. Before copyrights or patents, the inventor had no interest in publicizing his work for others to steal. The larger the vernacular reading public, the more talent that could be tapped. Printing extended new opportunities for individuals of humble birth. Obscure young monks like Erasmus and François Rabelais (1494-1553) rose in the world without staying in clerical orders. Artisan-authors were achieving eponymity. The celebrity won by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Ambroise Paré (1510-90), Bernard Palissy (1510-89), and others had previously been impossible for guildsmen. The great Isaac Newton (1643-1727) absorbed books with little or no outside help and taught himself mathematics.

Even when considering only the light-shedding experiments performed by a very small number of highly gifted individuals, historians need to take the many practical problems posed by publication into account. The 17th-century "century of genius" coincided with the interval when the editors of the first learned journals took over the great merchant publishers and scholar-printers. Science requires consensual validation by trained observers, experimenters and mathematicians. The irreducible "fact," the direct observation and any kind of raw data must be made available for confirmation by other eyes.

Herbert Butterfield (1900-79), author of the 1931 Whig Interpretation of History and the 1949 Origins of Modern Science, described a "humming activity" that propelled scientific advances toward the end of the 17th century. Eisenstein attributed this same intellectual ferment to Dutch victory over the Spanish Habsburgs. These military scuffles had worldwide repercussions because they secured a free press in the Dutch provinces. In the course of the 17th century, the lingua franca changed from Latin to French; the Francophone press of exiles in Holland publicized the "new philosophy. This resulted in the "crisis of the European conscience" that Paul Hazard (1878-1944) detailed purely in terms of ideas in 1935.

The standardization and preservation of written records no longer reinforced the idea that degeneration was an inevitable consequence of any sequence over time. It was the permanence that printing introduced, Eisenstein argued, that enabled progressive accumulations. Large-scale data-collection became subject to new forms of feedback that had not been possible in the age of scribes. An unprecedented cognitive advance reoriented the flow of information. The term "original" no longer meant the oldest in terms of origin, but to break with precedent and strike out in new directions.

In a famous passage in The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) brilliantly described the threshold of secularization but stopped short of explaining why it happened when it did. Too much idealism prevented this Kantian philosopher from adopting the philosophes' own elevation of the mechanical arts. Authors who had to search for clandestine presses or smuggle manuscripts abroad did not take printers for granted. Printing was ultimately responsible for how confidence turned away from divine revelation to purely human reasoning (Eisenstein, p. 701).

How did Eisenstein find the Occam's razor — the problem-solving principle that the simplest solution tends to be the right one — to Western civilization? Perhaps she listened to the philosophes themselves: "The Power which Printing gives us of continually improving and correcting our Works in successive Editions appears to me the chief Advantage of that art" (Hume as cited in Eisenstein, p. 112). Did this statement by David Hume (1711-76) teach her about typographical fixity? Did the words of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) make her realize that standardization made the difference: "one common measure which speaks universally to all mankind" (Banks as cited in Eisenstein, p. 469)? Did the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-72), so focused on the printing presses, impress her? The "System of Human Knowledge," that Denis Diderot (1713-84) modeled on Francis Bacon's "tree of knowledge," would later be reconfigured by Marcia J. Bates (b. 1942) in her article, "Invisible Substrate of Information Science" for today's "printing" conditions.

Reviewers of Eisenstein's book found her criticisms of heavyweights like Fernand Braudel, Jacob Burckhardt, Herbert Butterfield, Ernst Cassirer, Paul Hazard, Thomas Kuhn, Erwin Panofsky, George Sarton, Lynn Thorndike, and Max Weber audacious. They described her tone of voice as "strident." While this smacks of a sexist double standard, Eisenstein stood her ground in an interview with editors:

When I cited relevant passages from the most authoritative works by the most distinguished historians, I did so, not to question their undoubted mastery of their craft, but, rather, to demonstrate a general failure to make room for changes wrought by printing (Baron, p. 411).

Professors like Lynn Thorndike were not accustomed to the independence of female intellectuals. In 1939 he denied Leona Rostenberg (1908-2005) her doctorate for her dissertation's subject matter: that printers in 1509 had exerted influence on humanism ("The Influence of the Strasbourg Printers upon Humanism and the Reformation"), because Thorndike considered the early printers to have been illiterate hacks (Stern, pp. 56-7, 218, 256). Eisenstein also mentioned how presidents of the American Historical Association have projected regret at a growing distance from their provincial American boyhood upon all of Western civilization (Eisenstein, p. x).

Eisenstein modestly attributed her brilliant insights to her marginalized status during the decades when history departments were reluctant to hire female historians. She was only able to find work as an Adjunct Lecturer in the nation's capital:

I was hired to teach a required survey course in "Western Civ" to two sections of a captive audience of 120 students. Although frustrating at the time, I now realize that handling a survey course was not without benefit: it forced me to go over and over the problems mentioned above in a way that increased my dissatisfaction with conventional treatments (Baron, p. 410).

In teaching Western Civilization from 1959 to 1974, Eisenstein was able to notice cumulative continuous trends while becoming increasingly unimpressed by the prevailing explanations for them. She surmised that specialists of particular centuries suffered from artificial barriers.

Thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Eisenstein found abundant evidence that certain historical issues made more sense with the consideration of the printing press's impact. The big names in historiography all shared an assumption that historic changes derived from shifts in attitudes and goals only. They failed to consider the common experience of a change in equipment that provided new means to old ends. Printing's capacity to transmit records of observations in full detail without loss of precision created a division of opinion among scholars who then reassessed inherited views. Eisenstein concluded: "Today's observer, intent on tracing trends or shifts in styles of thought and expression, is poorly situated to understand how the sheer increase in the quantity of copies in circulation altered patterns of consumption" (p. 169). The lopsided approach to Western civilization, of ignoring the inconspicuous consumption of printed materials, has fueled many, rather aimless, scholarly disputes. In simplifying a longtime convoluted historiography, Eisenstein became the "Einstein" of Western Civ.


Baron, Sabrina Alcorn; Eric N. Lindquist; Eleanor F. Shevlin, eds.
Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies After Elizabeth L. Eisenstein. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007.
Bates, Marcia J.
"Defining the information disciplines in encyclopedia development," Information Research, 12/4 (2007) paper colis29.
DeLacy, Margaret Eisenstein.
"In Memoriam: Elizabeth Eisentein." Perspectives on History (April 1, 2016).
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L.
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1979. 2 vols.
Stern, Madeleine B. and Leona Rostenberg.
Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Miriam Meijer is making her mother's unpublished dissertation HTML accessible online


Marianne Anita Schwarz Meijer (1926-2019)

Marianne Anita Schwarz Meijer (1926-2019)

Abstract (written in 1972)


This dissertation is the first study devoted to François de Billon and his book Le Fort inexpugnable de l'honneur du sexe femenin (1555), though his name crops up in works on feminism as a strong defender of women and the historian of the Querelle des Femmes. Billon serves as the basis for Abel Lefranc's judgment that Rabelais was the misogynist par excellence, and that the Tiers Livre is Rabelais's participation in the Querelle des Femmes (1904). This view has been disputed in recent years, and a closer study of Billon should elucidate this question.

A careful analysis of this work, aided by research of biographical and historical nature, shows that the prime interest of Billon was not a defense of women but a defense of secretaries and particularly those working in the interest of the Kingdom of France. Convinced that women and secretaries both suffer from unjustified contempt, and that they should be judged according to their individual merit, Billon joins the party of the defenders of women in the hope they in turn will help his own kind.

By ignoring the last third part of the book, devoted to the greatness of France, and the divine mission of the King of France and his helpers (his secretaries), critics have overlooked Billon's real interest: his belief in the prophecies of Guillaume Postel and his fervent patriotism. His adherence to the ideas of Postel and his admiration for him explain his antagonism to Rabelais, giving it a very personal slant and disqualifying him as an objective judge of Rabelais's ideas.

This study shows that even though Billon understands the essence of women's griefs, he is no historian of the Querelle and is a participant only in so far that he believes all human beings should be judged on their merit instead of their birth, thus expressing some aspirations of the educated bourgeoisie and the rising class of fonctionnaires. This conviction results in interesting commentaries on events and persons of his times that lead the modern reader to a better understanding of 16th-century society.

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