The historian Dr Saskia Limbach at the University of Göttingen has received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). For a period of five years, the ERC will fund her project “Widows in the Growing Print Industry, c. 1550-1700 (WidowsPrint)” with around 1.5 million euros. In addition, two ERC Starting Grants have been awarded to researchers at the University Medical Center Göttingen and the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences.
This funding will enable Limbach and her team to investigate the effects of the rapid economic change triggered by the printing press on the rights and agency of widows. The advent of the printing press spurred crucial intellectual, economic and social developments in early modern Europe. In Germany, the print industry grew faster than in most places and – what has often gone unnoticed – there was a conspicuously high number of widows involved. Yet the exact nature of the industry’s growth, and women’s contribution to it, is extremely difficult to reconstruct because the print runs of different editions of books are a mystery.
WidowsPrint will significantly break new ground by filling in these missing pieces. Based on a large array of different archival sources, the project will systematically record 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 the print run of an edition and survey the total output of individual print shops. The project will also analyse how widows’ economic agency changed in the 16th and 17th century as book production progressively moved from single workshops to larger family enterprises.
“A major focus of the project is on reconstructing the professional networks of women book printers, especially their relationships with publishers who financed entire editions and thus increasingly controlled the book production,” says Limbach. “To this end, we will use innovative methods, including new image recognition software, which will make it possible to identify the exact same images in different books. These could only have been produced by printers sharing wood blocks or printing plates. This will reveal the previously elusive networks of women printers.”
Limbach received her PhD from the University of St Andrews in 2017 and has since conducted research in a range of international projects in Milan (EMoBookTrade), Mainz (OCR-D) and Heidelberg (CRC 933 Material Text Cultures) with a focus on economic history, digital humanities and cultural history.
Since October 2021, she has been a postdoctoral researcher in Church History at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Göttingen. Her research has already been funded by various institutions, such as the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Theory, the Royal Historical Society and the German History Society, and her work has been recognised with a number of awards. These include the 2022 Prize for the Humanities by the Göttingen Academy of Sciences in Lower Saxony for her dissertation.