Online glossary highlights European dimension of historical popular printing

Verschillende soorten historisch drukwerk. Bron: Glossary of Early Modern Popular Print Genres

What is the difference between a journal and a gazette? Did penny prints or centsprenten also exist in early modern Spain and what were they called? When did the first children's books appear in Europe? The new online Glossary of Early Modern Popular Print Genres, developed by book historians Jeroen Salman and Andrea van Leerdam, offers answers to such questions. The site thus sheds light on the forms of print that conveyed knowledge and news among broad sections of the population in early modern Europe, influenced public opinion, helped shape religious and social identity, and provided entertainment.

Soon after the invention of printing around 1450, all kinds of popular printed matter emerged in Europe: they were printed in vernacular languages instead of Latin, in relatively cheap versions, aimed at a wide audience. They were often small books or loose sheets with contents aimed at, for example, devotion (e.g. prayers), instruction (e.g. plague tracts, cookbooks, abc books), current affairs (news, polemic, ordinances), or entertainment (games, songs).

European research network

From a European perspective, surprising parallels have not only been discovered between genres of cheap print in different languages, but also clear regional differences. Much research into this has been carried out in recent years by members of the network European Dimensions of Popular Print Culture (EDPOP), an initiative by Jeroen Salman. The online glossary was created with contributions from many of these researchers.

Overview in a jumble of terms

The glossary provides guidance in a jumble of terms and in the state of research on each of those genres, explains Salman. “Some terms used in scholarship existed at the time itself, while others were only coined by researchers afterwards. There are also terms that seem related in different languages yet refer to very different genres, such as English romance (fictional story in prose, forerunner of the contemporary novel) and Spanish romance (a specific form of poetry). And in Dutch, for example, we use pamflet as a collective term for all kinds of small printed matter, while English pamphlet is a historical term for a much more specific form. Terms could also change meaning over time: the gazette, for example, initially had associations with sensational news while the meaning later became more neutral.”

The site does not pretend to describe all the nuances, Salman stresses, but provides guidance for further research. Each lemma includes an overview of terminology in different languages, references to related genres and to recent literature.

Virtual Research Environment

Moreover, the glossary is an important building block in the EDPOP Virtual Research Environment (VRE) that Salman and Van Leerdam are developing in collaboration with the UU’s Research Software Lab. In this environment, researchers can compile, annotate and analyse their own ‘collections’ of popular printed material, using metadata from several major bibliographic sources including the Universal Short Title Catalogue, the CERL Heritage of the Printed Book database and the library catalogues of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library.

The tool makes it possible, for example, to bring together titles from a specific genre and analyse developments in them over time, or to understand the career of a particular printer or the surviving copies of a particular title. Researchers can use the tool as a working environment for their own use or they can publish their collection. “In this way, we want to pool expertise on popular printing and save other researchers a lot of detective work,” Salman says.

For the future, he envisages further extensions that, besides analyses of metadata, would allow analyses of full texts and of images, for example.


The VRE will enter the testing phase this autumn. Anyone interested in helping with testing or experimenting with building a collection themselves can contact Jeroen Salman at Additions and suggestions for the glossary can also be passed on to him.

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Explore the glossary