10 July 2019 Blogs, Academic, Faculty, Librarian, Student/Researcher

Mapping the Geography of Print

Early European Books’ redesign includes features enabling researchers to visualize the spread of print in the 17th century.

Early European Books’ redesign includes features enabling researchers to visualize the spread of print in the 17th century

By Drew Thomas, contributing writer

The new redesign of ProQuest’s Early European Books (EEB) includes many great features. One of my favorites is the interactive “Data Map” allowing users to investigate the history of early modern printing with an interactive scatter plot map. Instead of looking at tables and figures of result totals, the Data Map provides an immediate understanding of the geography of early modern printing.

You can easily find the link to the Data Map on the EEB homepage. The first thing you notice upon looking at the map is the vast breadth of coverage provided by ProQuest. Tens of thousands of digital editions available through EEB appear, as well as various tools and filters allowing you to interact and explore them.

At the top is a timeline slider. I like to use this to explore how print grew and spread in its early stages. For example, in the incunabula period, the densest concentration of printing is in northern Italy. But if you slide the years up to the first half of the sixteenth-century, you can see the turmoil caused by the Protestant Reformation with movement northward into the Holy Roman Empire. If you continue expanding your horizon into the seventeenth century, the move northward continues with the densest area in the Low Countries.

In addition to exploring by time period, the Data Map has a number of other tools, such as filtering by language and by subject classification. Combined with the timeline slider, you can really dive into the trends of the industry. For example, you can investigate the growth of printing in vernacular languages and see which linguistic areas adopted vernacular printing sooner.

This is particularly interesting if you are focused on a specific linguistic tradition, as there are thirty languages represented, including Hebrew, Greek, Catalan, and Frisian.

The subject classification filter is probably the most useful to scholars, as it allows them to view the growth and spread of printing for their scholarly specialties. There are nearly forty different subjects, including almanacs, classical authors, funeral orations, jurisprudence, medical books, music, poetry, and witchcraft. The map allows you to explore where specific genres were most popular.

In the seventeenth century, a majority of the jurisprudential texts were published in the Low Countries. If you look at witchcraft, you could investigate whether texts on witchcraft were published in the areas corresponding to large outbreaks of persecution or whether they were outside those areas, demonstrating the spread of news.

The last filter allows users to view the geographical spread of items from the specific library collections in EEB. This gives you an idea into the history of collecting practices. For example, it is immediately obvious that national libraries tend to collect books published in their own country. The Royal Danish Library clearly has the most Danish books.

But it is also interesting to examine a collection’s particular strengths if you plan on systematically studying their holdings or are seeking to build a research project or grant application to work with their collection.

Although the Data Map is just one feature of the new Early European Books redesign, it is clear you can spend ample time investigating and exploring the growth and spread of print with this feature alone. Visualizations such as these help us better grasp specific trends and excite us about what amazing tools will come next as the humanities continue to take advantage of the digital age.

Learn more about Early European Books.


Drew Thomas earned his PhD at the University of St Andrews and is an associate of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. He recently undertook an early career research fellowship at The John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester studying the Reformation pamphlet industry and fraud in the book trade. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Reformationsgeschichtle Forschungsbibliothek in Wittenberg, Germany. You can follow him on Academia.edu or Twitter at @DrewBThomas. ORCID: 0000-0002-9028-5251.