The Pedlar and the Dissemination of the Printed Word

In this project the current paradigm of an increasing polarisation between high and low culture in Early Modern Europe will be criticized and substituted by an opposed paradigm of a growing cultural convergence between the elite and the people. In our view, the itinerant pedlar is a key figure in this undertaking. The pedlar is generally seen as a representative of popular culture and as the main supplier of cheap print for the lower classes in the period 1600-1850. In countries like England, Germany and France this theme has been studied in a predominantly rural context. There the role of the pedlar travelling from town to countryside was indeed distinct from the role of the established booksellers in the towns, selling books to the educated and affluent buyer. In this project however, an urban society will be at the centre stage. The hypothesis driving the proposed exploration is that in the highly urbanised Netherlands the itinerant functioned as a crucial extension of the established booksellers in the towns. The Dutch pedlar contributed to a fine distribution network that effectively reduced the gap between the established bookseller and the more modest consumers instead of extending it.

This project will focus on all aspects of the organisation of itinerant bookselling in the urbanized Netherlands from 1600 to 1850 and make a comparison with the more rural situation in England. The project has been divided into three closely connected projects: social and economic research of the distribution network, the process of representation, and the itinerant dissemination of printed news.