The next meeting of the Washington Area Group for Print Culture Studies 2019-2020 series will take place on Friday, October 4, from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in the Rosenwald Room (LJ 205), 2nd floor, Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.  Professor Anna Dlabačová will deliver a talk entitled “Interpreting Incunabula: Netherlandish Religious Books between Modern Categorizations and Medieval Readers.”


The first printers of the Low Countries produced an astonishing amount of religious books in the Dutch vernacular. Scholars have estimated that at least 80% of books printed in Dutch offered readers religious knowledge and spiritual inspiration. One of the most prolific, successful, and original producers of these books was Gerard Leeu, a printer who started his career in the town of Gouda and moved his business to Antwerp in 1484 where he worked until his untimely death in 1492. How to make sense of this large and ‘mass’ production of printers such as Gerard Leeu? Since we have little to no archival sources on their activities, the meaning of their products has to be distilled from the objects themselves – the texts and material evidence contained in extant copies of their editions. And yet, these books often bear the marks of a number of historical layers that obscure their medieval materiality. Moreover, scholarship is still largely oriented according to oppositions such as manuscript vs. print, text vs. image, single text/edition vs. composite volume/miscellany, and even religious vs. secular. These categorizations conveniently order historical material – this project itself is of course not alien to these categories – but at the same time they obstruct our view of the late medieval book and its possible role and meaning in late medieval spirituality and society. Using examples of Gerard Leeu’s books from the (Rosenwald) collection of the Library of Congress I aim to explore the complex task of interpreting incunabula and what it can(not) tell us about the impact of the innovation of printing on spirituality and religious practice in the late medieval Low Countries.

Brief Biography: 

Anna Dlabačová  (PhD Leiden University, 2014) is Assistant Professor and postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University. She is currently a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress’ John W. Kluge Centre where she researches the printer Gerard Leeu as part of her monograph-project ‘Leaving a Lasting Impression. The Impact of Incunabula on Late Medieval Spirituality, Religious Practice and Visual Culture in the Low Countries’ (NWO(Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research)-Veni, 2018-2022). From 2015 to 2017 she conducted a project on text and image on the early printing press at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium. (

Please join us for  Professor Dlabačová’s talk and for dinner afterwards.

The Jefferson Building is located between First and Second Streets, SE in the District of Columbia. Nearest metro stops are Capitol South (blue and orange lines) and Union Station (red line).

For further information, consult the Washington Area Group for Print Culture Studies website at, or contact Sabrina Baron and Eleanor Shevlin at their encouragement and support, the Washington Area Group for Print Culture Studies would like to thank Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections at the Library of Congress and other Library of Congress staff including Michael North, Head, Reference and Reader Services, Rare Book and Special Collections; Stephanie Stillo, Lessing J. Rosenwald Curator; Eric Frazier, Reference Librarian Rare Book and Special Collections. We are also indebted to John Y. Cole,  Library of  Congress Historian and founder of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

Please Login to post a comment