Reading the periphery: The pioneering world of Dutch 17th century publishing

Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulp. Clearly the book is more interesting than the corpse. The famous physician’s medical observations were first published along with the works of major scientists and philosophers – Galileo, Descartes, Spinoza, among many others – in Amsterdam in the 17th-century.

Within 100 years of Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, The Netherlands was the publishing centre of Europe. With presses in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, the most famous name in Dutch publishing was Elsevier, a company which still strives today.

But back in the 17th century, were they also the publishers of salacious clandestine literature under another name? And why did an exiled French writer of romantic novels have her work published in Amsterdam? For that matter, why were the first English newspapers translations of Dutch newspapers?

This programme gives us a fascinating inside look at some of the more unusual aspects of the Dutch publishing world in the 17th century and what they tell us about an important period of change in the Dutch and European consciousness.

Producer: David Swatling

Broadcast: February 2, 2000