In Conversation with Greg Prickman and the (Digital) Atlas of Early Printing at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference (San Juan, Puerto Rico)


Fringed by a coastline of unrivalled tropical beauty and humidity to burn, the Caribbean port city of San Juan played host to this year’s annual Sixteenth Century Society Conference. Amongst hundreds of papers with varying disciplinary foci ranging from religious polemics in the early modern world to representations of the pregnant body and the “unruly womb,” the conference demonstrated a strong presence of academic work in the burgeoning field of digital humanities. Co-ordinated by Colin F. Wilder of the University of South Carolina, two dedicated panels focused on early modern digital humanities, attracting the likes of John Theibault (Stockton College), Paul Dijstelberge (University of Amsterdam), Peter Leonard and Niall Atkinson (University of Chicago), among others. In light of the upcoming PMRG/MEMS conference on “technology, textuality, and materiality” (Perth, Western Australia:, a paper given by Greg Prickman struck me as a prime example of the fruitful synthesis of traditional historical methodologies and new media forms of research dissemination. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit down with Greg to talk further about his work.

As the Head of Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries, Greg Prickman expressed great intrigue in the works of Berry and Poole (The Annals of Printing, 1966) and Febvre and Martin (L’apparition du Livre, 1958). The resultant brainchild of this fascination is his Atlas of Early Printing, an interactive digital humanities project designed to be used as an educational tool in teaching the history of European printing and its expansion in the second half of the fifteenth century. Beyond digitally mapping the spread of printing throughout Europe, the Atlas provides context to each instance through the inclusion of historical details that free the printing phenomenon from analytical isolation, shedding light on the surrounding individuals, institutions and establishments that formed a culture of textuality in early modern Europe.

Version 1 of the Atlas went live in February of 2008, rendered as a flash-based map before its renewal in 2013, subsequently built off of the Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) version 3 and has been optimised for mobile and desktop platforms. The map’s chronological timeline is controlled with jQuery UI Slider and an amalgamation of server side and client side scripting languages. As an educational resource, the website also features additional materials such as an animated reproduction of a fifteenth-century printing press model and a detailed history tracing the structural development of book-making throughout the 1400s. In this way, the work of Greg Prickman and his colleagues offers us new ways of engaging with history and champions the establishment of accessible modes of academic communication.

I came away from this year’s Conference with a renewed sense of excitement for the multitude of projects in early modern studies that are embracing new media forms of publication. By the end of the first digital humanities panel, latecomers stood to the back of the room with every seat occupied by enthusiastic academics and students from around the globe united by the pursuit for innovation in early modern studies and its digital renaissance.

The Atlas of Early Printing is hosted by the University of Iowa Libraries.
For more information go to:
or follow the Atlas on twitter (@AtlasEarlyPrint).