Front Quad of Lincoln College, the walls covered in bright green ivy


Cristina Dondi awarded major grant by the Italian Ministry of Research

29 Aug 2023

The first illustrated edition of Dante’s Commedia was printed in Florence in 1481, with engravings by Baccio Baldini based on drawings by Sandro Botticelli.
The first illustrated edition of Dante’s Commedia was printed in Florence in 1481, with engravings by Baccio Baldini based on drawings by Sandro Botticelli
Headshot of Professor Cristina Dondi, a woman in a red sweater and black coat

Congratulations to Professor Cristina Dondi who was awarded a four-year grant by the Italian Ministry of Research to work on incunabula (books printed in 15th-century Europe) in the United States. The new funding programme, Fondo Italiano per la Scienza (FIS), is modelled on the European Research Council’s grants and is highly competitive: some 47 projects succeeded out of 1920 applications (2% success rate) in the three main domains: Physical Sciences and Engineering; Life Sciences; Social Sciences and Humanities.

The project, Printing Revolution and American Collections: the migration of cultural heritage at times of political change (PrintRevUS), will investigate the consequences - intended and unintended, direct and indirect - of historical policies and events on the European book heritage that migrated to the United States. The project will be run out of the Dipartimento di Lettere e Culture Moderne of Sapienza University of Rome, where Cristina has just been appointed full professor of Modern History.

Further information about the project

Between the 18th and 20th centuries certain political changes in Europe mobilised vast quantities of early European printed heritage that ultimately formed the core of American public collections. Policies such as the secularisation of religious houses implemented under Joseph II, Napoleon, the formation of the Italian and Spanish State, and events such as the October Revolution and the two World Wars caused the sequestration, disposal, dispersal, transfer, and sale of thousands of books printed in Europe in the 15th-century, the so-called incunabula, 50,000 of which are today preserved in hundreds of public libraries in the United States. In collaboration with American libraries, a team of specialists will examine these books to reconstruct the history of their migration - in large collections such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, New York, Chicago, Washington, Baltimore and San Marino in California - and in hundreds of smaller libraries.

The grant will enable Cristina to recruit four researchers for three years, who will be based in Rome and visit the USA yearly for an extended period. Moreover, up to 12 one-year consultancies will be offered to US-based librarians/scholars to capture images of provenance from large incunabula collections and send them to Rome where they will be researched and recorded in the international collaborative database Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI). Small libraries will be contacted directly and asked to send images. This method of remote working was successfully tested  during the Dante 1481 project funded by the Polonsky Foundation in 2021, which entailed the census of all the surviving copies of the first illustrated edition of Dante’s Commedia, today scattered in 135 libraries around the world.

The grant will further enable the team to enhance the MEI database, created by Cristina in 2009, which brings together data on the history of each book from over 650 libraries in 30 countries, and to develop further the Booktracker, a software which visualises the movement of books from 1450 to the present on a geographical map, focussing on the migration of many of them from Europe to the US. This is an ongoing collaboration with the Department of Computer Science at King’s College London.

Where next?

  • Dr Alexander Prescott-Couch receives Leverhulme Research FellowshipRead more