Almanacs in 1460, 1480, 1500

What Did You Need to Know to Make an Almanac in 1460, in 1480, or in 1500?

Richard L. Kremer - Dartmouth College

As is well known, early typographic printers generally issued texts that had long circulated in manuscript. The broadside almanac, however, emerged as a genre, starting in the 1460s, only with the advent of print culture. During the incunabula period, print shops issued more than 500 almanac editions (a considerable portion of the 28,000 incunable editions overall). The content of the almanac quickly became standardized, drawing on what we might, at first glance, guess to be three distinct traditions of late medieval practical knowledge: computistics or the determination of Christian and Jewish religious feasts, bloodletting and other astrologically determined medical practices, and the computational practices required for casting horoscopes and predicting astrologically significant celestial configurations (eclipses, syzygies, seasonal shifts).

I want to consider three questions in this paper. How were the sources of the practical knowledge required for almanac-making codified before printing? In what ways did the burst of almanac-making in the early decades of printing reconfigure those codifications? Did the printed almanac spark new "sharing processes" between theorizers of astrological, astronomical or medical knowledge and the practitioners who were making or using almanacs?

To explore these issues, I shall offer a prosopographical study of the 30 named authors of incunable almanacs. Eighty percent of the known almanacs, however, are anonymous so I must seek to deduce the structures of their knowledges by analyzing the content of the printed sheets and the dynamics of the printing markets.  Presumably printers themselves authored many of the anonymous almanacs, so much of my analysis may focus on the practical knowledges of the early printers, an approach also taken by Jonathan Green in his recent Printing and Prophecy: Prognostication and Media Change, 1450-1550 (Michigan, 2012).  Volker Honemann, et al., eds., Einblattdrucke des 15. und frühren 16. Jahrhunderts: Probleme, Perspektiven, Fallstudien (Niemeyer, 2000) also contains relevant studies.

  • Experimenting with Paper Instruments in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Astronomy: Computing Syzygies with Isotemporal Lines and Salt Dishes. Journal for the History of Astronomy, 42 (2011), 223-58.
  • "Mathematical astronomy and calendar-making in Gdańsk from 1540 to 1700." In Astronomie – Literatur – Volksaufklärung: Der Schreibkalender der Frühen Neuzeit mit seinem Text- und Bildbeigaben , pp. 477-92. Jena: Verlag HKD, 2012.
  • Fesen, R.A., Kremer, R.L., Patnaude, D., and D. Milisavljevic, “The SN 393 – SNR RX J1713.7-3946 (G347.3-0.5) connection,” Astronomical journal , 143:27 (2012), 6 pp. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/143/2/27.
  • Marcus Schinnagel's Winged Altarpiece of 1489: Astronomical Computation in a Liturgical Format. Journal for the History of Astronomy, 43 (2012), 321-45.
  • Hans Sporer's Xylographic Practices: A Census of Regiomontanus's Blockbook Calendar. Bibliothek und Wissenschaft, 46 (2013), 161-87.