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The Fagel Collection at Trinity College Library shines spotlight on the Golden Age of Dutch Civilisation

Andrew PettegreeProfessor Andrew Pettegree from the University of St Andrews, has just finished a two-week Visiting Research Fellowship with the Trinity Long Room Hub in collaboration with the School of Histories and Humanities and the Library at Trinity College Dublin.

A Professor of Modern History at the University of St. Andrews, Professor Pettegree has published a number of books on the Reformation and more recently on the history of communication and of book culture and the news. The purpose of his fellowship was to undertake a complete survey of Trinity College Library’s renowned Fagel Collection, particularly the pamphlets, and was assisted in this by researcher Arthur der Weduwen, also of the University of St. Andrews.

The Fagel Collection

The Fagel Collection is the gathered collection of one of the Dutch Republic’s most notable families. One of the most notable Fagels, Gaspar, was the Grand Pensionary of Holland from 1672 to 1688, while the family also dominated the office of the Griffier (Secretary) of the States General. In 1802, Hendrik Fagel, then Griffier of the States General, was exiled in London where reduced circumstances at the height of the Napoleonic War forced him to sell the family library. While Christie’s prepared and circulated an auction catalogue, Trinity College Dublin put forward a pre-emptive bid and acquired the entire collection before the auction took place. The Collection, now housed in the East Pavilion of the Old Library, includes approximately 20,000 items – books, pamphlets, and maps – in French, Dutch and English. The Collection covers works on politics, religion, economies, sciences, natural history and travel.

Professor Pettegree spoke of the significance of the pamphlet collection: ‘The pamphlets became (Fagel’s) working papers because there is a tradition in that period that Ministers generally kept their papers as their personal possession. The collection can be viewed as a window on the process of Government in the seventeenth century Dutch Republic – the Golden Age and the high point of Dutch civilisation.’

Professor Pettegree explains that while the Fagel Collection contains many notable books on jurisprudence and history, the focus of his survey has been solely on the pamphlets which he says are an insight into the ‘minutiae of Government’ at the time, covering topics such as the Dutch Revolt, acts of Government and tax regulations. ‘The Dutch Republic was Europe’s most vibrant and inventive news culture, the home to around 40 different newspapers in the seventeenth century. Trinity College has never been previously recognised as having holdings of these extremely rare seventeenth century issues: we have found several, and expect to find more as we make progress deeper into the seventeenth century.’

Professor Pettegree’s work will complement the research undertaken by a team from Geography, Computer Science and History at Trinity led by Professor Micheál Ó Siochrú who have been working on the maps in the Fagel Collection since 2014. With Google as a partner they plan to create a fully interactive website showcasing the entire map collection. Regarded as one of the finest pre-1800 map collections in the world, the Fagel maps are unique in terms of quality and standard of preservation showing all major conflicts in Europe from 1650 to 1800 and sea and celestial atlases.

Transnational Realities of the Early Modern Book World

Prof Andrew PettegreeProfessor Pettegree is also the Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue(USTC), a project which sees him and a team of researchers ‘recreating the transnational reality of the early modern book world.’ This platform provides a survey of all books which have been published from 1450 until 1600, some 360,000 bibliographically distinct items. ‘Essentially, the USTC has aggregated this information together in one place for the first time. Previously bibliographical surveys were conducted on a nation by nation basis – the USTC now allows scholars to track far more easily the movement of text around Europe’.

By use of this platform, scholars can now see what texts were popular in different countries in the same time period, providing a greater insight into the realities of the early modern book world. ‘Because the Latin book world was one market, a customer wouldn’t really mind if the book they had was published in Paris or Venice, if what they were looking for was just text. So a large part of this edition published in places like Paris, Lyon and Venice would have been sold throughout Europe; the result of that also is that they found their way into libraries outside their home country and this is where we are correcting one of the major gaps in knowledge. Previously major national surveys would have been conducted by their own national library community looking solely at their own libraries.’

Professor Pettegree says that the survey which is coded according to subject is a very useful research tool, and the items available through the platform will grow to approximately 700,000 items when extended to 1650 due to the growth in the printing industry at that time. His survey of the Fagel Collection pamphlets will also be included in the USTC which will draw the significance of the collection to the attention of many more scholars.

Brand Luther  

Professor Pettegree also spent part of his fellowship engaging with staff and students at Trinity on his research on the Reformation, the focus of the first half of his career before he turned to book history and the history of communication. He recently accepted an invitation from Penguin to write a book about Luther in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. ‘The invitation to write a book about Luther was an opportunity to bring my two areas of research together, to say something about the Reformation but also to say something specifically about the Lutheran book world. I felt because of this double track of my career I was uniquely well-placed to do that.’


The book which has been published before the major celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation commence in 2017, provided an opportune topic for Professor Pettegree’s lecture as part of the Trinity Centre for Early Modern History Research Seminar Series. Professor Pettegree says that through this new book and in his work on the Reformation and Luther, he is trying to show how the Reformation and Luther’s career is very much a ‘pyramid of multiple improbabilities’. He spoke of Luther as a monk who reinvented himself in his thirties as a writer and polemicist of significant power. Luther invented a new form of theological writing and achieved this from a small insignificant market town on Europe’s periphery - Wittenberg, a place which Luther himself described as a town on the edge of civilisation, but which improbably went on to become German’s largest centre of publishing directly as a result of ‘Brand Luther’.

Professor Pettegree’s work on Luther follows on from an active research theme in History at Trinity College – Religion and Memory– building towards the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. His work on the Fagel collection falls within one of the Trinity’s major research themes, and a theme supported by the Trinity Long Room Hub: Manuscript, book and print cultures.

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer |Trinity Long Room Hub | | 01 896 3895