Life after the Warburg: Paolo Sachet

After completing his PhD at the Warburg in 2015, Paolo Sachet is now leading an Ambizione funded research project at the Institut d’histoire of the Réformation in Geneva. 

We chatted with Paolo to find out more about the research project, his experiences at the Institute and why he recommends the Warburg as a place to study. 

Could you tell us a little bit about the research project you are currently working on?

Since 2020, I have been leading a four-year Ambizione project at the Institut d’histoire of the Réformation in Geneva. The project aims to retrace the printed dissemination of Greek patristics throughout Renaissance Europe and assess the pivotal role played in it by Swiss printing centers and Reformers. Its main outcome is AGAPE, a database we have officially launched a few days ago. AGAPE records and describes in detail all printed editions which contain works by the Greek Fathers and were published in any language between 1460 and 1600.

What key things have you learnt so far from doing this project?

In devising a bibliographical database from scratch, I benefited enormously from the help of a small team, comprising a junior researcher, a web designer, and an IT consultant. In the first, I was glad to find a sparring partner with the same enthusiasm for research as mine; the second taught me that form and content go hand in hand also on the web, while the third showed me (hopefully not in vain) the vast potential of computer programming for book history and reception studies. In other words, I experienced in full the pleasure and advantage of working in a team.

You undertook your PhD at the Warburg, what was the focus of your research?

Portrait of Cardinal Marcello Cervini degli Spannocchi - attributed to Jacopino del Conte

My dissertation tackled the use of printing by the Catholic Church just after the Reformation, attempting to revert the conventional knowledge by which the mid-sixteenth-century Roman hierarchies were only concerned with censorship when it came to movable type. In my years at the Warburg, I amassed ton of notes on this often neglected subject and I have never really stopped studying it since. I addressed it in my first monograph – Publishing for the Popes: The Roman Curia and the Use of Printing, 1527-1555 (Leiden and Boston 2020) – and I plan to develop it further in a second book by focusing on the following three decades up to 1587.

Did your experience at the Warburg Institute help to equip you for your fellowship?

I dare say it was fundamental, as it helped me grow as both a scholar and human being. On an academic level, there I discovered how to harmonize my curiosity for intellectual and religious history in early modern times with a soft spot for Latin and ancient Greek. And I slowly understood that patristic literature was an essential, albeit understudied part of the Renaissance revival of the Antiquity. On a personal level, I learnt how to engage critically with younger and senior colleagues and build a long-lasting network of advisors and friends who can drop you a line with the right reference or cheer you up when you need it the most.

What did you enjoy most about studying at the Warburg Institute?

Two things which, in my experience, are unusual to find elsewhere. First, the strong sense of community. I still recall the enlightening conversations I had in the common room with the staff, other PhD candidates, and the many visiting fellows. Secondly, the endless availability of books, including those you did not know of, as yet. Back then, students working for the library were given a door key to come and go as they pleased: how many quiet evenings I spent reading in the carrel or reshelving books.

I still recall the enlightening conversations I had in the common room with the staff, other PhD candidates, and the many visiting fellows.

What was the most valuable thing you learned during your PhD?

If I have to pick a single one, I think it was scholarship. The notion was completely unknown to me, as it does not even exist in my native language (Italian). Through the example of the people I worked with (especially my supervisor and my dear carrel mate), I learned that scholarship is not just a synonym of wide-ranging erudition, but a combination of knowledge, patience, manners and integrity. All such components are pivotal for achieving your research goals, including the most ambitious ones.

Would you recommend the Warburg Institute as a place of study and why?

I recommend it wholeheartedly. There is hardly any other place where you can hone your skills to become a scholar or prepare yourself to work constructively in cultural institutions, from museums to academic libraries.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

Always edit your own texts with the utmost care. It will help you think further, improve clarity, avoid embarrassing mistakes, and spot loopholes in your argument. This lesson was so important that I developed a guilty pleasure for copy-editing and became increasingly interested in the history of proofreading.

Always edit your own texts with the utmost care. It will help you think further, improve clarity, avoid embarrassing mistakes, and spot loopholes in your argument.

What are your future plans?

In the near future, I am eager to find a way to balance work in a university with my private life, being happily married and a father of two. I would be also keen to expand my current project by securing new funds, given the amount of time and energy my team and I put in it. In any event, I hope I will be able to keep learning new things and studying early printed books around the world.

Paolo Sachet, PhD (2015), the Warburg Institute, is currently Ambizione Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institut d’histoire de la Réformation, Université de Genève, leading the four-year project The Greek Imprint on Europe: Patristics and Publishing in the Early Swiss Reformation. His research focuses on the impact of printed books on the intellectual history of early modern Europe. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and collective volumes, co-edited The Afterlife of Aldus: Posthumous Fame, Collectors and the Book Trade (2018) and Printing and Misprinting: A Companion to Mistakes and In-House Corrections in Renaissance Europe, 1450-1650 (2023), and authored Publishing for the Popes: The Roman Curia and the Use of Printing, 1527-1555 (2020). Paolo is also the editor in chief of AGAPE.