Glossary of Early Modern Popular Print Genres



Armande Des Jardins, Almanach historial pour l'an de grâce 1686 (Paris: veuve Nicolas Oudot, 1686). Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France;

Other languages

  • Dutch: almanak, almanach, kalender 
  • French: almanach, almanac, calendrier 
  • German: Almanach, Kalender 
  • Italian: almanacco, calendario 
  • Polish: almanach, kalendarz
  • Spanish: almanaque, calendario, piscator 

Material form



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Usually annually published books and sheets based on the calendar with the observations on the passage of time, the seasons, astronomical data and the interpretation of these data. The main use of the calendar was a practical one. While the astrological content of the almanac contained general prognostications on the development of war or politics, they also predicted the weather, and announced the proper days for certain financial, social or medical actions. In the English case the appearance of the prognostication alongside with the almanac in the same publication dates from around the 1540s, a practice which seems to have been introduced earlier on the continent. The almanac itself was among the earliest genres to appear in print. Another major development in the 16th century was the introduction of blank pages interspersed in the calendar for people to take personal notes. Most of these notes were calculations or other practical matters, but some people entered their diaries into the almanacs as well. 

Because the contents of the almanac were often practically limited to their relevant year of publication, the almanac can be categorized as ephemeral literature. However, as the notes contained in them testify, some almanacs were kept in use for much longer than their relevant year. Certain types of almanacs were specifically tailored to long-term use, such as perpetual almanacs and ‘calendars of shepherds’. They provided information for multiple years (e.g. on upcoming solar and lunar eclipses) or tools to calculate the dates of the religious feast days for any year. 

The small size of almanacs (oftentimes octavo, duodecimo, sexto-decimo or even smaller) made them relatively inexpensive. This, in combination with their practical use, made the almanac one of the most widely spread forms of popular literature. It is estimated that in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century almanacs could be found in every third household in England, and in every fourth household in the Dutch Republic. Larger (quarto) and more expensive almanacs usually reached more affluent buyers.

Next to their practical content, almanacs would often include forms of entertainment such as chronicles, poems, songs, short histories or anecdotes. This made the almanac a mixture of practical and entertaining literature.  

Especially in the Dutch Republic distinctions were made between different types of almanacs, starting from roughly the turn of the 17th century. Besides the main calendar and prognostication components there were special versions such as the ‘Chronijck’ almanac with a focus on historical events and the Schrijf almanach (writing almanac), or the comptoir almanach (office almanac), which provided blank space incorporated in the calendar for annotations. In the Dutch Republic, Italy and France a large variety of almanacs emerged in the 18th century, ranging from agrarian almanacs with new, up-to-date hints for farmers, to court and city-guides for the urban audiences. 

Unlike most other genres of popular literature, Dutch, English, and German almanacs were often not published anonymously or under a pseudonym. Instead, much of the reliability of the predictions depended on the reputation of the author or compiler. These authors were often highly educated and familiar with astronomy, mathematics and medicine. Only during the 17th century did the authorship shift towards schoolmasters, land surveyors and lay astrologers. In Italy and France, however, anonymous almanacs or almanacs with a fictitious name occurred quite often. 

Related terms

calendar, prognostication, chronicle


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Modified on: 07/02/2024