Habits of Reading in Early Modern England

NEH Summer Institute

Promotional Materials

June 16 through July 25, 1997

Directed by Steven N. Zwicker, Professor of English at Washington University                                                                                                                                                

The Institute

"Habits of Reading in Early Modern England" will make reading in all its facets the subject of intensive study and exploration. Working with the rich Folger collections and surveying the now substantial body of scholarship on (he subject, the institute will consider the full range of intellectual and affective transactions between readers and their books. We will address the ways that the printing and distribution of books shaped texts, the relations between the practices of reading and the formation of collections and libraries, the inflection of politics by prim, and the aesthetic and intellectual consequences of censorship, regulation, clientage, and patronage.We will, in other words, be concerned with all the ways we can trace Renaissance readers and their experience and, in turn, with the conclusions we might then draw about early modern authors and their embrace of those readers.

The relations between politics and reading will be a particular focus of this institute. The world of pamphlet culture and print warfare, of contest and animadversion, will be especially important to our study. Texts such as Marvell's Horatian Ode, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Dryden's Absolom and Achitophel will be read as factional, polemical, and fully engaged in the issues of their own political moments. By recreating those moments, the institute will cast the poems of early modern England as case studies for texts as political agents and for textual interpretation as a vital strategy for understanding culture and society.

The handwritten annotations in the margins of the Folger's rare books will be used as vital evidence in our study of the ways sixteenth- and seventeenth-century men and women read and responded to texts. By historicizing the reader-- studying the contemporary representations and reimagining the social and physical sites and circumstances of reading-- we will work to recreate the acts of attention and arts of interpretation that define the world of the early modern reader.Taking advantage of the institute's own setting in a library that is itself an important case study in the archiving of the period, we will examine a wide range of primary materials. These will include Renaissance texts on aesthetic theory and hermeneutics. as well as the metatexts of Renaissance books: their printed prefaces, dedications, illustrations, tables, and indexes.

In the course of the institute, participants will expand their knowledge of the book as a physical object with a session in the Folger's conservation laboratory.They will develop their facility in reading the hands of annotations with a paleography practicum. They will examine search strategies for evidence of readers'responses to texts with an introduction to on-line resources. Finally, they will supplement field trips to the National Gallery of Art with an introduction to the Gallery's archive of prints and library of slides.

Throughout, the institute will make available strategies for college faculty to understand, and more importantly to teach, how texts spoke to the passions of early modern politics and spirituality. to class circumstance and to gender, to party allegiance and to political. ideology. To that pedagogical end. participants will collectively assemble a packet of illustrative materials to be reproduced for incorporation into their own coursework with students.


Habits of Reading in Early Modern England faculty

Peter W.M. Blayney

Margaret J.M. Ezell

Margaret W. Ferguson

Anthony Grafton

Richard Helgerson

Michael Mendle

Kevin Sharpe

William Sherman

Evelyn Tribble

Laetitia Yeandle


Habits of Reading in Early Modern England participants


Bibliography for Habits of Reading in Early Modern England


Habits of Reading in Early Modern England


Anderson, Jennifer and Elizabeth Sauer, ed. Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Z1003.5.G7 B69 2002