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Announcement: History of Reading Working Group » Research Reports

The History of Reading Working Group focuses on research in the fields of the history of the book and other “interfaces,” the evolution of individual and collective reading practices, and the relation of old to new media forms. The following reports and papers reflect these research interests.

Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry

Research Report by Donna Beth Ellard
(created 3/31/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: History of reading

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc du Berry (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry”) is one of the most sumptuous and costly books of hours. The calendars in Les Tres Riches Heures were painted by Paul, Hermann and Jean Limoges, three brothers from Flanders. Later additions were carried out by the late 14th- century artist Jean Colombe. The original manuscript is at the Condé Museum in Chantilly, France. (more…)

Medieval Writing Website

Research Report by Alison Walker
(created 3/7/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The website “Medieval Writing: History Heritage and Data Source” provides its users with a broad overview of types, styles, and information on the culture of medieval writing from 400-1500 A.D. “Medieval Writing” showcases images from many types of documents, including manuscripts, legal, administrative and papal documents; the website provides an in-depth analysis of each type of document and its uses during the medieval period. Secondly, “Medieval Writing” offers paleography lessons so its users can become proficient in the various book hands and document hands used from the 6th to the 16th Centuries. (more…)

The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry

Research Report by Donna Beth Ellard
(created 3/5/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The Exeter Dean and Chapter MS 3501, or “The Exeter Book,” is the oldest of four collections of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is believed to have been produced in southwest England, probably between 965 and 975 (Muir 1).

Digital images of the Exeter Book were produced in 1996, and from these images, a “virtual manuscript” has been produced. “The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry” is edited and compiled by Bernard J. Muir and Nick Kennedy and produced in July 2006. It contains interactive facsimiles, a page viewer, codicological report, historical and cultural materials, and short audio readings of selected poems. (more…)

Electronic Beowulf Project

Research Report by Donna Beth Ellard
(created 3/5/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories:New Approaches to Reading Print Texts

Original Object for Study description

Summary: “Electronic Beowulf Project” is an image-based CD-ROM edition of Beowulf, the great Old English poem, which survives in only one manuscript: British Library Cotton Vitellius A. xv. The CD is a full-color digital facsimile of Beowulf, its associated texts, and glossaries. Future editions will include illuminations from contemporary manuscripts and external links to medieval and Anglo-Saxon resource sites. (more…)

The Medley Print

Research Report by Gerald Egan
(created 2/20/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Historical Multimedia

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
Medley prints, similar to a contemporary collage, were mixed-media objects that enjoyed an indeterminate period of popularity in the visual culture of eighteenth century England. One of the intriguing aspects of medley prints is that so little information survives about them and correspondingly little contemporary scholarship has been published about them. An exception is Mark Hallett’s “The Medley Print in Early Eighteenth-Century London,”? and I appropriate his description of a particular engraving called The May Day Country Mirth to formulate a workable definition of the genre of the medley print, which, Hallett writes, “. . . for clarity, fuses the mechanics of trompe-l’oeil with a sustained programme of representational juxtapositions and overlap. By means of an almost microscopically exact process of pictorial imitation, the engraver attempts to persuade us, however momentarily, that we are gazing at a scattering of printed and drawn objects, thrown together in front of our eyes. . . . The medley print . . . was a pictorial genre that meshed together a variety of materials circulating in graphic culture in order to produce a modern, hybrid art form”? (214 – 235). Although there is little scholarship on medley prints, there are a number of surviving examples, upon a few of which I will attempt quick readings today. (more…)

Robert Carlton Brown, The Readies

Summary:
In 1930 avant-garde writer Bob Brown published an essay in the international avant-garde journal transition (edited by Eugene Jolas) calling for a new reading machine to push literature to keep up with the advanced reading practices of a cinema-viewing public and thereby produce the “Revolution of the Word.” In this essay, published a year later in a stand-alone publication, Brown boldly proclaimed

The written word hasn’t kept up with the age. The movies have outmanoeuvered it. We have the talkies, but as yet no Readies. I’m for new methods of reading and writing and I believe the up-to-date reader deserves an eye-ful when he buys something to read. I think the optical end of the written word has been hidden over a bushel too long. I’m out for a bloody revolution of the word (1).

And,

Books are antiquated word containers…. modern word-conveyors are needed now, reading will have to be done by machine (13).

(The Readies [Bad Ems: Roving Eye Press, 1930], UCLA Special Collections).
Following the publication of the essay, Brown published a collection of short works inspired by and supposedly created for the machine. Readies for Bob Brown’s Machine (Cagnes-sur-Mer: Roving Eye Press, 1931) included poems by Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and Filippo Marinetti. Jerome McGann describes the importance of this anthology to literary history: “When the afterhistory of modernism is written, this collection… will be recognized as a work of signal importance” (Black Riders 89). (more…)

The Mechanics’ Institute

Research Report by David Roh
(created 2/2/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: History of Reading, Literacy Studies
Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The Mechanics’ Institute sprang up in 19th century England for the ostensible purpose of imparting upon the working class mechanic knowledge of the sciences, literature, and arts. In actuality, a myriad of purposes shrouded the creation of these institutes, which were ultimately appropriated by the middle class when it became apparent that the working class was not as receptive as had been anticipated. Some scholars conjecture that they were really formed as a means of control and indoctrination of the working class, allowing only as little real knowledge as needed for them to improve as workers, but little else. As the middle class began to move in, the working class retreated to the Institute’s libraries and reading rooms, where they were free to discuss topics that interested them. One of the unintended consequences of the failed Mechanics’ Institutes was the aiding in the creation of a democratic infrastructure for working class access to printed materials, and despite the Institute’s discouragement, a predilection for popular fiction. In short, despite being borne from a desire to regulate, they were an important precursor to the establishment of public libraries and a liberated mass reading public. (more…)

The Codex Book

Research Report by Robin Chin
(created 1/30/06; version 1.0)

Related Categories: Hardware Innovations, History of Reading

Original Object for Study description

Summary:
The codex form of book – a “sheaf of bound pages”[1] – became prevalent in Europe over the previously popular format of the scroll sometime around the fifth century A.D. In its inception and subsequent technical improvements, the codex revolutionized modern thought to include, among other things, a new understanding of individual and informative portability – through space, likewise through time. Increased efforts at portability of the codex not only directly added to the spread of literacy to different economic classes, but also contributed to changes in the format of writing towards the use of academic research and towards general “user-friendliness.” Notably, such technical developments mirror, or at least relate to recent concerns and trends in personal computing, including but not limited to the size and appearance of computer hardware, the layout and graphic design of web pages, and interface design of computer software. (more…)