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24 October 2011
Please consider applying for the 2012 NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers on “Tudor Books and Readers: 1485-1603.” Investigating the manufacture and dissemination of books and the nature of reading during the era of the Tudor monarchs (1485-1603), it will meet from 18 June until 20 July 2012, at Antwerp, Belgium, and London and Oxford, United Kingdom.
We plan to take an expansive view of the Tudor era by considering the origins of English printing, when William Caxton, the dominant force during the formative period of the Tudor book trade, founded his press at Westminster, at a distance from the City of London, in 1476. So also, our investigation may illuminate how Tudor book culture gave rise to three vitally important publications during the years following the end of the Tudor dynasty: the King James Bible and the collected works of the best-known Tudor authors, William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, the epic poet of Elizabethan England. Our investigation will address three interlocking areas of study:
- the development of early English print and reading culture
- book production technologies during the era of the hand-press
- the history of the book and the history of reading as academic disciplines
Topics relevant to this investigation may include continuity with and change from medieval manuscript tradition, the material nature of hand-printed books, book illustration, the marketing of books, reading habits, and censorship. Building upon recent scholarship in the history of reading, we seek to throw light on ways in which readers related to books through handwritten marginal annotations, note-taking, and other material practices. We will also interrogate broader assumptions concerning the ways in which the history of reading informs issues of periodization, the literary history of the Tudor era, and more. Numerous forces shaped both target audiences and actual readerships across this period, in ways that frequently depart from standard assumptions of literary production and reception. As a result, case studies of readers who left material evidence of their reading, such as Gabriel Harvey, the Cambridge scholar, or the Elizabethan gentlewoman Lady Margaret Hoby, afford one theoretical model among many by which we understand the nature of reading during this period.
Taking a comprehensive view of Tudor book culture, we will investigate how the works of renowned authors build upon pre-existing production and reading practices that date from before Caxton founded the English printing trade. After all, it is in this diachronic context that Tudor authors, printers, and publishers produced books and individuals read and interpreted them. Our inquiry will raise questions concerning the hierarchy of printing practices and of skills possessed by learned readers who understood Latin, Greek, and possibly Hebrew, on the one hand, and “unlearned” readers who understood nothing more than the vernacular, on the other hand. Study of multiple literacies may give rise to further inquiry into orality, aurality, and visuality. After all, the advent of printing did not halt reading aloud within a communal context. Nor did it prevent individuals illiterate even in the vernacular from looking at illustrations as an accompaniment to listening to oral readings.
This five-week program will take place at several of the most important centers for the study of Tudor books and reading. We shall spend our first week in Antwerp in order to 1) familiarize ourselves with the physical plant of the Plantin-Moretus Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the sole surviving Renaissance printing and publishing house and 2) to consider the printing of English books, many of which were smuggled from Antwerp to England in violation of prohibitions against forbidden books. We shall then move to London where we will scrutinize treasures at Senate House Library, University of London. Participants will also have the opportunity to initiate research at the British Library. We shall finally devote four weeks in Oxford to studying the extraordinary holdings at the Bodleian Library and selected college libraries. In general, we shall meet in three three-hour-long weekly seminar meetings.
The advent of printing with moveable type contributed to the transformation of the intellectual, cultural, social, and religious life of Tudor England. Our program will consider the amalgamation of continuity and change in book production and reading practices that are rooted in late medieval book culture, but carry over to the genuinely early modern book culture in place by the end of the Tudor dynasty. During its early centuries, the printing trade fostered a complicated intermingling of older ideas with new approaches to the production, dissemination, and consumption of knowledge. In particular, the interchange between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism gave rise to an explosion in the publication of religious books, Bibles, and polemics. At the same time, we may ask whether printing generated novel approaches to established genres while creating a demand for new ones. Focus upon religious upheaval during this era helps to frame our inquiry into the nature of the Tudor book but does not exclusively define our study.
We plan to scrutinize how the technology of the hand press, which remained constant for 350 years following its mid-fifteenth-century invention by Johannes Gutenberg, influenced book production, dissemination, and reading. Our investigation will consider influential arguments concerning the history of the book and the history of reading. As our governing question, we wish to ask whether the advent of printing was an essential precondition for the emergence of new reading practices. Scholars have long accepted the claim, for instance, that the reading habits of Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther and William Tyndale embody progress beyond authoritarian reading practices of late-medieval defenders of Roman Catholicism such as Sir Thomas More. Some have recently proposed that it is the reading of Luther, Tyndale, and other Protestant reformers that was truly authoritarian. Scholars of Tudor reading engage in fruitful debate over this and the related problem of whether the relationship between printing and reading was revolutionary or evolutionary.
In addition to considering key terms, methods, and arguments of contemporary thinking concerning the history of the book and the history of reading, we may assess ways in which scholars have addressed book and reading history for hundreds of years. Issues under study may include early printing and reading practices, principles and methods of bibliographic investigation, development of effective and persuasive mass media, relationships between the printed book as a medium (as Marshall McLuhan might say) and ways in which readers’ received its intellectual contents (the message) in the context of late medieval and early modern religion, history, literature, art, and culture. Study of the material production of books affords a foundation for this program, but we shall go beyond the manufacture and marketing of books to consider the impact that they had on the mentalities of Tudor readers.
Bringing together academic concerns that conventional disciplinary boundaries frequently separate, this seminar will address how the study of Tudor books and readers can clarify texts commonly taught in undergraduate literature courses and illustrate the subject matter of courses in history, art, and other subjects. We have accordingly designed this program to appeal to teacher-scholars of the literary, political, or cultural history of the early English Renaissance and Reformation, and to specialists in art history, women’s studies, religious studies, bibliography, print culture, library science (including rare book librarians), historians of mass communication, historians of literacy, and more.
John N. King
Distinguished University Professor Emeritus
Humanities Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English & of Religious Studies
The Ohio State University
Assistant Professor of English
James Madison University
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