CFP: Reading in History (8/15/06; collection)

full name / name of organization: 
Bonnie Gunzenhauser

Proposals are sought for essays to be published in an edited collection titled Reading in History: New Methodologies from the Anglo-American Tradition. Please see the description of the proposed collection below. Cambridge Scholars Press has expressed interest in publishing this collection; negotiations for publication will be completed later this year, and completed essays will be due in late 2006.



The history of reading is a relatively new field of study that brings together scholars from literature, history, sociology, philosophy, and law. Growing out of early works like Richard Altick's The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900 (© 1957), and coalescing in a dedicated professional organization (SHARP, or The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing) in 1991, the study of reading has been largely defined by two distinct (and divergent) methodologies. On the one hand, scholars have approached the subject empirically, focusing on a specific historical moment and gathering detailed statistics about such issues as literacy rates (and how literacy was measured), library subscriptions, publication and sales figures, and print runs to answer questions about what was being read and by whom in a particular place and time. On the other, scholars have approached the subject theoretically, focusing on how meaning is cr!
 eated and conditioned by a theoretical (and often largely ahistorical) "reader."


Both methodologies have much to offer. The theoretical approach generates insights into the locus of meaning-making, the nature of textual authority, and the intellectual, social, and political potentialities of reading, while the empirical approach reconstructs specific scenes of reading with a wealth of details and historically-specific data. But too often we have pursued either one approach or the other, rather than looking for ways to synthesize the philosophical issues of reading with the empirical information that would enrich their claims and validate them for particular historical moments. In recent years, some excellent work has begun to suggest ways to integrate the two approaches. But this work, while valuable, has focused on particular moments and texts in literary history and therefore has not taken as its central concern the advancement methodologies for studying and writing about the history of reading.


This proposed essay collection thus fills a gap in the study of the history of reading. Because its primary aims are (1) to synthesize empirical and theoretical approaches to the study of reading and (2) to foreground issues of methodology rather than literary history, it will be a first-of-its-kind volume that will be of interest to scholars in a range of disciplines connected to the study of the history of reading, publishing, and the book.


Please send inquiries, full articles (3000-4500 words), or 1000-word article abstracts to Bonnie Gunzenhauser ( by August 15, 2006.

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Received on Sat Jul 01 2006 - 07:13:45 EDT