HerBook: Women and Book Ownership in Europe, 16th-18th centuries

deadline for submissions: 
November 15, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Sorbonne nouvelle

HerBook: Women and Book Ownership in Europe, 16th-18th centuries

International Conference, Sorbonne nouvelle, Paris, 17-18 June 2022


If “women who read are dangerous”, as the title of a famous book has it (Adler and Stollmann 2005), what could be said of women who owned books, at a time when their access to culture was still controversial? This conference, which is part of the Sorbonne nouvelle’s “Corpus Feminae: women’s materialities in early modern Europe” project, intends to examine the relationships between women and their books to shed light on their physical properties. The conference will consider how permeable the materiality of the book (formats, bindings, types of paper, illustration and frontispieces, marginalia…) is to women’s bodies, by asking if the contact between the two may leave traces on the object which is read.

            In the wake of Roger Chartier’s works, which have shown the importance of materiality in the reception of the book, book ownership has been a fast developing field, but these questions are rarely contemplated from a perspective that is both European and gendered. Building on the recent work on female book ownership in the English-speaking world, we would like to widen the perspective to include all European countries, and possibly the New World, and take into consideration cross-cultural exchanges, in particular the circulation of books. With this project, we hope to contribute to the development of such studies and to help to recover the place women should have in them. Far from suggesting that all early modern women had the same approach to book ownership, we would like to uncover both similarities and differences in their practices, and also to possibly shed light on transnational networks of circulation that included women.

            Indeed, women’s education developed slowly but surely in early modern Europe, as did their involvement in the culture of the time, despite the many obstacles they had to face (Timmermans 2005). Literacy slowly began to reach more women, even if upper-class, especially aristocratic, women continued to be privileged in this regard (Cruz 2011; Howe 2018). In this context, not only could a growing number of women read, but even possess books, i.e. procure them by purchase, gift, inheritance or any other form of transmission - books that they often claimed as their own (De Courcelles 1999; Knight 2018; Bombart 2020). This conference aims to explore the various forms and modalities such an appropriation could take, both by discovering how books were brought to women (and conversely) and by scrutinizing the different manners in which women made their books fully their own. How did early modern women come across their printed books? What roles did they play in the circulation of manuscripts (as “simple” readers, patrons, or co-authors, as with Mary Sidney Herbert’s translation of the Psalms, continuing her brother’s work after his death…)? How did they create their own manuscript works, especially in the case of commonplace books?

            We would like to examine the ways in which women came to recognize and identify books as their own by interrogating the diverse signs of appropriation (such as signatures, notes, scribbles or others) through which they left their marks on books, publicizing their ownership and/or conditioning the transmission of books to another person or another generation (Cavallo 2000). Did this appropriation take different forms for men and women, at a time when women’s education remained debated? More generally, can we observe a translation of the body in these female books – a passage from the body of the reader to the materiality of the book itself? In other words, were books materially gendered in the early modern period, whether or not their content was specifically addressed to women?

            The conference seeks to interrogate (through case studies and/or transversal ones) the various relations entertained by women and their books in early modern Europe by focusing on the materiality of the book, but also on the concrete dimension of the processes of acquisition, circulation, or the creation of libraries. Interdisciplinary and cross-cultural studies would therefore be particularly welcome.


            We invite individual submissions for 20 to 25 minute presentations, either in English or in French. Please send a 300-word abstract with a short bio-bibliographical notice to Guillaume Coatalen (guillaume.coatalen@cyu.fr) and Aurélie Griffin (aurelie.griffin@sorbonne-nouvelle.fr) by 15 November 2021. A selection of papers will be submitted for publication as a collection of essays.




Acheson, Katherine (ed.), Early Modern English Marginalia: Material Readings in Early Modern Culture, London, New York, Routledge, 2018.

Adler, Laure, et Stefan Bolmann, Les Femmes qui lisent sont dangereuses, Paris, Flammarion 2005.

Bawcutt, Priscilla, “‘My Bright Buke’: Women and their Books in Medieval and Renaissance Scotland”, in Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts in Late Medieval Britain: Essays for Felicity Tiddy, eds. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Rosalynn Voaden and Arlyn Diamond, Turnhout, Brepols, 2000, 

Bombart, Mathilde, Sylvain Cornic, Edwige Keller-Rabé, Michèle Rossellini (eds.), “À qui lira”. Littérature, livres et librairie en France au XVIIe siècle, Tübingen, Günter Narr Verlag, 2020.

Cavallo, Sandra, “What Did Women Transmit? Ownership and Control of Household Goods and Personal Effects in Early Modern Italy”, in Gender and Material Culture in Historical Perspective, eds. Moira Donald and Linda Hurcombe, London, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2000, pp. 38-53.

Chartier, Roger, Lectures et lecteurs dans la France d’Ancien Régime, Paris, Seuil, 1987.

______, Pratiques de la lecture, Paris, Payot, 2004.

______ (ed.), Les Usages de l’imprimé, XVe-XIXe siècles, Paris, Fayard, 1987.

______, et Guglielmo Cavallo (eds.), Histoire de la lecture dans le monde occidental, Paris, Point, 2011.

Cruz, Anne J. et Rosilie Hernandez (eds.), Women’s Literacy in Early Modern Spain and the New World, Farnham, Ashgate, 2011.

De Courcelles, Dominique, et Carmen Val Julian, Des Femmes et des livres. France et Espagne, XIVe-XVIIe siècles, Paris, Publications de l’Ecole Nationale des Chartes, 1999.

Dooley, Brendan, Angelica’s Book and the World of Reading in Renaissance Italy, London Bloomsbury, 2016.

Howe, Elizabeth Teresa, “Ladies, Libraries and literacy in Early Modern Spain”, in A Companion to the Spanish Renaissance, ed. Hilaire Kallendorf, Leiden, Brill, 2018.

Knight, Leah, Micheline White and Elizabeth Sauer (eds.), Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2018. 

Jagersma, Rindert, et Joanna Rozendaal, “Female Book Ownership in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Republic: The Book Collection of Paper-Cutting Artist Joanna Koerten (1650-1715)”, Qaerendo, vol. 50, Issue 1-2, 2020, pp. 109-140.

Jeans, Hannah, Women’s Reading Habits and Gendered Genres, c. 1600-1700, Ph. D. Thesis, University of York, 2019. 

Mayer, Jean-Christophe, Shakespeare’s Early Readers: A Cultural History from 1590 to 1800, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2018.

McElligott, Jason, “Ownership Inscriptions and Life Writings in the Books of Early Modern Women”, in Women’s Life Writing and Early Modern Ireland, eds. Julie A. Eckerle and Naomi McAreavey, Lincoln, NE., University of Nebraska Press, 2018.

Pearson, David, Book Ownership in Stuart England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2021. 

Plantey, Damien, Les Bibliothèques des princesses de Navarre: livres, objets,mobilier, décor, espaces et usages, Villeurbanne, Presses de l’ENSSIB, 2016.

Reid, Martine (ed.), Femmes et littérature. Une histoire culturelle, Paris, Gallimard, 2020, 2 vols. 

Reinburg, Virginia, “‘For the Use of Women’: Women and Books of Hours”, Early Modern Women, Fall 2009, n°4, pp. 235-240.

Roberts, Sasha (ed.), “Reading in Early Modern England”, special issue of Critical Survey, vol. 12 Issue 2, 2000.

Smith, Helen, “Grossly Material Things”: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.

Staves, Susan, “‘Books Without Which I Cannot Write’: How Did Eighteenth-Century Women Writers Get the Books they Read?”, in Women and Material Culture, 1660-1830, eds. Jennie Batchelor and Cora Kaplan, New York, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 191-211.

Timmermans, Linda, L’Accès des femmes à la culture sous l’Ancien Régime, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2005.

Wayne, Valerie (ed.), Women’s Labour and the History of the Book in Early Modern England, London, Bloomsbury, The Arden Shakespeare, 2020.

Van Elk, Martine, Early Modern Women’s Writing: Domesticity, Privacy and the Public Sphere in England and the Dutch Republic, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. → inviter

Von Kippelskirch Xenia, Sotto controllo. Letture femminili in Italia nella prima età moderna, Rome, 2011. 

Weduwen, Andrew der, Andrew Pettigree and Graeme Kemp, Book Trade Catalogues in Early Modern Europe, Leiden, Brill, forthcoming 2021.

Wells, S. G., 

Weyraud, Erdmann, ‘Book ownership’, Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online, first published 2015, DOI: <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0272_emho_COM_017833>

Online Resources: 

Early Modern Female Book Ownership, #HerBook, URL: https://earlymodernfemalebookownership.wordpress.com/

Book Owners Online, URL: https://bookowners.online/Main_Page