Reading and Everyday Life: Books, Texts, Histories

Group photo of the summer seminar participants

American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

Barbara Hochman

David Stewart

Among the principal insights to come out of the last twenty-five years of reading history is that different readers read differently. They read in different places; they read for different reasons; they read different things; and when they do read the same things they understand them to have different meanings. "Reading and Everyday Life" will consider the reading of two very different, though both very popular, books of the 1850s: Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous abolitionist novel/tract, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and pulp novelist George Thompson's now largely forgotten autobiography, My Life; or, The Adventures of Geo. Thompson. Our purpose will be to think about who read these books, how they read them, and why. We will also think about the consequences of such reading, directly in acts of reading themselves (weeping, anger, prurient interest), and more broadly in their effects on the everyday lives of readers.

Insofar as Uncle Tom's Cabin and My Life attracted different readers with different reading needs and practices, reconstructing their reading histories poses different methodological problems. These we will consider with special emphasis on links that have developed between history and literary criticism, links that have been indispensable to recent reading studies. Interdisciplinary methods will be particularly useful in helping us understand the initial popularity of writers like Stowe and Thompson as well as the scholarly ambivalence that has attended them since. In addition to the primary texts, which we would ask participants to read beforehand, readings for the five-day seminar will include a range of representative scholarship, criticism, and theory. The format will combine seminar discussions, guest lectures, library workshops, and evening round tables.

Seminar Leader
Seminar Leader