Reading and Everyday Life: Books, Texts, Histories

Summer Seminar in the History of the Book
June 15-June 20, 2003
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.

This seminar is described in the July 2003 issue of The Book.

About the Faculty

Barbara Hochman, Foreign Languages and Linguistics Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
David Stewart, English, National Central University, Taiwan.

About the Faculty: 

Hochman is senior lecturer in the department of foreign literatures at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where she has taught since 1997. Her most recent publication is Getting at the Reader: Reimagining Books and Reading in the Age of American Realism (University of Massachusetts Press, 2001). David Stewart is assistant professor of English, National Central University, Taiwan, and currently Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at The McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Hochman, who has published widely on American fiction, is at work on her next book about Stowe and the publication of Uncle Toms Cabin; Stewart works on Thompson and men's reading. Visiting faculty will include Robert A. Gross, Forrest D. Murden Professor of history and American Studies at the College of William and Mary Kelley, Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of history, American culture, and womens studies, and members of AAS staff. Applications for the 2003 seminar will be accepted until all slots are filled. Priority deadline for applications is Friday, February 28, 2003. Further details are available online or by contacting Caroline Sloat at AAS ([508] 755-5221, csloat[at] to request a copy.

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