Regional Seminars


American Antiquarian Society Regional Seminars in association with the history departments of Brown University, Clark University and the University of Connecticut


  • Tuesday, February 7, 2017, 5:00 p.m.
    Elmarion Room, Goddard-Daniels House
    190 Salisbury Street
    Worcester, MA 01609

    Reconstructing a History of Reading: Literacy, Poetry, and Community in the Forgotten World of the Words-Only Hymnbook
    by Christopher N. Phillips
    Associate Professor of English, Lafayette College and ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellow, American Antiquarian Society

    Before about 1860, hymnbooks in the English-speaking world were generally small, portable, and devoid of printed music. These books were privately owned, rather than provided by the churches, and they traveled with their owners between church, home, school, and other spaces. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a hymnbook was often the first book a child owned, perhaps the only book of poetry in a family’s possession, and a mark of membership—by turns respectable and radical. Hymnbooks competed with bibles and almanacs as one of the most-produced and most-used print genres of their time, and their influence on religious life, the rise of literacy education, and the history of poetry was profound, but scholarship on them is scanty at best. Drawing on analysis of thousands of hymnbooks, this lecture gives an account of the hymnbook’s place in the lives of British and American hymn-readers (and poetry-readers) from the rise of congregational hymnody in English in the early eighteenth century to the invention of the modern-format hymnal in the mid-nineteenth century.

    There will be refreshments provided before the paper. If you plan to attend, please notify Nan Wolverton at AAS ( by Monday, February 6.


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