ENGL 209 B1: Reading Histories: "Contested Readings"

A. Hasenbank

The history of reading is one of continual contestation: as technologies of reading reach further, and as communities of readers grow, acts of reading can become threats to the powerful. How can we consider the political and social contexts of reading alongside the texts readers encountered in different historical moments?
This course will survey different theoretical approaches and historical accounts of readers, with a primary focus on the modern era. Students will consider the history of reading as a subfield of literary studies as well as a discrete set of social practices that vary with time, place, and community use. We will examine the development of reading publics with the advent of print-capitalism, as well as the counterpublics that sought access to literacy as a tool of power. We will consider questions of class, race, and indigeneity, as well as the shaping of different scholarly and popular contexts for reading.

This course will first provide an introduction to the field through readings by Robert Darnton, Martyn Lyons, and Michel de Certeau, among others. We will then turn to the growth of reading publics and the spread of literacy through the work of Benedict Anderson, Michael Warner, and others. We will then consider reading practices and experiences among working-class readers, racialized groups, and other popular audiences. Lastly, we will look at contemporary group readings such as the Book-of-the-Month Club (Radway) and CBC’s Canada Reads program.