Participatory reading in late-medieval England

Heather Blatt
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Reorienting the narrative of digital media studies to incorporate the medieval, Participatory reading in late-medieval England traces affinities between digital and medieval media to explore how participation defined reading practices and shaped relations between writers and readers in England’s literary culture from the late-fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries. Traditionally, print operates as the comparative touchstone of both medieval and digital media, but Participatory reading argues that the latter share more in common with each other than either does with print. Working on the borders of digital humanities, medieval cultural studies, and the history of the book, Participatory reading draws on well-known and little-studied works ranging from Chaucer to banqueting poems and wall-texts to demonstrate how medieval writers and readers engaged with practices familiar in digital media today, from crowd-sourced editing to nonlinear apprehension to mobility, temporality, and forensic materiality illuminate. Writers turned to these practices in order to both elicit and control readers’ engagement with their works in ways that would benefit the writers’ reputations along with the transmission and interpretation of their texts, while readers pursued their own agendas—which could conflict with or set aside writers’ attempts to frame readers’ work. The interactions that gather around participatory reading practices reflect concerns about authority, literacy, and media formats, before and after the introduction of print. Participatory reading is of interest to students and scholars of medieval literature, book, and reading history, in addition to those interested in the long history of media studies.



‘I was impressed overall with Blatt's well written and thoughtful volume, seeing familiar texts in new ways and intrigued by ones that I did not know. It will be useful to scholars of Middle English both inside and outside of Digital Humanities.
January 2020

‘Participatory Reading offers innovative contexts in which to understand late medieval writing; these are questions we absolutely should be thinking about, and Blatt’s intervention is an important one… the ideas here will no doubt influence how we continue to think and write about late medieval literary culture, and I very much look forward to seeing how this book shapes the ensuing conversation.
Studies in the Age of Chaucer
February 2020

‘Its foregrounding of participation makes it a worthy addition to the scholarly literature on reading practices. ’
May 2020

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