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 would like to thank to the following for their help and advice: Peter Carey for reading and commenting on parts of the manuscript; the Department of English and the School of Arts at Hull University for supporting my study leave in Australia; Professor Elizabeth Webby and Professor Michael Wilding of the University of Sydney for their help with research resources; the staff of the Manuscript Collection at the National Library of Australia; Jennifer Sterland of Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio Archives for help with the Carey interview tapes; Professor John Thieme for his careful editing; Jo Chipperfield for reading parts of the manuscript with customary vigour; Andy Butler and Roger Luckhurst for valuable suggestions at various stages; my Australian literature students of 1993–5 at Hull University for their enthusiasm and interest; Elaine, Rob, Jim and Carly for their friendship and hospitality; and, as always, Les Garry.