Reading Ireland

Print, reading and social change in early modern Ireland

Traditionally our understanding of that world has been filtered through the lenses of war, plantation and colonisation. This book explores the lives of people living in early modern Ireland through the books and printed ephemera which they bought, borrowed or stole from others. In economic terms, the technology of print was of limited significance in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ireland, employing no more than a handful of individuals on a full-time basis. It uses the perspective of the world of print as a vantage point from which to observe the shifts in early modern Irish society. To do this it exploits two important attributes of print. First, the printed word had a material form and hence by examining how it was created, traded and owned as a commodity it is possible to chart some of the economic changes that took place in early modern Ireland as a traditional exchange economy gave way to a more commercial one. The second important attribute of print was that it had the potential to transmit ideas. The book discusses the social context of print, its social meaning, and with what contemporaries thought of the material and intellectual commodity that printing with movable type brought to Ireland. It also attempts to construct how contemporaries used the books they had bought, borrowed, stolen or heard others read aloud. The efforts of booksellers and others ensured that contemporaries had a range of books to which they could to turn for profit and pleasure according to their needs.

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