The Hymnal Before the Notes: A History of Reading and Practice


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the American Antiquarian Society during academic year 2016-2017


Hymnbooks were one of the most prolific print genres of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the English-speaking world, yet little has been written on their development, use, and cultural significance. Drawing on methods from book history, practice theory, and historical poetics, this study uses extensive archival research to focus on the use of hymnbooks by institutions and individuals, from the rise of hymnbooks for church use around 1700 to the appearance of mass-produced hymnals with interlined music in the 1850s. Hymnbooks, this study argues, were crucial means for the construction of corporate and individual identities, as well as being a widespread tool for teaching reading—and reading poetry. In fact, the hymnbook facilitated the rise of a mass readership for poetry in the nineteenth century.